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Critics say that the legal pursuit of former Wisconsin state purchasing official Georgia Thompson, whose conviction on corruption charges was overturned by a federal appeals court (see April 5, 2007), may have been politically motivated. State Representative David Travis (D-Westport) says Thompson was persecuted by US Attorney Steven Biskupic, a Bush administration appointee. “I think it’s right out of the Karl Rove playbook,” he says, referring to White House political chief Karl Rove. “I never thought I’d see a prosecution like this. That woman is innocent. He’s ruined her life.” Republicans used Thompson’s prosecution and conviction (see June 13, 2006) as a centerpiece of their attempt to thwart the re-election attempts of Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI), who survived a 2006 challenge by Mark Green (R-WI), who accused Doyle of corruption throughout the campaign. Representative Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) calls on Congress to investigate the prosecution, saying the prosecution ties into Congress’s investigation into the firing of eight US Attorneys (see December 7, 2006 and December 20, 2006). “Congress should also look into whether partisan politics influenced, or even dictated, the investigations conducted by the US Attorneys’ offices in order to stay in the [Bush] administration’s good graces,” Baldwin says. “The 7th Circuit acquittal of Georgia Thompson, after a widely publicized pre-election prosecution, certainly raises serious questions about the integrity and motivation of the prosecutor.” Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asks Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to turn over all of the Justice Department’s records in the Georgia Thompson case to the committee, “including any communications between the Justice Department, the White House, and any other outside party, including party officials.” Leahy, joined by Wisconsin’s two senators Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Russell Feingold (D-WI), also asks Gonzales to turn over records related to voter fraud investigations in Wisconsin (see Early 2005) and any records pertaining to Biskupic’s possible firing. Wisconsin Democrats have long considered Thompson’s prosecution an attempt to besmirch Doyle before the 2006 election, and have accused Biskupic of mounting a politically motivated pursuit of an innocent government official. (Marley and Walters 4/7/2007; Frommer 4/10/2007; Rourke 4/10/2007) Feingold says in a statement that Thompson was the victim of a “miscarriage of justice,” and adds, “In light of ongoing concerns about the politicization of US Attorneys’ offices around the country, I am seeking further information from the Department of Justice on how this case and voter fraud cases after the 2004 election came about and whether there was improper political pressure to pursue them.” (Federal Document Clearing House 4/10/2007)
Denials of Political Motivations - Biskupic’s First Assistant US Attorney (FAUSA) Michelle Jacobs says that the prosecution of Thompson was not politically motivated, and the office received no contact from the White House or the Justice Department. “They acted on the evidence as they found it, convinced a jury of 12 that there was criminal conduct, convinced a judge who has been sitting on a state and federal bench for 33 years that the verdict was sound,” Jacobs says. “But we just did not convince the court of appeals, and we’ll respect the court of appeals decision.” Andy Gussert, president of the state employees union AFT-Wisconsin, says Congress should look into the Thompson case because servants should “not become political footballs to be kicked around.” He adds: “This prosecution raises additional questions that resonate with concerns about the recent firings of US Attorneys. If people are to have faith in our judicial system, those questions will need answers.” Former State Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, who was involved in the Thompson investigation, says the investigation was not politically motivated. Lautenschlager is a Democrat, but is considered a political enemy of Doyle’s.
Thompson Nearly Destitute - Thompson’s lawyer, Stephen Hurley, says Thompson has been left almost entirely penniless by the case. She lost her $77,300-a-year state job, about $60,000 in back wages, and owes somewhere between $250,000 and $400,000 in legal fees. She was forced to cash in her state pension and sell her $264,700 condominium, which she had paid off entirely. Travis says the federal government should pay her lost wages and legal costs, and compensate her for her time in prison. State officials say they are prepared to offer Thompson her old job or a similar position at the same salary, and are investigating whether they can reimburse her back wages and pay her legal bills. Thompson says she does not want her old job back, but would like another job in the same division. She is very concerned with staying out of the public spotlight. (Marley and Walters 4/7/2007; Rourke 4/10/2007)
Biskupic Considered for Firing - Unbeknownst to Congress or the press, Biskupic was considered for firing in 2005 (see March 2, 2005), but was later removed from the list of people to be fired. Biskupic himself will soon claim that he did not prosecute Thompson for political purposes (see April 14, 2007).
