Normally, the summer season means time off from politics. People light up their barbecues, put on their bathing suits and forget about government for a few months. That would be an ordinary summer. This summer is anything but ordinary. From Washington, D.C., to Malibu, people are screaming about special prosecutors, who seem to have become all the rage.
In Maryland, they’re looking into whether or not to prosecute Linda Tripp for violating the Maryland wiretap law. It’s charged that when she was wired up for her little tte—tte with Monica Lewinsky, she may have broken a few of those Maryland laws. It seems the prosecutors in Maryland had originally agreed to wait until the Starr investigation was over before proceeding. Needless to say, a few legislators, Democrats I suspect, started screaming that if Starr or his people were part of that scheme to illegally wiretap you don’t make a deal with them. If they are involved, that could change their status. In Washington, D.C., they might be prosecutors, but in Maryland they could be something else altogether — accessories, perhaps unindicted co-conspirators and maybe even defendants.
I keep having this fantasy of Maryland police going to serve arrest warrants on Starr and company, while the federal cops hold them off at gunpoint. Silly it is, but we apparently are in the silly season. I think what’s also shocking to a lot of people is how politicized criminal prosecutions have become, particularly where there are political gains to be made or losses to be cut.
If this week’s City Council meeting was any example, the prosecutorial war is just beginning about alleged campaign violations in the last City Council election. The council was to consider the hiring of a special prosecutor to assist in the investigation. A string of speakers, a few of whom, I suspect, are just a mite worried they might end up as defendants, came down to rail against the hiring of a special prosecutor. Apparently, one person’s pursuit of justice can be another person’s witch-hunt, depending on whether or not you consider yourself a possible focus of the investigation. This council meeting ended without any decision on the special prosecutor. The city attorney withdrew her request, for now anyhow, and it’s not yet clear whether there were good reasons for this or whether she’s bowing to council or public pressure.
Maybe it’s time to step back and take a look at what’s involved here. The city of Malibu has a campaign ordinance with low dollar limits on contributions and all sorts of disclosure requirements. Its stated purpose is to keep big money out of Malibu campaigns. The state of California also has a campaign law similar to Malibu’s in some respects but different in many ways. The state does its own, independent investigation if it thinks its law is violated. What’s unique is violation of the Malibu ordinance is a crime, a misdemeanor for which one could, if convicted, be sentenced to jail.
It became apparent in this last election that a considerable amount of money was being spent. For example, the Jack Lemmon tape was not a cheap piece. It was a well-done political tape. It was professionally done by a highly successful political consulting firm, and several thousand copies were distributed. The same with the professional phone banks out of Oregon that called all the Malibu voters. That was a professional company, and they charge. It’s relatively easy to figure out what was spent. These are all campaign consultants, they all advertise and their price lists are well known. The receipts and the expenditures in the campaign filings have to match up with the costs of the services performed. It’s just that simple. If they don’t, then something is not kosher.
Allegations have been made that something doesn’t add up. The job of the prosecutor, in this instance the city attorney, is to investigate those allegations and decide whether or not to file a criminal complaint. That is her sworn duty, and neither council pressure nor orchestrated public pressure should nor legally can deter her.
The screaming, shouting and accusations are perfectly legitimate public responses. The council should listen to those comments. The prosecutor should not, otherwise the legitimacy of the entire process is called into question. No one should be able to intimidate an investigation.
When it’s over, whatever the results, we should all be able to feel that it was done fairly, impartially and served justice.