The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Another Dubious Firing

Another Dubious Firing
The New York Times | Editorial

Thursday 26 April 2007

Congressman Rick Renzi, an Arizona Republican, was locked in a close re-election battle last fall when the local United States attorney, Paul Charlton, was investigating him for corruption. The investigation appears to have been slowed before Election Day, Mr. Renzi retained his seat, and Mr. Charlton ended up out of a job - one of eight prosecutors purged by the White House and the Justice Department.

The Arizona case adds a disturbing new chapter to that scandal. Congress needs to determine whether Mr. Charlton was fired for any reason other than threatening the Republican Party's hold on a Congressional seat.

Mr. Renzi was fighting for his political life when the local press reported that he was facing indictment for a suspect land deal. According to The Wall Street Journal, federal investigators met unexpected resistance from the Justice Department in getting approval to proceed and, perhaps as a result, the investigation was pushed past the election.

Mr. Renzi's top aide, Brian Murray, admitted this week that when reports surfaced that his boss was being investigated, he had called Mr. Charlton's office asking for information. Mr. Charlton's office did the right thing, according to Mr. Murray's account: it refused to comment. Weeks later, Mr. Charlton was fired.

There is reason to be suspicious about these events. Last week, all Attorney General Alberto Gonzales could offer was weak excuses for the firing - that Mr. Charlton had asked Mr. Gonzales to reconsider a decision to seek the death penalty in a murder case and that he'd started recording interviews with targets of investigations without asking permission from Justice Department bureaucrats.

Beyond that, this story line is far too similar to one involving a fired prosecutor in New Mexico. Senator Pete Domenici, a Republican, asked the prosecutor there, David Iglesias, about the status of an investigation of prominent Democrats. If Mr. Iglesias had brought indictments before the election, it could have helped Heather Wilson, a Republican congresswoman locked in a tight re-election battle. He didn't. Mr. Domenici reportedly complained to the White House. Mr. Iglesias was fired.

Since this scandal broke, the White House has insisted that the firings were legitimate because United States attorneys serve "at the pleasure of the president." They do. But if prosecutors were fired to block investigations, that might well be obstruction of justice, which is itself a federal crime.

Yesterday, Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, wrote to Mr. Gonzales to request all White House and Justice Department communications about the Renzi investigation. Given what has already come out, the burden is now on the Justice Department to show that Mr. Charlton's firing was legitimate.

Congress stepped up this investigation in other ways yesterday. The House authorized immunity for Monica Goodling, a former Justice Department official who has invoked her right against self-incrimination. And the Senate approved a subpoena for Sara Taylor, a top aide to Karl Rove.

These interviews are important, but the major players need to testify. The Senate has approved subpoenas for Mr. Rove; for Harriet Miers, who was the White House counsel; and for other officials who seem deeply involved in the firings. It is time to serve them.

Go to Original

Renzi Didn't Reveal $200K
By Alexander Bolton
The Hill

Thusday 26 April 2007

Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) failed to disclose a $200,000 payment he received from a business partner in 2005 in apparent violation of House ethics rules. Prosecutors could use the omission as evidence that Renzi intended to conceal a transaction he knew to be controversial or even improper.

The $200,000 was a payment from James Sandlin to settle a debt related to a previous business transaction involving land in northeast Arizona, one of the lawmaker's attorneys, Grant Woods, told a newspaper last week.

This explanation might have been expected to dispel suspicion that Sandlin gave Renzi an illegal gift in exchange for action Renzi took to help Sandlin sell a $4 million parcel of land.

But Renzi's claim that Sandlin's $200,000 payment was a legitimate business transaction is weakened by the fact that he failed to disclose it in his personal financial disclosure report for 2005 filed with the House clerk.

Renzi's spokesman did not respond to several requests for comment. Renzi's attorney also failed to respond to requests for comment.

