Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Getting rid of U.S. Attorneys, the 20th century version

There is nothing new under the sun, turn, turn, turn.

Let's start at the end.

Bill Johnston, a former federal prosecutor, was sentenced by a federal court in St. Louis to two years of probation for withholding evidence in connection with the 1993 standoff and fire at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Tex. Mr. Johnston admitted in February that he had withheld from investigators one page of notes involving F.B.I. agents' use of pyrotechnic tear gas canisters during the 51-day siege.

Opinions on Johnston are mixed, to put it mildly. Here's what Solomon L. Wisenberg said when Johnston resigned.

Chief Federal Waco Prosecutor Bill Johnston left office last week with the same self-righteous attitude he has displayed for months, piously lecturing the Department of Justice about "the truth" and blaming others for ganging up on him. It is true that many of Johnston's erstwhile colleagues are disgusted with the former AUSA, but not because he is a modern day Diogenes. Instead, they are chagrined by his decision to drag San Antonio United States Attorney Bill Blagg into the Waco muck with unfair and unfounded criticisms.

Gary Cartwright has a different view.

As an assistant U.S. attorney, my friend Bill Johnston had done more than any man in America to reveal how the FBI lied about its actions in the Branch Davidian siege. So why did the government try to send him to prison?...

Far from being guilty of covering up what happened at Waco, Johnston, more than any person in America, was responsible for exposing the truth. At the time when the FBI was still denying that it had fired the kind of ammunition that could have caused the fire that killed 82 men, women, and children at the compound, Johnston had broken ranks with his own superiors in the Department of Justice to write Attorney General Janet Reno that there was evidence that the FBI had used pyrotechnics.

Turns out the case revolves around that good old "obstruction of justice." I don't know if the word "perjury" was bandied about in the Johnston case, but we all know that perjury is an impeachable offense.

Apply as you will.

Brief editoral comment wraps things up.


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