Reno, Ashcroft Guilty of Felonies in Traficant Case
By Merrill Freeman
Although it was Janet Reno’s Democrat-dominated Justice Department (under President Bill Clinton) that first initiated the criminal investigation that ultimately sent populist Democratic Congressman Jim Traficant of Ohio to jail, Republican Attorney General John Ashcroft (under President George W. Bush) eagerly kept Reno’s inquiry in place when he assumed office and brought it to its fateful conclusion.
Traficant was convicted in 2002 on trumped-up corruption charges and was sentenced to jail, ultimately serving seven long years for crimes he did not commit.
Adding insult to injury, Ashcroft publicly honored the team that handled Traficant’s prosecution, despite widespread perception that Traficant was “set up” by the FBI and the Justice Department in the first place.
The Traficant tormenters awarded with the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service were two FBI special agents, Richard Mark Denholm II of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division and Michael Pikunas of the bureau’s Cleveland office. Craig Morford, the assistant U.S. attorney who had been the lead prosecutor in the Traficant trial, and Bernard Smith and Matthew Kall, assistant U.S. attorneys for the Northern District of Ohio, also received the award.
The last straw came in 2007 when Morford, was temporarily promoted to the post of acting deputy attorney general—the No. 2 position at the Justice Department. And although Morford was forced to give up the post when a permanent replacement was found, the promotion—by President George W. Bush—was clearly a boon to Morford’s career.
Michael Chertoff headed the criminal division of the Justice Department at the time the Traficant trial was conducted and was later promoted to the post of secretary of homeland security. It was Chertoff who directed the Justice Department operations that led to Traficant’s conviction.
All of these individuals—and others as well—should be prosecuted on felony charges for their blatant misconduct throughout the investigation and prosecution of Traficant. The book Target: Traficant* by Michael Collins Piper outlines the outrageous (and thoroughly illegal) maneuvering by the Justice Department and the FBI in the Traficant affair, building a totally fraudulent “case” against Traficant, based upon coerced and perjurious testimony, fabricated “evidence” and a wide variety of other non-evidence used to convict Traficant with the collaboration of a federal judge, Lesley Wells.
Ironically, Wells should have never heard the Traficant case: her husband was partner in a law firm that represented the interests of one of the key figures in the case against Traficant. The FBI and the Justice Department had between 60 and 90 lawyers and agents—or more—working to “get” Traficant.
What these Justice Department lawyers and FBI agents were doing during the four-year period that led up to Traficant’s trial in the spring of 2002 was scouring all over Traficant’s district trying to find anything they could to put Traficant in jail. What they did was find people in the district whom they believed were guilty of other crimes (tax evasion, corruption charges, whatever). Then the FBI and the Justice Department would take those people in and say, “We’ve got ya. What can you tell us about Jim Traficant? Did you ever give him a bribe? Did he ever ask you for a bribe? Did he ever do you a favor in return for a campaign contribution?” So there was this gigantic, taxpayer-financed army of FBI agents and Justice lawyers trying to find out everything they could about Traficant.
Youngstown had a reputation for being a center of organized crime. Traficant himself alleged on the floor of Congress and in interviews that a faction of organized crime actually controlled the local office of the FBI as well as judges—local and federal—in the region. And that was a provocative accusation by itself.
Thus it was—considering all of this effort by the federal law enforcement apparatus—that they would inevitably be able to find somebody somewhere who would be willing to make an allegation about Traficant in return for getting off the hook, in return for getting a reduced sentence, or some other form of favorable treatment in order to escape punishment for their own crimes that had absolutely nothing to do with their association with Traficant. Someone accused of income tax evasion, for instance, might plead guilty to the crime in return for probation, rather than a jail term, for having said that they had offered a bribe to Traficant and that he accepted it.
During this time, the media in Cleveland and in Traficant’s home town played up the idea that Traficant was corrupt, working in concert with “the Mafia,” constantly reiterating that Traficant was under investigation. And as a result of the media onslaught, everybody in the region knew about the investigation: businessmen, political figures, mobsters. Everybody was looking over their shoulders and saying, “I wonder if the FBI is going to come after me?” And that is exactly what did happen.
The FBI was approaching many, many people and what did happen—as could be expected—is that many people concocted lies (often under FBI and Justice Department tutelage) implicating Traficant. And this is what subsequently emerged during Traficant’s own investigation of the intrigues of the FBI and the Justice Department.
When his case finally came to trial, the judge, Lesley Wells, frequently frustrated Traficant’s efforts to bring this into the court before the hearing of the jury. In some instances, the judge actually barred defense witnesses that Traficant hoped to call. In other cases, the judge limited Traficant’s questioning of witnesses called by the federal prosecutors in order to prevent all of the exculpatory facts from being brought to the jury.
In short, people were being told: “If you don’t testify against Traficant, you’ll be prosecuted for fake crimes and sent to jail.” In some cases, these people—who were under the gun—simply made up things to satisfy the federal authorities. In other instances, there were those who had innocent dealings with Traficant that the Justice Department and the FBI twisted as to make those dealings appear to be criminal in nature.
The old saying, of course, is that a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. But there is no defense mechanism in a grand jury proceeding. A grand jury is conducted entirely by the prosecutors who bring forth evidence against a targeted individual who does not have the right to a defense. An individual who has been targeted can be called in and questioned by the prosecutors, but his attorney cannot come in and present a defensive cross-examination. So after several years of work and thousands of man hours spent, not to mention millions of dollars, the Justice Department cobbled together a multi-count indictment of Traficant.
There were headlines all over the country: “Controversial Congressman Indicted.” “Racketeering.” “Bribery.” “Corruption.” “Income Tax Evasion.” It sounded very sensational and most people’s reaction was: “Oh, here’s another crooked congressman.”
Even people who liked Traficant started to think that “He is a good guy who did a lot of good things, but he must be guilty of something. Where’s there’s smoke, there must be fire.”
And that’s precisely what the Justice Department and the FBI and their allies in the mass media (not to mention the Israeli lobby) wanted people to think.
However, for those who actually read the federal indictment and who were familiar with standard political corruption cases, any honest observer could only conclude that many of the charges were “trumped up,” if only in the sense that the charges were penny ante in nature, hardly the major “crimes” that the Justice Department and the media were attempting to portray. Yet, even some Traficant supporters, in reviewing the indictment, believed—without having heard Traficant’s defense, as of that point—that perhaps there may have been elements in the indictment that could result in a conviction. But that was before Traficant began responding publicly to the specific charges and outlining his defense.
And as noted, the indictment itself was only what was presented to the grand jury: there are no indications of the defendant’s response to those charges. It’s impossible to make a sound judgment of the nature of the charges until the defense is heard. As such, as Traficant’s supporters began to explore the case, in the wake of Traficant’s public contradictions of the indictment— those contradictions that the media dared to publicize—there were those who soon realized that there was indeed much more to the case.
It was more than just the government having targeted someone for political reasons and then finding evidence of that person’s corruption. Rather, it was a sordid case in which the government was actually creating the crimes.
In other words, it was not a situation where the Justice Department had simply coerced false testimony against Traficant by threatening to indict someone who was guilty of other crimes not even involving Traficant, but in at least some instances the prosecutors had actually induced people to engage in activity involving Traficant for the purpose of trying to set him up and catch him in a crime, hoping that Traficant would fall into the trap by engaging in criminal activity—which, in truth, he did not do.
So all of this, taken together, points toward the fact that the case was trumped up from the start. And those responsible should spend time behind bars for doing it in the first place.
*Target: Traficant (softcover, $25, 163 pages, #TT) is available from First Amendment Books, 645 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, #100, Washington, D.C. 20003. Free S&H inside the U.S. Call 1-888-699-NEWS toll free to charge.
Merrill Freeman is a researcher and a freelance writer.
Subscribe to American Free Press. Online subscriptions: One year of weekly editions—$15 plus you get a BONUS ELECTRONIC BOOK - HIGH PRIESTS OF WAR - By Michael Piper.
Print subscriptions: 52 issues crammed into 47 weeks of the year plus six free issues of Whole Body Health: $59 Order on this website or call toll free 1-888-699-NEWS .
Sign up for our free e-newsletter here - get a free gift just for signing up!
(Issue # 40, October 5, 2009)