Thursday, June 12, 2003

Rights & Reason: Persecuting Martha

Corey Smith, a lawyer at the Justice Department's tax division, penned a remarkable letter to the Washington Times, which appears in today's edition. In his letter, Smith, apparently acting on his own accord, manages to confirm several suspicious many of us have had about the Martha Stewart case. This was not his intent, as his letter clearly is meant to rally support for the prosecution and challenge its critics.

Smith asserts that Stewart was not guilty of insider trading, but of lying to investigators. Nothing insidious about that statement alone. But what Smith says next proves highly troubling:
After weathering the 1998 Clinton-Lewinsky debacle, where it was proven beyond any doubt that our country's chief law enforcement official, President Clinton, lied repeatedly under oath, I do not think we should tolerate lying and obstruction of justice by those in the public eye. What better way to mend the wounds of 1998 by instituting a zero tolerance policy for obstruction of justice by public figures?
There are two implications of this statement. First, Smith essentially refutes his own colleague—the U.S. attorney prosecuting Stewart—who said this wasn't about who Stewart was, but what she did. Smith, in contrast, says Martha was rightly targeted for special treatment, i.e. "zero tolerance", because she is a public figure. The second implication is that the DOJ may be targeting Martha because she's a Democrat, and Republican DOJ officials may be extracting a measure of revenge aganist a high-profile Democratic Party donor like Stewart. Granted, I'm inferring quite a bit, but Smith opened the door.

Smith also makes an interesting admission. He says: "[i]nsider trading is a complicated area of criminal law, and it is not always clear who can be charged with it." That's a heck of a thing to say if you represent the Justice Department, which is trying to enforce this law. Smith's concluding paragraph, however, makes it clear that he thinks non-objectivity is no barrier to successful law enforcement:
Our system of justice is largely a voluntary one. Investigators and prosecutors depend on witness compunction, or fear, to tell the truth, especially under oath. The resources do not exist to punish everyone who intentionally misleads every criminal investigator. If a healthy respect for the truth does not permeate our society, the administration of justice becomes impossible. Setting an example through the use of a public persona such as Martha Stewart is a good idea. Her prevarications should be punished, no matter how innocuous the underlying crime.
Once agani, Smith all but says Martha Stewart was targeted for political reasons. "Setting an example" is what political tyrants do to their opponents; it is not the official policy of a government charged with protecting individual rights. Obviously the DOJ has limited resources and sometimes must prioritize certain investigations and cases. But then why is Martha Stewart such a priority? If her underlying offense was "innocous," and there's no direct evidence her actions violated the individual rights of others, then why spend the money to try this case, especially given the fact Stewart is willing to fight the DOJ all the way?

Oh, right. This isn't about Martha Stewart. It's about the nation atoning for Bill Clinton. I guess putting Martha Stewart in jail will heal the nation's political wounds.

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