Dick Thornburgh, the Republican former attorney general under George H.W. Bush, didn't mince words in his testimony before a House subcommittee today.
The case against his client Dr. Cyril Wecht, he said, is a raft of "nickel and dime transgressions" that include using the county coroner's office fax machine for personal business. It's far from the type of case normally constituting a federal corruption case, he argued, since there's "no evidence of a bribe or kickback" and no evidence that Wecht traded on a conflict of interest.
(Update: You can see video of Thornburgh's testimony here.)
So why was the case brought? Wecht is a high-profile Democrat, "an ideal target for a Republican U .S. Attorney trying to curry favor with a Department which demonstrated that if you play by its rules, you will advance," Thornburgh said, referring to the U.S. attorney firings scandal. Put that together with the fact that U.S. Attorney for Pittsburgh Mary Beth Buchanan has prosecuted "not one" Republican, while prosecuting Democrats in a "highly visible manner," and you have your conclusion.
Beyond the politicization of the Justice Department, Thornburgh said the root of the problem lay in vague criminal statutes that allowed prosecutors to pursue charges for things that should not rise to the level of a felony. There's an "opportunity for abuse" with those laws, he said, that Congress might consider amending through legislation. He pointed to the appellate court's decision in the controversial case of Wisconsin bureaucrat Georgia Thompson, where the judges made a similar suggestion.
The only Republican to make a concerted attempt to discredit Thornburgh was Rep. Ric Keller (R-FL), who called his testimony "the most pathetic example of... innuendo and hearsay" that he'd ever seen. He then shifted gears to say that it was "totally ridiculous" to think that the President would have called up Buchanan and ordered that Wecht be prosecuted because he's a Democrat. Thornburgh countered that he'd never said that and that Keller "should be embarrassed for misciting the record." He didn't have personal knowledge that the case against Wecht was pursued for political reasons, he said, but there was a "set of facts" that led him to that conclusion.
Why did Buchanan "go to such lengths?" he asked. "Measured against the backdrop of nationwide actions of a similar ilk,... I can only come to the conclusion that the prosecution was politically motivated."