Thornburgh to tell Congress Wecht case is political

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Former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh will testify before a subcomittee of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday about why he feels the prosecution of former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht is politically motivated.

Mr. Thornburgh, who is on Dr. Wecht's defense team, wil be given an allotment of time to make a statement, and then it is likely the subcommittee, which is investigating the firings of nine U.S. attorneys across the country last year, will ask questions.

Dr. Wecht is charged with 84 federal counts, including mail and wire fraud, that allege he misused his county office for personal gain. He is scheduled to go to trial in January.

All along, Dr. Wecht's defense attorneys have claimed that the prosecution against him was politically motivated. There have been allegations that U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan -- a staunch Republican appointed by the Bush administration -- filed the case against him to earn political points.

Ms. Buchanan has continually denied those charges.

Defense attorney Jerry McDevitt called Mr. Thornburgh's testimony "highly unusual," especially for a Republican and a former head of the Department of Justice.

"I don't think he's risking his reputation," he said. "I think he's demonstrating why he has that reputation as a man of integrity."

The neutrality of the justice department is presumed, Mr. McDevitt said. For Mr. Thornburgh to speak out against that, he said, "speaks volumes."

Others scheduled to testify Tuesday include former Alabama U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, who was an early defense attorney in the bid-rigging case against former Gov. Don Siegelman, as well as Donald C. Shields, a professor emeritus at the University of Missouri, who co-wrote a study looking at the number of Democratic vs. Republican officeholders who have been investigated by the Department of Justice during the Bush administration.

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


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