The lawmaker's 2005 report lists only one transaction: the sale of Renzi's wine company, Renzi Vino Inc., which the congressman reportedly sold to his father for between $500,000 and $1 million. According to a filing with the state of Arizona, Rep. Renzi was the only major shareholder in Renzi Vino before he sold it.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the FBI is investigating the Sandlin payment to determine whether Renzi profited from a land deal he may have advanced through his position on the House Natural Resources Committee.

Failure to disclose a large payment properly would be a violation of House ethics rules, but more significantly, prosecutors could use it as evidence that Renzi knew the transaction was illegal and tried to hide it.

"Speaking generally, failure to disclose is always a signal to investigators of an intent to conceal," said Stan Brand, an ethics lawyer who has advised many lawmakers on how fill out their personal financial disclosure reports.

"You're always better off listing a transaction, even if it falls in a gray area, and I don't think this falls in a gray area," he said of the reported $200,000 payment to Renzi. "Failure to disclose always sets you up for a charge of intent to conceal.

"I don't see how you avoid that," he said of reporting such a large payment. "It's hard for me to imagine how you avoid disclosing that if you have interest in a transaction. If you're getting proceeds, how do you avoid reporting that?"

Brand noted that indictments related to the scandal involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff cited failures to report gifts on disclosure records as evidence of intent to conceal conduct.

Another disclosure report filed with the House clerk indicates that Sandlin's $200,000 payment to Renzi likely stemmed from a previous transaction involving a jointly held real-estate company. Sandlin and Renzi became business partners in 2001 when Sandlin bought shares of Fountain Realty & Development, according to the Journal. During the following two years, Sandlin bought Renzi's stake in the business for between $1 million and $5 million, according to House financial disclosure records.

In June of 2004, Renzi amended his filing to alert the House clerk that the deal included an agreement to share future proceeds with the buyer of Fountain Hills Realty & Development.

That agreement appears to be the basis of payment related to the previous land transaction to which Renzi's lawyer discussed when he explained Sandlin's May 2005 payment.

Woods said Sandlin made the payment to Renzi's wine company shortly before Renzi sold it.
An ethics expert with Skadden Arps, Kenneth Gross, said if the $200,000 transaction was unrelated to the wine business it likely would have to be disclosed in ethics filings.

"If for example it was a personal debt or unrelated to the wine company, then it would raise the question as to why it was paid in that fashion and whether the payment to wine company was to avoid disclosure," Gross said.

If the payment involved business related to the wine company, however, it might be sufficient for Renzi merely to report the total value of the company, Gross explained.

The Renzi Vino winery, which includes at least two parcels of land, according to an Associated Press report, is located in Sonoita, Ariz., about 25 miles from the Mexican border in the southeastern part of the state. The business's far-south location makes it unlikely that it had a direct connection to the land deal in northeast Arizona Woods discussed as the reason for the payment to Renzi.

The Journal reported that Renzi pressured officials at Resolution Copper Co., a joint-venture between two mining companies, to buy Sandlin's plot of land in exchange for help in getting Congress to approve a federal land swap that would give the companies access to 3,000 acres of public lands, surrounding Apache Leap, a cliff formation standing atop what is believed to be one of North America's biggest copper lodes.

After Resolution refused to buy the land, which it considered overvalued, Renzi helped another group of investors, the Petrified Forest group, to execute a separate federal land swap.

Unlike Resolution, the Petrified Forest group agreed to buy Sandlin's property. It paid $4 million for the parcel, about $3 million more than Sandlin paid for it in 2003. Renzi dropped his support of Resolution's proposed federal land swap after Petrified Forest bought Sandlin's property, the Journal reported.

Woods told the Journal that Renzi did not know of his former partner's stake in the land when he pressured Resolution Copper to buy it.

In response to the growing scandal, Renzi Tuesday resigned from the Natural Resources and Financial Services Committees. Last week, Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), who is also embroiled in an ethics scandal, resigned from Appropriations. So far, GOP lawmakers are giving both lawmakers the benefit of the doubt.

One senior house Republican lawmaker said Renzi and Doolittle made the right decision to step down from their respective committees but stopped short of calling for either lawmaker to resign.


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