Some Democrats are quite excited today about news reports suggesting that the case of Arizona Republican Rep. Rick Renzi, under investigation for allegedly improperly benefiting from a land deal, might be tied to the U.S. attorneys mess. The Wall Street Journal reports that
As midterm elections approached last November, federal investigators in Arizona faced unexpected obstacles in getting needed Justice Department approvals to advance a corruption investigation of Republican Rep. Rick Renzi, people close to the case said.
The delays, which postponed key approvals in the case until after the election, raise new questions about whether Attorney General Alberto Gonzales or other officials may have weighed political issues in some investigations. The Arizona U.S. attorney then overseeing the case, Paul Charlton, was told he was being fired in December, one of eight federal prosecutors dismissed in the past year.
Lefty blogger Josh Marshall calls the news “a classic scandal harmonic convergence.” Maybe it is. But after reading the Journal story — I haven’t done any reporting of my own on this — it appears there are a few problems:
1. It’s a complicated case, and complicated cases take a long time. The Journal notes that “Complex investigations commonly take a year or more, and it isn’t known what issues figured in the Renzi case. Many details remain shrouded in secrecy…” The alleged delays in the Renzi case could well fit into the range of time for complicated cases.
2. It was an unusual case, with unusual timing. The Journal reports, “People briefed on the case said investigators in Arizona asked Washington for clearance — among other tools — for a wiretap of Mr. Renzi’s telephones, a highly unusual step against a sitting member of Congress, months before Election Day.” Yes, that was highly unusual, especially just before an election.
3. Even though it was complicated, and even though it was unusual, the Justice Department approved the investigative tactics no later than last October — that is, before the election.
4. The supposedly super-secret investigation was made public shortly before the election in an ugly, aggressively timed, and probably politically motivated leak. The Journal reports that, “On Oct. 26, just days before the election, two political Web sites carried the first public word of the probe.” At the time, the Washington Post reported that the investigation was first made public by “two liberal Arizona blogs” shortly before the election. It should go without saying that the Justice Department should not be in the business of leaking a secret investigation into a member of Congress shortly before an election.
In light of that, one might think that it might be a good idea to investigate whether someone inside the Justice Department was out to get Renzi, rather than protect him.