This week, a grand jury in Houston handed down two indictments stemming from the Planned Parenthood undercover video scandal. Planned Parenthood employees were not their target, however, the creators of the videos were. The news was accompanied by the fact a member of the prosecutor’s office was on the board of directors of the regional Planned Parenthood.
Everyone seemed upset by this obvious conflict of interest, but as it turns out the prosecutor who is on the Planned Parenthood board had nothing to do with the case. It was handled by one of the other 300 prosecutors in the Harris County District Attorney’s office.
But why did everyone assume a prosecutor would do something that is so obviously a conflict of interest? That is easy: In the last 15 years or so, conflict of interest violations have become routine.
Let’s begin with Linda Greenhouse, the longtime New York Times reporter who covered the U.S. Supreme Court. Her husband was involved in a case that reached the court, which created a conflict of interest for her reporting. Normally a reporter will have that case reported by someone else. A conflict of interest isn’t based on bias, it is based on relationships.
But Greenhouse not only reported on the case in which her husband was involved, but failed to disclose the fact to readers at all. What was the fallout? Ad hominem attacks on…the person that discovered the conflict. Caught in an obvious, undeniable, undisputed conflict of interest violation the solution was to simply shoot the messenger.
It gets worse when prosecutors are involved: One isn’t simply being misled by a reporter but rather has one’s life turned upside down by someone with an agenda. Author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza has been openly critical of President Obama, going so far as to make a film critiquing him. When D’Souza was found to have violated campaign finance laws in his effort to bundle money for a friend who was running for office, the Obama Administration didn’t fine him as they typically do with first-time offenders with no criminal record. Inexplicably, D’Souza was criminally charged and faced seven years in prison. To many, the discretion of prosecutors to drop charges or throw the book at the suspect depends on the politics of the defendant. In America, politics should never enter into the equation. Sadly, this is beginning to change.
Whatever you think of Hillary Clinton’s role in the Benghazi scandal, the man charged with conducting the investigation into the State Department’s actions and its subsequent review was a donor to the President. There is no problem with donors later becoming appointees, but when the person in the Inspector General’s office responsible for the investigation donated the maximum to President Obama, there appears to be an impropriety. One can understand how people assume this official, Harold Geisel, simply whitewashed the entire affair. Mr. Geisel may have done so, or he may have performed his job honestly. Such conflicts of interest erode the public’s trust, so even an honest investigation will be understandably viewed with suspicion.
Here in Texas, prosecutors indicted then-Governor Rick Perry for threatening to veto a bill. This absurd charge of a non-crime will eventually be dismissed, but it dogged his short-lived presidential campaign and as someone under indictment, he lost his conceal carry license. The process is the punishment.
And then there is the sickening case of the Wisconsin prosecutors. Before he became governor, Scott Walker’s staff discovered a county employee was stealing money. Authorities were immediately alerted, and the suspect was charged, convicted, and sentenced. But rather than close the case, prosecutors decided to execute an unprecedented illegal investigation into Scott Walker’s staff. In secret.
The prosecutor, John Chisholm, was motivated to violate the civil rights of dozens of innocent citizens and organizations due to Walker’s union reforms. Chisholm’s wife was a union steward who bitterly opposed Walker. The District Attorney’s office was filled with pro-union posters during the heated partisan debate. Subsequently, Chisholm conducted predawn raids on activists aligned with Walker during the union debate, complete with guns drawn, battering rams, seizure of documents, undisclosed reading of emails, and orders not to tell anyone that their house had been raided. Not even to a lawyer. These were victims of a prosecutor who hated them because of their politics.
Given this toxic environment, it is no wonder that people immediately believed that a prosecutor was on the board of directors of an organization she was investigating. Call it the “Linda Greenhouse Effect”.
Michael James Barton is the founder of a consulting firm, Hyatt Solutions. He worked on trade issues on Capitol Hill and served at the Department of Defense and the Homeland Security Council during the George W. Bush administration. He can be reached at Scheduling@HyattSolutions.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @MichaelJames357.