If one wonders how Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation employees like Bruce Ohr and Peter Strzok felt such impunity while actively meddling with the 2016 presidential election, one need look no further than the legacy of DoJ’s meddling in the Alaska Senate election of 2008.
According to the government’s theory of the case, Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens underpaid for renovations on his cabin in a scheme to accept a non-cash bribe from a foreman for his contractor named Rocky Williams. During the mock cross-examination, the prosecution became alarmed when Williams was easily led into adopting the defense’s theory of the case. Both the prosecution and the defense had Williams under subpoena. This would not do.
So the prosecution filed an affidavit before Judge Emmet Sullivan claiming that the witness would be too sick to testify. Instead of campaigning for his re-election in Alaska, then, Stevens defended himself in a rigged felony trial in Washington D.C., not knowing that the government had hid evidence and spirited away an exculpatory witness.
Stevens lost the trial in what some might consider the Deep State’s trial run for 2016. DoJ successfully swung a key Senate seat by prosecuting the senator in the crucial months before the election.
Judge Sullivan ultimately discovered the prosecution’s misconduct because of an honest FBI whistleblower. The judge then commissioned a 525-page report that presented withering evidence of DoJ misconduct. Irrefutable evidence of prosecutorial misconduct prompted the DoJ to assign Terrence Berg, an attorney in the DoJ’s Professional Misconduct Review Unit, to recommend a penalty for two trial attorneys (James Goeke and Joseph Bottini.)
Berg was the bureaucracy’s first of two interventions on behalf of railroading prosecutors. Berg stalled for several months while he “studied” the evidence and finally concluded that the prosecutors had done nothing wrong. The agency then assigned the matter to the unit chief, who concluded that a 45-day suspension would be warranted.
If you were a partisan DoJ attorney bent on meddling in future elections, would the risk of a 45-day suspension be enough to deter you? The attorneys appealed the 45-day suspensions, arguing they should be entitled to the benefit of Berg’s early assessment that they did nothing wrong. Then the bureaucracy intervened again to save the railroading prosecutors.
The Merit Systems Protection Board granted their appeal, ruling that even though both prosecutors might be guilty of the misconduct as-charged, that they had the right to Berg’s original assessment. And that’s how two DoJ prosecutors got away with railroading Stevens and swinging an election for the U.S. Senate.
Not only did Stevens lose the election in 2008, his loss paved the way for a filibuster-proof majority for the Democrats in April of 2009. That means the misconduct paid off handsomely for Democratic partisans at no cost to the perpetrators. This DoJ election meddling helped a Democrat even though the DoJ was under a Republican attorney general, perhaps an early warning that DoJ was not under the political control of its Republican president.
History has exonerated Stevens of any wrongdoing. There was no bribe, because Stevens paid the full value for the improvements. In fact, Stevens and his wife had paid more than $160,000 for renovations that independent appraisers valued at less than $125,000 at the time. Yet the exoneration is irrelevant to those watching this test case of using a criminal prosecution to influence elections.
Eight years later, the third most senior official in the Department of Justice, Bruce Ohr, wrote FBI informant Christopher Steele that he was “very concerned” about former FBI director James Comey’s firing, and that he was “afraid they will be exposed.” Ohr, like Goeke and Bottini, had attempted to interfere in the 2016 election by feeding the FBI dirt from Hillary Clinton’s smear contractor, Fusion GPS.
Ohr’s fears appear to have been unfounded. Even after the world knows that he personally involved himself in the smear campaign against a candidate for the U.S. presidency using information from which his wife personally profited, he remains gainfully employed by the Department of Justice. In many ways, his plan worked, although not to the extent he hoped. The smears led to the appointment of a special counsel and a campaign of harassment against the duly elected president since the day he was inaugurated.
In theory, constitutional checks and balances should wring this misconduct out of the Department of Justice. Clearly, DoJ has demonstrated little interest in coming clean to the voters. Congress has a clear responsibility to expose DoJ employees responsible for meddling in elections if we have any chance of preserving self-government within the United States.
We would all have more confidence in future elections if the acting attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, would refrain from laughing at and mocking congressional oversight into DoJ’s interference in the 2016 election.