Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Paul Charlton's fatal flaw-- he was too effective

It is out now, officially. The departure of Arizona U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton is a direct result of the concerns about the Renzi investigation. Recall that last year, Congressman Renzi was being investigated for corruption (the same charges that sent his congressional colleagues Duke Cunningham and Bob Ney to prison.) Once Paul Charlton started digging, it became clear that what appeared to be two different Renzi investigations were in fact two angles on a much larger and more complex investigation.

So in December, Paul Charlton abruptly resigned. I remembered then about how the Bush administration had previously called off an attack dog, when they had given a promotion to Noel Hillman, the Justice Department prosecutor who was working the Abramoff case, to the Federal bench in order to get him off of the case. So I figured that they had given Charlton an opportunity (since he was going to work for the law firm where his wife works.) Turns out I was wrong about the opportunity-- we now know that his resignation was requested, but we also now have confirmation it was to get him off of the Renzi case. That is provided by a memo which D. Kyle Sampson, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez's chief of staff, wrote to then White House Counsel Harriet Miers on September 16, shortly after he opened the Renzi investigation. In it he says that Charlton needs to go.

Paul Charlton, you see, is not an easy man to intimidate or get rid of. I've always respected him, and in fact I wrote at the time (in the second link in the last paragraph)

Charlton, though I know some people who don't like him, has always impressed me. Maybe it's because I remember his investigation into Valinda Jo Elliot after the Rodeo Chedeski fire had destroyed hundreds of homes; Elliott had started the Chedeski half as a signal fire after being lost in the woods following a vehicle breakdown. Elliott took her cell phone, and had reached some stupid person with a clerk mentality with the Bureau of Land Management; they figured out where she was and informed her that since she was over the line in the national forest she had to call the national forest headquarters. The HQ of course had long since been evacuated because of the nearby Rodeo fire and the national forest was closed, so Elliott got a recorded message. Then her cell ran out of power after having been put on hold for so long by automated machines between the two calls. Anyway, Charlton was the guy who was willing to go to Heber after the Chedeski fire and face an auditorium full of enraged people and tell them that he wasn't going to prosecute Valinda Jo Elliott (which was the right call by the way; if anyone should have been prosecuted it was the one person she actually talked to, the clerk with the ultimate 'that's not my department,' mentality even while talking to a desperate person in a life and death emergency.)

Heck, just last year the U.S. Department of Justice announced that the Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office would serve as a national "Model Program." In other words, they thought he was the best of the best.

So Charlton, who had been recognized not long before as one of the Justice Department's most effective prosecutors, wasn't afraid to do his job then, and he wasn't going to be afraid to do it when it came to Rick Renzi.

So Alberto Gonzales, together with Karl Rove and who knows who else, determined that Charlton had to go. What is really interesting is that the Justice Department emails suddenly started naming him as one that needed to go. And simultaneously Rick Renzi hired former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods (and former A.G.'s are expensive) as his legal representative. Since then, he has retained attorney Patton Boggs and spent over $100,000 on legal bills (source Federal Elections Commission via Lofty Donkey. If there was nothing there, I doubt if all that would have happened. They knew they had a problem, and they knew the only way to solve it was to get rid of the same man they had just recently acknowledged as the best they had.

Of course since then-- there has been nothing new on the Renzi investigation. So it appears that calling Charlton off worked.

No comments: