Federal charges may be filed in the shooting death of Michael Brown, regardless of what local prosecutors do, according to a former Justice Department official who warns politicizing of the justice system is at an all-time high.
Hans von Spakovsky, who served in the civil-rights division of the Justice Department during the George W. Bush administration, is now a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation and co-author of the new book, “Obama’s Enforcer: Eric Holder’s Justice Department.”
He says the Obama administration’s track record on deciding which cases to prosecute and Friday’s Texas indictment of Gov. Rick Perry are just the latest evidence that ideology is driving the justice system at multiple levels of government.
“Eric Holder has completely politicized the Justice Department,” said von Spakovsky. “As we can see, unfortunately, this is happening in other places like the Travis County (Texas) D.A.’s office. That should concern every American. I don’t care what their political background is because that is a threat to everyone’s liberty and everyone’s freedom when that kind of power is used for political purposes.”
He added, “I am fearful that they will try to pursue a federal case even if there’s no evidence to justify it, because of the fact that they really see everything, including Eric Holder, through the prism of race even when race is not a factor in a case or an incident.”
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Hans von Spakovsky:
Von Spakovsky said the Justice Department is right to monitor the case but should only intervene if the local authorities fail to conduct a proper investigation or if there is evidence that the the shooting was part of a direct attempt to deprive Brown of his civil rights. For the most part, he said, DOJ seems to be treading lightly.
“If they go into this and interfere with the local investigation, that’s when it becomes a problem,” he said. “It doesn’t look like they’re doing that yet as of now.”
Holder has already dispatched a Justice Department team to investigate the case, and over the weekend he ordered a a private federal autopsy of Brown’s body in addition to the two already done. The latter directive is puzzling to von Spakovsky.
“That one I, frankly, didn’t really understand,” he said. “That may be an overstep on the part of the feds. There’s no evidence of any kind that the local coroner’s office cannot do a proper autopsy. I’m not really sure what excuse Holder has for ordering a second one, because the only reason to do that is if you’re questioning the validity and the competence of the local. There’s no evidence to show that they don’t know what they’re doing.”
Tensions in Ferguson remain at a high level more than a week after the Brown shooting. Gov. Jay Nixon, D-Mo., has ordered the National Guard to Ferguson to maintain order amid renewed clashes between protesters and police. Given the atmosphere and the fierce opinions on both sides of this case, is there even a possibility officials can reach a conclusion that’s acceptable to all sides?
“There is, if everyone will calm down and slow down. What needs to happen is a very thorough, very detailed investigation of the facts, which would include looking at all of the audio and video tapes of any kind that are available, before anyone comes to any conclusions about what happened and whether or not the police officer was acting properly,” said von Spakovsky, who argued President Obama and Holder have largely been measured and proper in their comments.
“The president and others, like Eric Holder, [have] said there’s no excuse for the kind of looting and violence that has occurred,” he said. “That is absolutely right. That is something the leadership of the country, like Barack Obama, need to be telling to people in Ferguson.”
Von Spakovsky said the politicizing of the judicial system is seen on all levels, most recently by the Travis County, Texas, indictment of Republican Gov. Rick Perry. On Friday, a grand jury charged Perry with abuse of power for threatening to veto funding for the Travis County district attorney’s office and then making good on the threat.
Perry raised the veto threat after Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was convicted of drunken driving and registering a blood-alcohol content approximately three times the legal limit. He threatened to withhold $7.5 million in state funding for the district attorney’s office unless Lehmberg resigned. He vetoed the funding bill after she refused.
State Democratic Party officials are demanding Perry’s resignation, but many Republicans and even prominent liberals such as David Axelrod and Alan Dershowitz say the case is very thin. Von Spakovsky is even more blunt.
“To call this indictment frivolous would be giving it too much credibility,” he said. “It comes from an office that has a very unfortunate past history of using and abusing its power for political purposes.”
The same office brought campaign fundraising charges against then-U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Tom DeLay. The case resulted in one conviction for DeLay, but that verdict was thrown out on appeal.
“That case was thrown out 30 minutes after the trial started. So this is an office with a very bad reputation,” said von Spakovsky, who added there is no way for a Texas governor to abuse his or her power when it comes to vetoes.
“It is not a legitimate charge,” he said. “The governor of Texas has unlimited, unbridled power under Section 14 of the Texas constitution to veto a bill for any reason or no reason. What this office is trying to do is take a political conflict and turn it into a legal case, and they have no basis for doing so.”
According to von Spakovsky, the Holder Justice Department and the Travis County District Attorney’s office are just the tip of the iceberg on politicizing justice.
“From everything I’ve seen, it looks like it’s getting worse,” he said. “These are not the only examples of this. There are others going on around the country.”