Friday, November 16, 2007

Barry, meet Scooter

. . . and I don’t mean Rizzuto.

Ex-San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds, Major League Baseball’s record-holder for career and single-season homeruns, was indicted Thursday on five counts of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying to federal prosecutors investigating steroid use by professional athletes linked to the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO).

Within hours of the indictment’s unsealing, President George W. Bush—who had earlier this summer congratulated Bonds on surpassing Hank Aaron as baseball’s all-time homerun king—rushed to jump on the Barry-be-bad bandwagon.

In Washington, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said: "The president is very disappointed to hear this. As this case is now in the criminal justice system, we will refrain from any further specific comments about it. But clearly this is a sad day for baseball."

Bush, who often likes to brag about having run the Texas Rangers (even though he was only a 5% owner), neglected to mention that during the time of his involvement with the Rangers, steroid use was understood to be rampant in baseball—a dirty little secret kept on the down-low by owners and players, alike, because all concerned liked what the juiced numbers were doing for the game’s bottom line.

But that’s not the height of the hypocrisy in the Bonds case—not anymore.

The President rushed to condemn Bonds for allegations that bare a remarkable resemblance to the charges on which Vice President Dick Cheney’s former Chief of Staff Scooter Libby was convicted earlier this year (for the record, that would be four counts of making false statements, perjury, and obstruction of justice). Libby’s conviction carried mandatory jail time—as would the charges against Bonds, should they be proven at trial. But Lewis I. Libby never went to prison—George Bush pardoned Scooter soon after his conviction. Can Barry Lamar Bonds expect equal leniency from the man who was in this case, as he was in Libby’s, at least peripherally involved?

A sidebar, Your Honor

Bush’s involvement with Major League Baseball isn’t the only thread that ties the President to the BALCO investigation and the Bonds indictment. On the same day that the charges were revealed, Bush named the man who will prosecute Barry Bonds should the case go to trial.

A bit of background: The BALCO investigation was begun back in 2003 by then US Attorney Kevin Ryan—a George W. Bush appointee. But Ryan stepped down early this year, forced out, as were several other US attorneys, by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales because of a perceived lack of loyalty to the Bush Administration.

The turnover at the Northern California prosecutor’s office disrupted the ongoing BALCO investigation, likely causing a delay in the handing up of indictments. For the last eight months, the Bonds case was handled by interim US Attorney Scott Schools, a veteran DoJ lawyer.

With the confirmation and swearing in of new Attorney General Michael Mukasey, President Bush set about filling the vacancies created by the previous AG’s White House-directed purge. Joseph Russoniello, who served as US Attorney for ten years in the same district under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, has been nominated by his former boss’s son to take over the office now tasked with prosecuting Bonds.

And, one more thing, if this case doesn’t seem muddied enough by the behavior of the President and his appointees, defense attorney Mike Rains, representing Bonds in this matter, is accusing the feds of “unethical misconduct,” stating:

Every American should worry about a Justice Department that doesn't know if waterboarding is torture and can't tell the difference between prosecution on the one hand and persecution on the other.

I’m not ready to grant him that Bonds is simply being persecuted here, but as for his other observation, yeah, it—like this entire tangled web—has to get you thinking. . . .


Questions about the timing of the Bonds indictment and its relationship to recent DoJ turmoil are asked in Saturday’s New York Times:

Why now? A defense lawyer for Barry Bonds and two outside legal experts raised questions yesterday about the timing of the perjury indictment against Bonds, saying they did not understand why it came this week and not months or even years ago.

But the United States attorney’s office in San Francisco declined to answer questions about the case against Bonds. . . .

The 10-page indictment issued by a grand jury Thursday consisted mostly of quotations from Bonds’s 2003 grand jury testimony, in which he repeatedly denied taking steroids or human growth hormone.

A government official involved with the case said the Department of Justice in Washington did not sign off on the decision to indict Bonds, which is not unusual. The official, who talked on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, who was officially sworn in Nov. 9, only learned of the indictment after Scott Schools, the acting United States attorney in the Northern District of California, called the office an hour before the indictment was announced.

The lead defense lawyer for Bonds, Michael L. Rains, said the indictment did not appear to contain much new information. “Nothing has changed in four years,” Rains said. . . .

Two former federal prosecutors, Tony West and Walt Brown, speculated that Schools might have wanted to issue the indictment before he was replaced by someone unfamiliar with the case.

Less than four hours after the indictment was announced Thursday, the White House nominated Joseph Russoniello to replace Schools, a career prosecutor who has served as interim head of the office since Kevin Ryan was fired in January.

The White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said the timing of the announcement was “completely coincidental.” . . .

West, a defense attorney in San Francisco and a former federal prosecutor there, said, “It’s a logical way to think about it, that you don’t have to get another U.S. attorney up to speed on it.” West said he was otherwise perplexed why Bonds would have been indicted Thursday on evidence the government seemed to have collected months ago.

Assistant United States attorneys in the office pushed to indict Bonds in the summer of 2006, but Ryan wanted to get testimony from Greg Anderson, Bonds’s trainer.

Anderson was jailed for contempt for refusing to testify for the last year, and he has been steadfast in his refusal to appear before the grand jury — another reason the government may have decided not to wait any longer, West said.

Anderson was released from jail shortly after the indictment against Bonds was announced. . . .

Brown, a former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles and now a defense lawyer in San Francisco, also said the coming change in United States attorneys might have been a factor. “You can’t help but notice the timing,” he said.

But Brown said the prosecutors might have also waited to charge Bonds until after the baseball season to avoid complaints that they had interfered with Bonds’s pursuit of Hank Aaron’s home run record.

So, either the indictment was rushed because the White House was about to replace the lead attorney (who was himself a replacement after the USA-gate purge), or the indictment was delayed so as not to interfere with the baseball season and Bonds’s pursuit of Aaron’s record—is that what counts as jurisprudence and due process these days?

(cross-posted to The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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Blogger guy2k said...

For the record

I believe that Bonds knowingly juiced. I believe that he lied to investigators. I believe that he should be punished for both infractions. BUT, I believe that lots of players used performance enhancers during the same period that Bonds did—and for much of that time, it was not explicitly banned by baseball. I also believe that owners knew about the use of drugs, and were all too happy to look the other way.

If Bonds failed a drug test after baseball banned that substance, then he’s due a suspension. But Bonds—who would have been a Hall of Fame candidate even without the juice—set his records in an era where many hitters and pitchers were chemically enhancing their performances, and baseball owners knew about it. I begrudgingly acknowledge Bonds as baseball’s HR king, and, based on what I now believe to be true, I don’t think he should be kept out of the Hall of Fame. . . .

And, believe me, this is hard for me to say—I am a Dodgers fan, ferchrissake!

7:00 AM  

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