Wash. Post noted Biskupic's overturned prosecution, but not judge's denunciation of the case

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

In an April 19 article on the U.S. attorney firings, The Washington Post noted that Milwaukee U.S. attorney Steven Biskupic secured the conviction of a former Wisconsin state employee, which an appeals court later overturned, but it did not mention that the appeals court ordered the former employee released immediately due to lack of evidence. Additionally, the Post suggested that the Bush administration first disclosed that millions of emails, including some about the attorney firings, are missing, when in fact it was Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington that first publicized the issue.

In an April 19 article on the congressional investigation into the Bush administration's controversial firing of eight U.S. attorneys, Washington Post reporter Dan Eggen wrote that, during a hearing that day, Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee were possibly going to ask Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales "about other U.S. attorneys who were not fired but have drawn scrutiny in recent weeks for management problems or their handling of public corruption and voter fraud cases." The Post identified one such U.S. attorney -- Steven M. Biskupic from the Eastern District of Wisconsin -- noting that he had secured the conviction of Georgia Thompson, a former purchasing official for the state's Department of Administration under Gov. Jim Doyle (D), and that "an appeals court overturned her conviction." But the article did not mention that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit took the highly unusual action of ordering Thompson released immediately due to lack of evidence. Indeed, according to the Wisconsin State Journal, Judge Diane Wood told prosecutors: "I have to say it strikes me that your evidence is beyond thin. ... I'm not sure what your actual theory in this case is."

Additionally, the article reported that, "[l]ast week, White House officials disclosed that millions of e-mails -- including some about the prosecutor firings -- may be missing, in violation of federal record-keeping laws." But, contrary to the Post's suggestion that the Bush administration first disclosed the missing emails, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) originally publicized the issue in an April 12 report.

From the April 19 Post article:

Senators also may question Gonzales about other U.S. attorneys who were not fired but have drawn scrutiny in recent weeks for management problems or their handling of public corruption and voter fraud cases. Last weekend, U.S. Attorney Steven M. Biskupic of Milwaukee issued a statement defending his handling of a corruption case that was overturned by an appeals court.

[...]

And in Milwaukee, Democrats have lashed out at Biskupic for his prosecution of Georgia Thompson, a state worker convicted in June 2006 of steering a government travel contract to a campaign contributor of Wisconsin's Democratic governor. Thompson, whose case was featured in GOP campaign ads, was released this month after an appeals court overturned her conviction.

Biskupic was also the subject of GOP complaints -- passed from Rove and Bush to Gonzales last fall -- that he was not aggressive in prosecuting voter fraud. Biskupic said last week that "it is my understanding that my name appears on a list ... questioning my performance and loyalty to the president," a reference to a March 2005 chart compiled by D. Kyle Sampson, Gonzales's chief of staff then. Biskupic was not included in later firing lists, officials said.

Biskupic said that he was never informed of any dissatisfaction with his performance, and disputed allegations of political motives for the Thompson case.

"I received no pressure, no communication from the attorney general's people," said Biskupic, a Republican and career federal prosecutor. "We worked it locally and charged it locally, and the end result was the result of local prosecution and not anything in Washington."

By contrast, on April 11, The New York Times noted that "a federal appeals court took the unusual step of ordering Ms. Thompson's immediate release from prison":

In a separate development, Senate Democrats asked Mr. Gonzales to turn over documents related to a prosecution of a state contracting official in Wisconsin. In a case involving corruption charges brought by Steven Biskupic, the United States attorney in Milwaukee, the official, Georgia Thompson, was convicted.

But last week, after an appeals court heard oral arguments, a federal appeals court took the unusual step of ordering Ms. Thompson's immediate release from prison. The senators sought all documents at the Justice Department in connection with the case, which was the subject of intense political advertising last fall against Gov. James E. Doyle, a Democrat.

The April 19 Post article was the first report from the paper to cite Biskupic by name. As Media Matters for America documented, in an April 11 article, the Post reported only that a federal appeals court in Chicago ordered a former state employee to be "released after overturning her conviction." Several other national media outlets have ignored the Thompson case altogether.

During the April 19 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) referred to the fact that Biskupic's name had appeared on a "list of U.S. attorneys who were being considered for dismissal" and asked Gonzales to explain why Biskupic "would have been on a list and then taken off a list." Gonzales responded: "I don't recall being aware of discussions about Mr. Biskupic." Later, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI) told Gonzales that he thought a news report about Thompson's release "was wrong, because it's so unusual for an appeals court to simply release somebody at that level." He then asked when he could expect a response "to the letter that Senator Kohl and I sent, along with [Senate Judiciary] Chairman [Patrick] Leahy [D-VT] and other members of the committee, last week on this incident." On April 20, the Post published two articles on the hearing, but neither mentioned Biskupic or the Thompson case.

The April 19 Post article further reported that the administration "disclosed" that millions of White House emails "may be missing":

Last week, White House officials disclosed that millions of e-mails -- including some about the prosecutor firings -- may be missing, in violation of federal record-keeping laws. The RNC also acknowledged that it lost four years' worth of e-mail from Rove, who apparently deleted many of the messages himself. His attorney has said it was an accident.

However, as an April 19 Washingtonpost.com article noted: "The disclosure was first made by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington." Similarly, on April 14, the Post noted that the White House was responding to charges from CREW:

An advocacy group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, issued a report this week saying about 5 million e-mails from March 2003 to October 2005 were missing from storage.

[...]

Asked about the assertions on Friday, [White House deputy press secretary Dana] Perino said she could not rule out that up to 5 million e-mails were missing.

On April 12, CREW released its report on the missing emails. Perino responded to reporters' questions about the missing emails during an April 13 press gaggle and later, during the White House press briefing. At the gaggle, Perino herself referred to "an assertion yesterday by one of the ... outside groups" when discussing the emails. At the briefing, a reporter further noted: "We have mentioned before the group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. They issued this report, and they are saying ... there were hundreds of days in which emails were missing."

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