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What happened to the untouchables?

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POSTED: March 27, 2007 5:13 a.m.

Democrats in Congress have used their newly won subpoena power to hold hearings in which former Bush Justice Department U.S. attorneys told tales of political pressure on public corruption investigations. Several were fired in December, apparently for failing to obey the orders of their political minders in Washington. In addition, the New York Times reported the former U.S. attorney in Maryland believes he was fired for investigating possible corruption in the administration of the state’s then-Republican governor.
— National news item

The U.S. attorney in Atlanta, David Nahmias, was not on the list of prosecutors fired for allegedly resisting political pressure.
— Georgia news item
    
The latter item is hardly news. Considering David Nahmias’ connections and ambitions, his job may be more secure than the vice president’s. The stern-faced Northern District government lawyer is considered a superstar in the political firmament of the Justice Department.
After law school, Nahmias served as a law clerk for conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a sterling credential for any Republican lawyer. During President Bush’s first term, Nahmias served in Washington as a high-ranking political appointee in the Justice Department under then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. Reporters who covered Ashcroft at the time tagged Nahmias as an ambitious, skilled climber who had set his sights high.
Such lofty goals may explain the recent deafening silence coming from the federal courthouse in downtown Atlanta. Last year’s political season saw the media expose potentially serious corruption in state government. We heard about Gov. Sonny Perdue’s land deals, including his alleged blocking of the Nature Conservancy’s attempt to save a state wildlife preserve where the governor had used an undisclosed corporation to buy land next door.
Once the area was slated for development, Perdue’s secretly purchased land skyrocketed in value. We saw an expose of a tax bill, sponsored by House Ways and Means Chairman Larry O’Neal (who is also Perdue’s personal lawyer) that was slyly backdated in a way that saved the governor more than $100,000 in state capital gains taxes. And we learned about Perdue wheeling and dealing in Florida real estate with a major Georgia developer whom he appointed to the powerful state Board of Economic Development.
But the governor’s business dealings are just part of the messy picture. The Gold Dome is rife with talk of big money the GOP legislative leadership is raising through pressure on special interests and their lobbyists. Whether it’s Sunday sales of alcohol or reform of the state’s Certification of Need requirement for hospitals — you name it — the upturned palm (for campaign funds, of course) is certain to appear.
Lawmakers are even said to drag out debates to give themselves more time to soak up campaign contributions from interests on all sides of the issues. Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson touted a Republican fund-raiser invitation to Atlanta business interests as a “thank you” to legislators who pushed through the Chamber of Commerce’s tort reform agenda.
All of which raises the question: Where are the untouchable feds? Nahmias has completed some investigations that were begun under his predecessors, including Democrat Richard Deane. He finished the prosecution of former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell, a Democrat, winning a conviction. He completed the prosecution of former State School Superintendent Linda Schrenko, a Republican who opposed Perdue in the 2002 primary and was generally a pariah among the GOP establishment.
Nahmias, however, has made not a peep about the well-known allegations that have surfaced about Sonny Perdue and other powerful Georgia Republicans.
Georgia’s state attorney general, Democrat Thurbert Baker, hasn’t made any moves either. Of course, Baker is no table-pounding crusader like Mike Bowers, his predecessor as AG. A reserved man not known for taking risks or even trying for headlines, Baker is hamstrung by weak-to-nonexistent state anti-corruption laws.
That leaves Nahmias, who has all the resources of the U.S. government at his disposal. He has the FBI, skilled lawyers and powerful federal anti-corruption statutes to tap. Despite that, and the feds’ traditional role policing state and local corruption, we’re not likely to see Nahmias step up to the plate on any case that might reflect poorly on Republican leaders. His higher-ups have been crystal clear with Nahmias and other ambitious federal prosecutors around the nation: Play political ball or you’re out, and so is your dream of being a federal judge, a higher ranking official or whatever it might be. That’s too bad, because the taxpayers deserve better.

Correction: Colonial Pipeline lobbyist Tom Boller points out that our recent column on Colonial’s new pipeline bill incorrectly stated the firm in 1995 intended to build a pipeline through a portion of Georgia to serve Jacksonville, Fla. In fact, the facility was meant to serve Tallahassee, Fla. In addition, Mr. Boller contends our characterization of Colonial’s current legislative effort to expand its Georgia facilities with fewer restrictions and less oversight is unfair and inaccurate. We regret Mr. Boller harbors such feelings, but we believe our account is both fair and accurate.

Contact Shipp at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160, or e-mail: shipp1@bellsouth.net.

 

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