UNITED STATES v. THOMPSON….Consider a case with the following facts:

The state of Wisconsin is evaluating bids for travel agencies. Under the scoring system used by the evaluation committee, the two top candidates are Adelman and Omega. Adelman scores 1026.6 and Omega scores 1027.3 out of 1200. That’s a difference of .06%. However, Adelman is an in-state company, and one member of the committee, a civil servant named Georgia Thompson, says something along the lines of “our bosses won’t like it if we choose Omega.” Since Adelman is in-state, and also the low bidder, and the scores were essentially tied, why not choose Adelman?

That’s it. That’s all that happened. Now, suppose you’re the U.S. Attorney for Wisconsin and someone brings this case to your attention. What would you do?

  1. Sigh, say you’ll look into it, and then get back to your real work.

  2. Assign someone to investigate. They report back that Thompson gained nothing from this, so whatever else it may be, it’s not a violation of federal law. Return to your real work.

  3. Think to yourself, “Hmmm. Governor Jim Doyle is a Democrat, and he’s up for reelection. If we could manufacture a case making it look like Thompson was trying to pay off one of Doyle’s campaign contributors, that would be pretty sweet.” Then assign a prosecutor to the case and take it to trial.

This being the Bush Justice Department at work, do I have to tell you which one is the right answer? Not only did Steven Biskupic take this absurdly insubstantial case to trial and win a conviction of Thompson for violating federal law, he even persuaded the Republican judge in the case to toss Thompson in jail immediately instead of letting her remain free pending appeal. This is very unusual. (Do you think Scooter Libby will be hauled off to prison immediately after his sentencing?)

But then another unusual thing happened. A few days ago an appellate court heard the case and was plainly appalled that Thompson had apparently been railroaded by evidence that it called “beyond thin.” The court unanimously overturned Thompson’s conviction within minutes of hearing oral arguments and set her free. This only happens if the court is convinced not merely that the government is unlikely to win the appeal, but that the government literally had no case to begin with.

So why was this case ever brought in the first place? Do you have to ask?

POSTSCRIPT: Watching Those We Chose has been following this case for the past few days. Links here and here provide some background. Audio of the appellate hearing is here. Their latest post is here, with the good news that Thompson will probably be back to her old job within a few days. The post also includes some speculation about just how this case got so far in the first place.