The notion that a federal felony is committed when state officials reward political friends and punish enemies in this manner has become surprisingly widespread within the Justice Department. Because of vague and broad federal criminal statutes, there isn’t much in public or political life these days that is not an arguable ground for an indictment. Obviously lost on federal prosecutors is the irony that their prosecutions of state politicians often create the same appearance of bias that the feds consider criminal when it is seen at the state and local level.
With the careers of two popular Republican governors—who might have been destined for national office—hanging in the balance, such suspicions of federal prosecutorial partisanship have become inevitable. But given that such federal prosecutions for state political activities abound, one must not be too quick to conclude that the department’s motives are purely partisan. There may be some nonpartisan recklessness too.
Consider Justice’s behavior in Massachusetts, a state dominated by a long-entrenched Democratic political machine that also has a U.S. attorney championed by Ted Kennedy and appointed by Barack Obama. Former state probation department officials are about to go on trial for awarding jobs to candidates sponsored by Democratic state legislators in exchange for support in departmental appropriations. U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz is applying a bizarre theory of criminality to this patronage—and her efforts recently received a black eye when it was learned that recommendations for hiring positions were made not only by state legislators, but also by judges and even the chancellor of Boston College, the Rev. J. Donald Monan