Blind Justice? – United States attorney Mary Jo White
Kelly Patricia O’Meara
Federal lawmakers are concerned about U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White’s ability to handle politically sensitive probes, such as `Pardongate,’ involving Clinton cronies.
Hours after departing president Bill Clinton issued his list of 140 pardons for “cash-heavy rats and dirty rats” as his critics have called them, Mary Jo White sprang to the podium and let it be known that she was one U.S. attorney who was not a happy cat. It was in her territory, the Southern District of New York, where many of those pardoned by Clinton were bagged. Having expended tremendous amounts of public resources to apprehend, indict and/or convict these miscreants, only to see them cut loose as Clinton went out the door, really bent the federal prosecutor’s whiskers.
Among the most controversial of the 15 pardons that originated in White’s district, causing “significant law-enforcement concerns” was that of fugitive commodities broker Marc Rich, whose ex-wife, Denise, contributed $450,000 to the Clinton Library foundation and more than $1 million to the Democratic Party. White and lawmakers say they want to know if the donations were a quid pro quo and whether the contributions actually came from Marc Rich, who has renounced his U.S. citizenship and resided outside of the country for nearly two decades. Contributions to U.S. political campaigns by noncitizens and foreign interests are illegal.
White apparently isn’t anyone’s lap cat and immediately announced she would begin an investigation of the Rich case and those of others pardoned. Just how serious White is about these investigations is of great concern to congressional investigators who have worked with her in the past.
Given this U.S. attorney’s track record during the last eight years on high-profile cases that are politically sensitive, investigators and lawmakers tell Insight they have serious doubts about White’s willingness to sink her teeth into any case that may have negative consequences for the man responsible for placing her at the head of the Justice Department’s premier U.S. attorney’s office.
Specifically, it is White’s record in the Teamsters union fund-raising scandal that has raised red flags on Capitol Hill and led Washington insiders to question whether the federal prosecutor is continuing a pattern of politically motivated stalling.
In fact, one only need peek at the official resume and biography of White supplied by her office to see that even she must have some discomfort with the status of her more than four-year investigation of the Teamsters scandal. For instance, White has listed cases that have been investigated and prosecuted successfully during her tenure that have national and international significance, including the prosecution of several terrorists, among them those responsible for the bombing of the World Trade Center.
Also included on her list of accomplishments are nearly two pages of successful prosecutions of securities fraud, crooked produce inspectors, sports betting, corruption and civil-rights cases involving the New York City Police Department and racketeering prosecutions against organized-crime figures, including John Gotti.
Although White makes a point of including one paragraph about “overseeing” civil RICO (racketeer-influenced corrupt organization) consent decrees “brought against several of the nation’s largest unions to rid them of the influence of organized crime” there is not even a hint of the Teamsters election scandal. Why?
Marvin Smilon, a spokesman for White, explains that “different people think different cases are important. There are a lot of specific cases that aren’t listed.” This is true, but critics wonder why the federal prosecutor would fail to list an investigation of crimes that affect millions of Americans in working Teamsters families whose union dues illegally were diverted as part of a shell game to fund the Clinton re-election campaign and Ron Carey’s 1996 bid to remain as president of the Teamsters.
Furthermore, White should have seen the Teamsters investigation as worthy of mention based not only on the amount of money spent on the four-year investigation, but also the tens of millions of taxpayer dollars that were spent just to oversee the crooked election.
The obvious omission also adds fuel to the fire of critics who contend that White’s investigation of the Teamsters scandal is missing from the list because former senior White House officials, staff of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and officials of the Teamsters and AFL-CIO have been implicated in this and related fund-raising schemes. Recall that the Teamsters scandal revolves around illegal fund-raising schemes to funnel money to the Democratic Party for the Teamsters in return for large sums moved by the Democrats back into then Teamsters-president Carey’s 1996 re-election bid through a committee called Teamsters for a Corruption-Free Union.
Three conspirators in the schemes — Martin Davis, a political consultant to the DNC; Michael Ansara, a telemarketer and consultant to the DNC; and Jere Nash, campaign manager to Carey and consultant to the 1996 Clinton/Gore re-election campaign — pleaded guilty in 1997 to conspiracy, mail fraud and embezzlement for their part in the schemes.
The three have had numerous “control dates” for sentencing but, reportedly because they continue to cooperate with White, their sentencings have been put off again and again. The latest sentencing date is in May, but it’s uncertain they will be sentenced even then. Worse yet, despite all of this alleged cooperation, since Davis, Ansara and Nash pleaded guilty nearly four years ago, White has been able to produce just two related indictments in what critics close to these cases call a never-ending investigation on a road to nowhere.
The first indictment was that of William Hamilton, former political director of the Teamsters. Hamilton was convicted in November 1999 on six counts, including conspiracy to defraud the United States, embezzlement, mail and wire fraud, making false statements and perjury. U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa sentenced Hamilton in March 2000 to three years in prison for his part in the fund-raising schemes. One year later, Hamilton, too, has yet to receive a “surrender date” on which to begin serving his sentence.
Not until January 2001, after the election of George W. Bush, did White issue an indictment of Carey on charges of perjury and lying to federal investigators during the probe into the illegal fund-raising schemes set up to help both the Democratic Party and his own re-election bid. Carey’s trial is scheduled for August, but numerous deals with the prosecutor are said to be in play.
