Mr. Biskupic, we have a few questions

When US Attorney Steven Biskupic appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee, here are a few questions someone might ask:

Since all of Georgia Thompson's activities took place in Madison, why is it that the US Attorney for Western Wisconsin, who is based in Madison, didn't investigate and bring charges? Why did Biskupic, the Milwaukee-based prosecutor for the Eastern District, get involved?

Did the US Attorney for the Western District refuse to investigate the Georgia Thompson case?

How did Biskupic have jurisdiction anyway? Because the contract was mailed to Milwaukee?

Finally, one I can answer: Who was the US Attorney for Western Wisconsin during that time, anyway? Answer: J.B. Van Hollen from 2003 to January, 2005. Stephen Sinnott, an interim appointee, from February 2005 to June 2006. The current U.S. Attorney is Erik Peterson who was sworn in June 6, 2006.

Did Republicans go to Biskupic because Sinnott was a non-political appointee not subject to political pressure? Did anyone even ask Sinnott to investigate Georgia Thompson? If not, why not? If so, what was his response?

As the King of Siam would say, "Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera."

UPDATE: Bruce Murphy of Milwaukee Magazine offers

...The case was centered in Madison, in the western federal district of Wisconsin, yet the U.S. attorney there, Stephen Sinnott, did not prosecute it. Why? Sinnott says the case could have been pursued in either district, but adds that he had no problems with Biskupic’s handling of it. “I was aware of what he was doing and I concurred,” Sinnott says.

The decision to prosecute in Milwaukee had to be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice. This presented a conflict for any district judges who knew fellow Judge Lynn Adelman, whose relatives own Adelman Travel, which had gotten a state contract after making campaign donations to Gov. Jim Doyle. Biskupic got permission from the U.S. Department of Justice to prosecute in Milwaukee so long as he didn’t create a potential judicial conflict by going after Adelman Travel. In theory, Sinnott could pursue any action related to that company. But why pursue the case in such a circumscribed manner?

This scenario will be seized on by those convinced Biskupic was getting instructions from the U.S. Department of Justice. Biskupic, however, continues to deny any political pressure, even as Congress has demanded all e-mail related to this.

In truth, there are many kinds of pressures on a prosecutor. Part of his or her role is to assure the community that justice is being done. After the Republican Party hammered the idea of voter fraud in Milwaukee, and this was amplified by talk radio, the Journal Sentinel did countless front-page stories on the issue, convincing many people the system was dirty. Biskupic and then-District Attorney E. Michael McCann stepped forward to investigate and Biskupic announced he had found no conspiracy. This was a great service to the community.

Similarly, Biskupic stepped forward after lots of talk radio squawking and front-page Journal Sentinel stories about “Travelgate.” No doubt Biskupic wanted to flip Thompson and get her to rat out the Doyle administration, but Thompson didn’t know anything. Biskupic should have backed off once that became clear, but he was getting reinforcement from some Democrats.

Former Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager joined Biskupic in investigating this case. Her top aide Dan Bach repeatedly noted this was a “joint state and federal investigation,” and seemed to do everything possible to embarrass Doyle. Last week, the JS published a letter by Bach declaring “this case was handled by professional, career prosecutors … in as fair, thoughtful and apolitical fashion as any I have witnessed.” It’s well known, of course, that Lautenschlager and Doyle were enemies.

More reinforcement came from U.S. Magistrate Patricia Gorence. Gorence had the opportunity to throw out the Thompson case before it went to trial and didn’t. And she happens to be the sister-in-law of Dan Bach, which has some tongues clucking. But Gorence also worked as an assistant attorney general for Doyle in the 1990s, and has a reputation for siding with the government. “I expected to lose in front of her,” says Stephen Hurley, Thompson’s attorney. “Gorence comes from a law enforcement background.”

More reinforcement came from the jury, whose members may well have been influenced by talk radio and all the JS headlines, in finding Thompson guilty on such thin evidence.

Would a Madison jury have been as quick to rush to judgment? “The only person in the courtroom who was more shocked by the verdict than me was Steve Biskupic,” Hurley asserts. Biskupic says only that he was surprised at how fast the jury returned the verdict.

Finally, there was the Doyle administration, which hung Thompson out to dry when Biskupic went after her. Thompson, a low-level civil service employee, was unused to the media spotlight and made a couple misstatements that killed her at the trial.

Clearly Biskupic erred badly. It may turn out he was leaned on by the White House. But the list of those who abetted and reinforced his overaggressive behavior is not as short or simple as Democrats would have you believe.

Published

April 17, 2007 - 9:58am

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