Former Wisconsin procurement officer Georgia Thompson, wrongly convicted of corruption in 2006 (see 2001 and June 13, 2006) and freed by an appeals court in 2007 (see April 5, 2007) amid speculation that her prosecution was politically motivated (see April 7-10, 2007, April 16, 2007, and April 24, 2007), was pressured by federal prosecutors to turn on high-ranking Democrats in Wisconsin state government, according to officials involved in the case. In return, prosecutors promised leniency or dropping the charges in their entirety. Her lawyer, Stephen Hurley, says prosecutors wanted her to testify against Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI), the then-Department of Administration Secretary Marc Marotta, and other elected officials. The pressure came from US Attorney Steven Biskupic and others in his office, according to Hurley and co-counsel Marcus Berghahn. “I began to get the impression that the indictment was being used to squeeze her,” says Hurley, saying that these attempts continued even after Thompson’s sentencing (see September 22, 2006), with offers to seek a reduced sentence if Thompson produced evidence that Doyle or others in his administration had broken the law. Hurley, who has been a criminal defense attorney for over 30 years, says: “It was the only time in my career that, after the person was sentenced, the prosecutor has called to renew the discussion. I’ve never had that happen before.” Reporter Bill Lueders writes, “These offers, though not necessarily indicative of improper conduct, suggest that Biskupic and his staff prosecuted Thompson as part of a larger agenda, with potential political overtones.” Biskupic has denied any political motivations behind the prosecution (see April 14, 2007) and refuses to discuss any plea offers with Lueders. Former Dane County assistant district attorney John Burr, a past president of the Association of State Prosecutors, says of Biskupic’s plea offers: “You can’t tell me it was not politically motivated. The powers that be over there thought they were going to go all the way to the governor.” Biskupic’s office, says Burr, prosecuted Thompson to get to Doyle and others. And, “[w]hen they didn’t find anything, they were stuck with it. It blew up in their faces.” Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Green (R-WI) used the Thompson prosecution as the centerpiece of his campaign against Doyle in the 2006 elections, accusing Doyle of running a corrupt administration. Doyle defeated Green in the election. Many have speculated that the case can be tied to the 2006 US Attorney purge (see March 10, 2006, December 7, 2006, and December 20, 2006), with Biskupic pursuing the Thompson case to curry favor with the Bush administration and keep himself from being fired. Biskupic was considered for firing in 2005 (see March 2, 2005), but was later removed from the list of those being considered for firing. Biskupic insisted throughout the prosecution that the case was entirely about Thompson, and not about Doyle or other elected officials, but in his closing arguments, he cited Doyle, Marotta, and others as “players” in the affair, saying: “She’s the link. She’s the one who made this happen. What a terrible coincidence for her that she is in the middle of all this.” One juror later said that “nobody in the jury room had any doubt whatsoever” that Doyle and others were involved, though there is no evidence to support such a conclusion. Former US Attorney Frank Tuerkheimer says there is nothing untoward or unusual about Biskupic trying to “flip” Thompson to get information about higher-ups. “In principle, there is nothing wrong with it,” he says. “There’s no question in my mind that Biskupic was after Thompson to get higher-ups.” The problem was, Tuerkheimer adds, that “Biskupic had a theory of criminality that was ridiculous”—that Thompson was acting at others’ behest. “It just bothers you ‘cause the woman got screwed.” Tuerkheimer notes that Biskupic had Thompson jailed pending her appeal, which was unusual for such a case. She had no criminal history, was not a flight risk, and had a legitimate case for appeal. Most people in her position would have been allowed to stay out of jail pending the appeal. Why did Biskupic insist on having her jailed? Tuerkheimer replies, “It appeared to me that they were trying to pressure her to talk.” (Lueders 5/18/2007) Doyle says he is alarmed by the reports that Biskupic and others tried to pressure Thompson into testifying against members of his administration. “The story is pretty alarming, particularly given that she had testified under oath that nobody had ever asked her to do anything inappropriately,” Doyle says. “Even after… testifying under oath they were still trying to get her to give information that just wasn’t true.” Doyle refuses to say directly that the prosecution was politically motivated, but asks rhetorically, “Does anybody really think that Georgia Thompson, if it hadn’t been an election year, that this would have ever happened to her?” Biskupic’s chief assistant Michelle Jacobs denies that the prosecution had any political components to it, saying: “We would never, and have never, encouraged a defendant to lie to us. To suggest that it is somehow untoward or unusual to approach a post-trial defendant, even a defendant who has testified, about cooperating with us, it’s just not unusual.” (Foley 5/18/2007)
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