Wecht charges prompt inquiry

Judiciary panel seeking records on him, 2 others Democrats

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The U.S. House Judiciary Committee wants to see documents related to three high-profile prosecutions of Democratic officials, including that of former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril H. Wecht.

Related links

To read the Department of Justice response to allegations about the conviction of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman, go here.

To read the entire letter sent by the House Judiciary Committee to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, go here.


Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., chairman of the committe and other committee members sent the seven-page letter Tuesday to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the U.S. Department of Justice.

They requested that "certain critical documents and information relating to U.S. Attorney's offices that may have initiated prosecutions against public officials and others based on their political affiliation" be turned over by July 27.

"Allegations that even one of the nation's 93 U.S. Attorneys is improperly prosecuting or failing to prosecute Democratic officials based on their political affiliation have the potential to taint and undermine the legitimacy of our entire criminal justice system," they wrote.

In addition to the Wecht case, the committee is seeking records from the conviction last year of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and the conviction of Georgia Thompson, a Wisconsin state procurement officer.

The House and Senate judiciary committees are investigating the firings of nine federal prosecutors late last year. Some allege that the moves were politically motivated, and that prosecutors were forced out because of a reluctance to pursue Democratic officials or for moving forward in investigating Republicans.

"During the course of our investigation, moreover, serious allegations have been made that some U.S. Attorneys who were not terminated, engaged in selective and improper targeting of Democrats for prosecution," the letter states.

It refers to the majority of U.S. attorneys who were retained as "loyal Bushies."

On June 15, investigators from both committees interviewed Pittsburgh's U.S. Attorney, Mary Beth Buchanan, for six hours.

Though her testimony has not been made public, it is referred to in a footnote of the letter sent to Mr. Gonzales. In it, Ms. Buchanan told investigators that she has only prosecuted Democratic officeholders.

"Yet U.S. Attorney Buchanan has not brought charges against at least two Republican officials who, like Dr. Wecht, are alleged to have misused their office staff," the letter states.

The letter does not identify any of the Republican officials.

Ms. Buchanan previously served as the director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys and as chair of the Attorney General's Advisory Committee.

She was questioned by the judiciary committee investigators primarily about the creation of the Justice Department's list of fired attorneys. When the list was created, she was consulted by Mr. Gonzales' former chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson.

Her attorney, Roscoe C. Howard Jr., did not have any comment yesterday on the judiciary committee's request for the Wecht information.

Ms. Buchanan's office referred calls to the Department of Justice.

Dean Boyd, a spokesman there, yesterday said he could not comment specifically on the Wecht case because it is still pending. The department did issue a written statement addressing the issue of partisan politics with respect federal prosecution.

"It has been and remains the practice of the department to investigate and prosecute individuals who violate federal law without regard to their political affiliation," it said. "These investigations and prosecutions involve career prosecutors and experienced agents who analyze evidence from a law enforcement, not a partisan, perspective."

In addition, the department, issued a lengthy letter that goes through many aspects of the Siegelman prosecution.

Mr. Siegelman, a Democrat, was convicted of bribery, conspiracy and mail fraud. He was indicted in 2004, two years after losing the closest governor's race in state history.

Ms. Thompson, who was charged with improperly awarding a contract to a travel agency whose director contributed to the Democratic governor's campaign, had her conviction thrown out in April by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said the evidence against her was "beyond thin."

In reference to all three cases, the committee is requesting documents, including memoranda and analysis, that discuss the criminal charges to be pursued.

The letter also asked for any communication with White House, congressional or local and state political staff related to the investigations.

Dr. Wecht is charged with 84 counts of misusing his public office for private gain. His attorneys have maintained in a number of court filings that they believe his prosecution is politically motivated.

They would not address that issue when contacted yesterday.

In the committee's letter, it refers to a number of complaints raised by Dr. Wecht's defense, including that the case was originally going to be rushed to trial in October 2006 -- a month before the general election. It also notes defense claims that Dr. Wecht would be subjected to a "perp walk," because Ms. Buchanan deemed him to be a flight risk.

To read the Department of Justice response to allegations about the conviction of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman, go to: www.usdoj.gov/usao/alm/Press/MDAL_press_release.html To read the entire letter sent by the House Judiciary Committee to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, go to: judiciary.house.gov/Media/PDFS/Conyers-Etall070717.pdf Paula Reed Ward can be reached at pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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