Conservatives Decry 'Double Standard' in Justice, Media

By Fred Lucas | July 7, 2008 | 8:32 PM EDT

( - Some conservatives don't mind that Republicans have been under fire for legal, ethical and moral mishaps, but they are concerned that Democrats may be getting away with the same types of misconduct.

"Corruption is bipartisan, always has been," Kenneth Boehm, national chairman of the government watchdog National Legal and Policy Center, told Cybercast News Service. "The real issue is there ought to be one way to deal with every offender."

Last month's conviction of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, for perjury and obstruction of justice brought back memories of an earlier incident involving a senior aide on national security.

Sandy Berger, the national security advisor for President Bill Clinton, admitted to stealing classified documents and even hid some under a trailer at a construction site near the National Archives.

He copped a plea, and a federal judge ordered him to pay a $50,000 fine, serve two years' probation, perform 100 hours of community service and submit to a polygraph "lie detector" test. He has yet to have the polygraph.

In comparing the Libby and Berger cases, David Bossie, president of the conservative group Citizens United, argued that the Libby case "came down to the old saw that the cover-up is worse than the alleged crime, whereas the latter [Berger case] amounted to one of the most brazen violations of classified material in our lifetime."

"Whereas Libby is now awaiting sentencing and faces up to three years in prison," Bossie noted, "Berger is a free man."

Conservative columnist Ann Coulter declared of the Libby verdict, "That makes it official: It's illegal to be a Republican."

She cited multiple cases of Democrats who faced legal and ethical questions but have yet to be punished. They included Rep. William Jefferson from Louisiana, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Rep. Patrick Kennedy from Rhode Island.

A Republican may be more likely to be forced from office over a scandal, Boehm contended, while Democrats often delay action. That's in part because of the logistics of a federal trial in Washington, D.C., where the jury pool is heavily Democratic, he said.

Also, he added, Republicans in Congress have stronger procedural rules in their caucus regarding investigations.

But suggestions of a double standard, said Norm Ornstein, a research scholar for the American Enterprise Institute, are historically off base.

"Berger talked to prosecutors, and they felt he was relatively forthcoming," Ornstein told Cybercast News Service. "To say there is a double standard in the Libby case, when [special prosecutor] Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed by a Republican Justice Department is an awfully hard case to make."

Conservative talk radio, commentators and editorial pages have also complained about the heavy attention the media and Congress are giving allegations that the Bush administration fired eight U.S. attorneys for political reasons, when little attention met the Clinton administration's decision to purge all but one of the nation's sitting U.S. attorneys in 1993.

There again, however, Ornstein said the comparison was inappropriate.

"It's one thing for a president to come in and say 'I want my own people,'" Ornstein said. "It's another to get rid of them because they weren't prosecuting the people the Bush administration wanted prosecuted. It's a false analogy."

Cliff Kincaid, editor of the conservative Accuracy in Media Report, believes the Bush administration's defensive handling of questions on the U.S. attorneys allowed it to manifest into a perceived scandal.

"The media devoted all this attention to a few U.S. attorneys fired, when Clinton fired them all," Kincaid told Cybercast News Service. "The fault lies with the Bush administration and their Justice Department."

It's difficult to compare the Libby and Berger cases - or other cases of public misconduct - to make a sweeping judgment of a double standard, said Paul Orfanedes, director of litigation for Judicial Watch, a group that investigates potential government wrongdoing and ranks the most corrupt.

"There are such diverse examples," he said. "It's not surprising that different prosecutors take different directions."

Sex, drugs and Florida prosecutions

A Florida prosecutor seemed to show at least a different level of aggressiveness in going after a high-profile conservative talk show host and a well-moneyed liberal.

Florida State Attorney Barry E. Krischer, a Democrat, was dogged in his pursuit of talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who admitted addiction to prescription pain killers. However, Limbaugh denied he was involved in doctor shopping - or deceiving multiple doctors to get overlapping prescriptions - as prosecutors alleged.

After a near three-year probe, Limbaugh struck a deal last April without admitting guilt to the original charge, but admitted to committing fraud to obtain prescription drugs on the condition that the charges would be dropped in 18 months if he continued to go to treatment, as he was already doing.

Limbaugh also had to pay $30,000 to offset the cost of the investigation, as well as $30 a month for his supervision.

