Abramoff Prosecutor an Environmentalist? Don't Tell the NYT.

January 11th, 2006 9:59 AM

A piece by Neil Lewis in today's Grey Lady has a curious pseudo-profile of some of the prosecutors (led by head prosecutor Noel Hillman) who cut the plea bargains and deals in the Abramoff case. Members of the Department of Justice's Office of Public Integrity are highlighted in the piece. It begins with a somewhat misleading lede, which is an indication of the cloudiness to come:

"The plea agreement from the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, which has the potential for a multitude of legal troubles for Congressional Republicans, has been largely the work of a team of career prosecutors in the Justice Department led by an avid surfer and early Bruce Springsteen fan from New Jersey."

Apart from forgetting to mention that prominent Democrats are implicated in the probe as well, the lede sets up an entire article designed to immunize the prosecutors from criticisms or accusations of "partisanship" they will no doubt recieve at later dates when the details begin unfolding and congresspeople begin to scurry. With a fawning intro like that (an indication of how the reporter will treat his subject matter), flags should immediately go up.

Lewis is deliberate in his attempt to inform the reader that these prosecutorial team members apolitical. The article notes in seven different instances (through quotes culled from different team members) that the team members refrain from having having political views, or that their views are not known. Given the the manner in which Lewis appears to gloss over the Democrats' involvement mentioned later in the piece, these subtle assertions have a hard time ringing true. The most illustrative example of this journalistic glossiness refers to "accusations of ethical missteps" by former NJ Senator Bob Torricelli:

"Mr. Hillman prosecuted David Chang, who pleaded guilty to funneling illegal contributions to Mr. Torricelli's campaign, and told prosecutors he had also given the senator cash and gifts. Mr. Torricelli, a Democrat, dropped his 2002 re-election bid after accusations of ethical missteps and an admonishment from the Senate Ethics Committee for his relationship with Mr. Chang."

If Chang admitted and was convicted of giving illegal contributions to the Torricelli campaign, and Torricelli declined a reelection bid as a result, then it doesn't take a legal beagle to see that is more than just an "accusation" of ethical misstepping. It is in fact the definition of an ethical misstep. Likely the only reason that Lewis included this in the article is to dispel notions that Mr. Hillman will prosecute a Republican more aggressively than a Democrat. Mr. Hillman's handling of Sandy Berger's case last year and Hillary Clinton's recent campaign finance fiasco (paid off no more than weeks ago to avoid being revealed publically), however, may leave one to wonder if he will pursue Abramoff's case with the same light-handedness. One California blogger points out why something still smells funny here.

The same kind of glossy treatment can be detected in Lewis's disclosure that Mr. Hillman recently sat on the Board of Directors of the Surfrider Foundation - an environmental action group based out of California that advocates for clean coastlines. While Mr. Hillman does not currently sit on the board (he has an advisory role now), there are members of the current board that are aligned with politically charged left-wing groups like One Earth One Justice, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and various other environmental causes and organizations. It is no secret that environmental groups traditionally align, advocate and vote with the Democrat party. Groups like One Earth, One Justice are associated with more radical groups like ANSWER and other anti-war and anti-capitalist groups.

Why an apolitical prosecutor would sit on a Board of Directors of a left-leaning environmental group is something that the NYT reporter should at least have the wherewithall to clarify. It is not done, however, and this information is left out of the article. This is not to say that Mr. Hillman is a partisan or will be acting in a partisan manner in the prosecution of this case, but it does beg the question of why the reporter can fill valuable space reminiscing about how the prosecutor knew Bruce Springsteen (another staunch Democrat) in his childhood years, but can't seem to find the space to mention anything about some of the associations that Mr. Hillman may have as a member of a partisan advocacy group.