While Hamilton and Carey unquestionably are two of the bigger fish in the fund-raising shooting barrel, there are even bigger fish that have been implicated in the scandal but have avoided notice by White. Take, for instance, the case of the newly crowned chairman of the DNC and Bill and Hillary’s main moneyman with the King Midas touch, Terence McAuliffe.
Despite the claims of the former president’s chief fund-raiser that he had no knowledge of the illegal schemes and that no wrongdoing occurred, there appears to be evidence to the contrary. During Hamilton’s trial, former DNC finance director Richard Sullivan testified under penalty of perjury that McAuliffe called several times to ask Sullivan to locate a wealthy Democrat to donate to Carey’s campaign.
Sullivan’s testimony directly contradicts McAuliffe’s sworn remarks before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, when he testified in 1998 that he “didn’t do anything with the Teamsters” and “all I know is when the first story on the Teamstets came out, I didn’t have a clue about any of this.” But Sullivan isn’t the only witness who under oath recalls McAuliffe’s participation. Sworn depositions by other DNC staff corroborate McAuliffe’s role in the fund-raising schemes.
While it precisely is this kind of information that leads critics to question White’s determination to get to the bottom of politically sensitive investigations, her ability to work with lawmakers is yet another, perhaps more serious, concern.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., chairman of the House Education and the Workforce subcommittee on Investigations, tells Insight that White “doesn’t deserve to stay” According to Hoekstra, “As far as we can tell, she never really pursued [the Teamsters scandal] or aggressively investigated or interviewed some of these folks. It’s something that drives us crazy.”
In 1998, Hoekstra held hearings concerning the Teamsters scandal but, at White’s request, deferred to her criminal investigation by refraining from calling several witnesses with knowledge of the fund-raising schemes. Hoekstra tells Insight he would have no second thoughts if asked again to cooperate with White. “If I had to do it over” he says, “or another similar situation involving the Clinton Justice Department or Mary Jo White, and they said, `Hey, you’re gonna screw up the case just like you would have screwed up the Teamsters investigation’ I would say `I’m sorry, that may or may not be the case, but based on your work on the Teamsters, you don’t warrant that kind of support or for Congress to defer to you a second time.'”
Hoekstra continues, “Her work on the Teamsters scandal demonstrates to me that, when she says we are jeopardizing her investigation, it would be legitimate to respond, `Excuse me, but which investigation are we jeopardizing? Nothing has happened.'”
All of which is raising questions in both law-enforcement and political circles about White’s ability to serve the new president — more to the point, whether Bush can have sufficient confidence in this federal prosecutor to allow her to keep New York’s top Justice Department job. Like every other U.S. attorney, White has sent a pro forma resignation to the new president. Critics suggest that, in light of her previously unblemished loyalty to Clinton, her public indignation at the Clinton pardon of Rich may be nothing more than an effort to keep the power and prestige that comes with the job to which Clinton appointed her. Or are there other motives and allegiances?
Pouncing on the Rich pardon may be a politically astute step in the right direction for this eight-year soldier of the Clinton Justice Department, but will she follow through? No sooner had White announced her intention to investigate the pardon of Rich than she quickly convened a grand jury to determine whether there had been criminal wrongdoing in the case. As the legal cliche has it, a prosecutor with a sufficient motivation can indict a ham sandwich.
A big problem with all of this, White’s critics explain, is that once the grand jury is convened, all evidence gathered during the process is sealed unless or until indictments are handed down and the information is made public during trial. In fact, it doesn’t take long to understand the limitations grand-jury inquiries impose on other investigative bodies.
Take, for example, the “Pardongate” hearings Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., held in early March. As chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, his attempts to obtain important Clinton Library Foundation donor records were effectively blocked since White already had them subpoenaed for secret review by her grand jury. Without those records, Burton and others on the committee say they are stopped from identifying allied wrongdoing on the part of the departing president and his underlings, of which White herself is one.
According to Larry Klayman, a former federal prosecutor who now is president of Judicial Watch, a nonpartisan, nonprofit government and judicial watchdog group, “Having a grand jury is a way to cover up if you never release what went on. In fact, a grand jury can be even more secretive than an investigation by an independent counsel, where they at least have to furnish a report.”
Klayman also is well aware of White’s Teamsters probe and, when Insight asked how much information Davis, Ansara and Nash still could be providing White, the alleged reason for the three felons remaining free and not having been sentenced, Klayman laughs and says, “Nothing takes four years. You could have given birth to a family of five in that time!” Klayman leans forward confidentially. “Look” he says, “Bush should have fired her at 12:01 p.m., Jan. 20. White deep-sixed the Teamsters investigation — never indicted one white guy at the DNC who was involved with the Teamsters scandal. She obviously covered it up and whitewashed it.”
Ultimately, of course, whether the fault lies with White is of secondary concern. The facts are, say Capitol Hill sources, that a major investigation under White’s control has moved at a snail’s pace and produced few indictments, all the while preventing congressional committees from seriously investigating the Teamsters scandal and allied money movement between the Teamsters, the DNC and the White House. In the process, these sources say, it appears White has lost the confidence of lawmakers whose party now controls both Houses of Congress — and word is spreading fast. As Hoekstra puts it: “I’ll share with Chairman Burton my experiences with Mary Jo and recommend that the prosecutions out of that district be damned — he should move forward.”
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COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group