Although the state attorney's office in Palm Beach, Fla., tried and failed to convict Limbaugh on the intended charges, Palm Beach police felt Krischer's office lacked effort in the case of Jeffrey Epstein, a New York money manager with a home in Palm Beach and a major contributor to the Democratic Party.

Police watched Epstein's home and reported that they found he was paying teenaged girls to come to his mansion to perform quasi-sexual acts.

When police presented the evidence to Krischer for an arrest warrant, Krischer instead chose to convene a grand jury and indict Epstein for solicitation of prostitution, when police wanted a more serious charge, since the acts involved minors.

Epstein maintains his innocence, while the Palm Beach police chief last fall asked that Krischer disqualify himself from the case.

Epstein had reportedly flown former President Bill Clinton in his 727 plane. Other Democratic candidates in 2006 - New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and New York Gov. Elliott Spitzer - returned donations they received from Epstein.

Republicans and Democrats are subjected to different standards, Kincaid said.

At the same time, however, he does not think this is something conservatives should bemoan.

"Rush Limbaugh says on the radio that character counts, so when he is caught, I don't think he should expect to be let off the hook," Kincaid said.

"Republicans and conservatives should be held to a higher standard. We hold ourselves to a higher standard. We're the party of family values," he added.

Congressional accountability

That "higher standard" may also apply to lawmakers involved in sex scandals.

In a recent example, Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) was forced from Congress in late 2006 when news broke just weeks before the mid-term elections that he had sent sexually explicit e-mails to under aged male congressional pages.

Back in 1993, however, Rep. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) was censured for having sex with an under aged male page, remained in office for 13 years, and then retired.

Also censured in the 1983 page scandal was Rep. Dan Crane (R-Ind.), for having sex with a teenage female page. His accountability moment came in 1984 when the voters turned him out of office.

"In crimes of moral turpitude, you can explain a double standard," Boehm said, in reference - again - to the importance conservatives place on morality. "In financial crimes, it depends. There ought to be one standard. Anything that detracts from one standard is a problem."

In the realm of public corruption, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) resigned after being indicted by a Democratic state prosecutor on a campaign finance charge. He is awaiting trial and maintains his innocence.

Former Reps. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) were both ousted and were sentenced to prison for bribery scandals that were blatant enough to ensure that few Republican partisans protested.

More recently, conservative watchdog groups such as Judicial Watch and the National Legal and Policy Center criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for selecting Democrats for the House leadership with ethical problems.

Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania was Pelosi's first choice to be House majority leader, despite being named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1980s "Abscam" scandal that involved the conviction of a senator and six House members.

She also tapped Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida - one of six former federal judges to be impeached and removed from office - to head the House intelligence committee.

Neither appointment was approved, but two other Democrats under a federal probe were rewarded with influential positions.

Jefferson was named to the Homeland Security Committee this year despite being under investigation by the FBI, which allegedly found $90,000 stashed in his freezer.

Rep. Allan Mollahan of West Virginia serves on a House appropriations subcommittee that supervises funding for the FBI, which is the agency probing his involvement in questionable budget earmarks to a non-profit group.

These incidents may not necessarily reflect a double standard, said Lee Edwards, a distinguished fellow of conservative studies at the Heritage Foundation and professor of politics at Catholic University.

"Tom DeLay, being in leadership, had to be held to a higher standard than other members," Edwards told Cybercast News Service.

Yet, another lawmaker in a position of leadership, Reid has yet to have a controversial $1.1 million real estate deal come under close inspection beyond scattered press accounts.

On the flip side, in 2002 then-Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.), resigned amid a corruption scandal, amid election-year pressure from other members of his party. That same year, then-Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio) was expelled from the House by a near-unanimous vote after he was convicted on federal racketeering charges.

Edwards also points to scandals in past decades that brought down Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright, who resigned under an ethics cloud, and Rep. Daniel Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), sentenced to prison in 1994 because of his involvement in the House post office scandal.

And of course, Edwards added, President Bill Clinton was impeached on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, though he was eventually acquitted.

"You have to take a long view and look back over the last several decades [when looking into how Republicans and Democrats have fared in legal difficulties]," Edwards said.

But, he added, "Republicans hold themselves to a higher moral standard. Therefore, the media hold them to a higher standard."

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