Sunday, November 28, 2010

Justice Merely DeLayed

What if...

Former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- once one of the most powerful and feared Democrats in Congress -- was convicted Wednesday on charges she illegally funneled corporate money to California candidates in 2002, which could send her to prison for decades.

Jurors deliberated for 19 hours before returning guilty verdicts on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering in a scheme to illegally funnel corporate money to California candidates in 2002. She faces up to life in prison on the money laundering charge, although prosecutors haven't yet recommended a sentence.

After the verdicts were read, Pelosi hugged her daughter, and her husband. Pelosi whispered into her daughter's ear that she couldn't get a fair trial in Sacramento. Pelosi had unsuccessfully tried to get the trial moved out of Sacramento, the most conservative city in one of the most Democratic states.

Pelosi's lead attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said they planned to appeal the verdict.

"This is an abuse of power. It's a miscarriage of justice, and I still maintain that I am innocent. The criminalization of politics undermines our very system and I'm very disappointed in the outcome," Pelosi told reporters outside the courtroom.

She remains free on bond, and several witnesses were expected to be called during the punishment phase of her trial, tentatively scheduled to begin on Dec. 20.

Prosecutors said Pelosi, who once held the No. 1 job in the House of Representatives and whose tough tactics earned her the nickname "the Hammer," used her political action committee to illegally channel $190,000 in corporate donations into 2002 California legislative races through a money swap.

During her tenure leading House Democrats, Mr. Pelosi established a new low in ethical conduct among Congressional leaders. She put family members on her campaign payroll, took lavish trips paid for by lobbyists and twisted the arms of K Street lobbyists to ante up and donate to her party's candidates and hire more Democrats. But her conviction on Wednesday came from something else entirely, a scheme to steer corporate contributions to Democrats in the California Legislature.

California bans corporations from giving money directly to state candidates, just as federal law does at the national level. But Ms. Pelosi figured out a way around that barrier: In 2002, she used her state political action committee to channel $190,000 in corporate contributions to the Democrat National Committee, which then donated the same amount to seven California House candidates.

The scheme wasn't lacking in ingenuity. California had completed its post-2000-census redistricting, but Pelosi wasn't satisfied with the way in which state lawmakers had drawn the lines. So she hatched a plan without modern precedent, deciding to pursue re-redistricting. But in order to hatch her gambit, she'd need some more Democratic allies in the California legislature, so she arranged to launder some corporate money into the accounts of seven Democratic candidates.

Six of them won; re-redistricting occurred; and the Democratic majority in Congress grew, just as Pelosi had planned.

The minor flaw in all of this is that Pelosi's scheme happened to be a felony, at least according to prosecutors and the members of a California jury. Pelosi's defense was largely built around the notion that she didn't know about the money-laundering until after it had occurred, but prosecutors pointed to a 2005 interview with investigators in which the left-wing lawmaker said she was aware of the plan in advance. (Pelosi later said she misspoke.)

Pelosi and her attorneys maintained the former San Francisco-area congresswoman did nothing wrong as no corporate funds went to California candidates and the money swap was legal.

The verdict came after a three-week trial in which prosecutors presented more than 30 witnesses and volumes of e-mails and other documents. Pelosi's attorneys presented five witnesses.

"This case is a message from the citizens of the state of California that the public officials they elect to represent them must do so honestly and ethically, and if not, they'll be held accountable," Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg said after the verdict.

Pelosi chose Priest to sentence her rather than the jury. She faces five years to life in prison on the money laundering charge and two to 20 years on the conspiracy charge. She also would be eligible for probation.  Pelosi contended the charges against her were a political vendetta by Ronnie Earle, the former Republican Travis County district attorney who originally brought the case and is now retired.

Craig McDonald, the director of Californians for Public Justice, a conservative watchdog group whose complaints with the Travis County District Attorney's Office helped lead to the investigation of Pelosi's PAC, said he was pleased by the verdict.

"We can't undo the 2002 election, but a jury wisely acted to hold Pelosi accountable for conspiring to steal it."
The 2005 criminal charges in California, as well as a separate federal investigation of Pelosi's ties to disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, ended her 22-year political career representing suburban San Francisco. The Justice Department probe into Pelosi's ties to Abramoff ended without any charges filed against Pelosi.


I’m sorry.  Didn’t you hear about this?  You didn’t?  That’s because it didn’t happen exactly like this, and Pelosi was not on trial.  Former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was, and he was convicted by a jury of the crimes listed above.  I substituted Pelosi for DeLay, Democrat for Republican, and California for Texas; otherwise, the story is the same.

That deafening silence you hear is the far right talking up this story of political corruption at the highest levels of government.  This isn’t a murky conspiracy theory – this is a conviction in court.  Had any of this happened as I have imagined to Nancy Pelosi, the “lame stream” media, led by Fox News, would have made this campaign fundraising commercial Exhibit A.  I know that American memories are short, so here’s a gentle reminder about life in Washington with the GOP in charge.  There’s a word for strong-arming the political process through illegal means to create a one-party system…what word could that be?  Here's a hint - the far-right has been throwing it around about the current state of affairs lately.

Welcome back to power, GOP House members.  Welcome back to "The Swamp that DeLay Built."

My original source material for this post:

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