JOURNALISTS ARE STILL MISSING THE DOJ STORY….Here’s one more example of how the press still hasn’t woken up to the significance of the politicization of the Department of Justice. We’ve read plenty about the federal indictment of Chicago millionaire Antoin Rezko, a generous donor to Democrats in the state, and we’ve read even more about how this hurts Illinois Democrats, including Barack Obama. But despite all the evidence that the Department of Justice has become little more than a political instrument of the White House, we’ve heard almost no questions about whether Rezko’s indictment is legitimate or simply puffed up. Consider the evidence for the latter:

  • Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich was running a tight campaign for reelection in 2006. Small things could tip the balance against him.

  • The indictment of Rezko occurred less than a month before the 2006 election and dominated coverage for the next few weeks. As one Chicago Sun-Times columnist wrote, “Is the fact the feds indicted Rezko, who is this close to Blagojevich, a month before the election sending shockwaves through Blago’s campaign? You bet.”

  • Asked about the timing of the indictment, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (yes, the same one who prosecuted Scooter Libby) had this response: “We’re not going to stop momentum or take a siesta for political reasons.” This, of course, is entirely contrary to DOJ policy, which states that election time is precisely when you’re supposed to take a siesta. **[SEE ADDENDUM]

  • Rezko’s indictment has tarnished Obama, Blagojevich, and Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez — a bonanza all around for the GOP.

  • Fitzgerald was briefly included on a prospective purge list of U.S. attorneys and was undoubtedly under pressure to make up for having gone after Libby. This is similar to the case of Wisconsin prosecutor Steven Biskupic, also briefly on the list, who wound up redeeming himself with a bogus prosecution meant to hurt Democrats in the state.

Does this mean that Rezko has simply been victimized for his political views? Not necessarily. It’s possible that the rap against Rezko is legitimate, even if the timing is against the rules of the DOJ. But no fair-minded journalist should be failing to ask the sorts of questions raised above.

In this case, there are two reasons why journalists have dropped the ball. The first is that Fitzgerald enjoys a reputation for fairness and incorruptibility. But part of what the attorney scandal has shown is that even decent attorneys can be pressured into pursuing the wrong cases. (Again, I’m not saying Rezko’s innocent — I don’t have any idea either way.) The second and more important reason is that, until recently, faith in the basic integrity of our justice system has run so deep that it’s been hard for most journalists to shake it. But shake it they should. Given what we’ve learned over the past several months, it’s no longer conspiratorial to wonder whether political scheming could have contaminated the DOJ. It’s an established fact. Today, therefore, whenever the DOJ announces an indictment, any responsible reporter must ask an additional question: Which political party gains or loses? Sadly, it’s the way we live now.

**ADDENDUM/CORRECTION: Several commenters on this post have stated that the timing of the indictment of Rezko is not contrary to DOJ rules. Since they sound more expert than me (not so hard to pull off), I’ll assume that I stand corrected on this point.

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