Politics

Porn, Prosecutors, and Priorities

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I wrote six weeks ago that the troubling part of the U.S. attorney firings isn't the White House's politicization of the office—the office has been overtly political since the early 1980s. It shouldn't be surprising that the White House would expect its prosecutors to share its priorities. The real scandal here is what those priorities are. This Justice Department seems particularly interested in investing lots of federal resources on nonviolent, victimless crime. Think drugs, medical marijuana, "Operation Pipe Dreams," and Internet gambling.

Oh yes, and porn.

Now comes word from two fired U.S. attorneys that they were dismissed primarily for refusing to take on the obscenity cases sent to them by the Justice Department.

But it gets better. One of those attorneys was Paul Charlton of Arizona. Adult Video News (link NSFW) did some sleuthing, and found some interesting stuff. Charlton did in fact bring one federal obscenity case in Arizona. But while he was bringing that particular series of indictments, it turns out that another chain of adult video stores based in Arizona continued to sell and rent the same titles the other store was indicted for selling.

The kicker is that the unindicted store had recently declared bankruptcy, and was being run by trustees from the federal government. So while the federal government was indicting one business for breaking federal obscenity laws, the government itself was breaking those same laws just a few miles away, in order to recoup federal taxes owed by a rival store.

Even more interesting, it looks like Charlton may have balked on the case after learning about the discrepancy via a brief from attorneys for the indicted store. And that balk may have cost him his job.

Charlton wasn't on the original list of U.S. attorneys slated for termination in early 2005. He and Dan Bogden from Las Vegas were added in September 2006 after a memo from the Justice Department's recently named "Porn Czar," former Utah U.S. Attorney Brent Ward. From the text of a memo Ward sent to DOJ Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson titled "Obscenity Cases:"

We have two U.S. Attorneys who are unwilling to take good cases we have presented to them. They are Paul Charlton in Phoenix (this is urgent) and Dan Bogden in Las Vegas. In light of the AG's [Attorney General's] comments at the NAC to 'kick butt and take names', what do you suggest I do? Do you think at this point that these names should go through channels to reach the AG, or is it enough for me to give the names to you? If you want to act on what I give you, I will be glad to provide a little more context for each of the two situations.

Officially, the only document the Justice Department has released related to Charlton's firing involves a complaint from former House Speaker Denny Hastert that Charlton's office refused to pursue marijuana cases unless the amount of the drug seized was over 500 pounds (which, frankly, seems like a sound policy at the federal level).

Even Arizona Sen. John Kyl wrote a terse letter to the editor of the Arizona Republic yesterday in Charlton's defense (though Kyl's critics will say he was just covering his ass).

NEXT: No "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" No Peace

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  1. The real scandal here is what those priorities are. This Justice Department seems particularly interested in investing lots of federal resources on nonviolent, victimless crime.

    Damn skippy. AOBP

  2. Think drugs, medical marijuana, “Operation Pipe Dreams,” and Internet gambling. Oh yes, and porn.

    Forgot bad memory about non-crimes.

  3. The real scandal here is what those priorities are. This Justice Department seems particularly interested in investing lots of federal resources on nonviolent, victimless crime.

    Those are the most serious crimes, they tear apart the fabric of our society and are no pro family.

  4. Yes, competing against the federal government by selling the same porn tapes they are will inevitably tear apart the fabric of our society.

    OK I kind of got the idea Joe was being sarcastic but I wanted to play along.

  5. “Joe” (notice the capital J) seems to be the latest incarnation of “Jane” or “Juanita.” Just ignore.

  6. “And that balk may have cost him job.”

  7. damn gubmint porno stores…

    the people who ran enron were greedy soulless fuckfaces, but i really don’t think they have anything on the feds. you’d need buckets of acid to simply even things up on the surrealism scale.

  8. Another excellent post from Mr Balko! Thank you so much for pointing this out.

    As far as I’m concerned, if the Executive branch has some low-level employees who aren’t important enough for the “consent” of the Senate, then there’s no crime in ejecting them for not wearing the right colour of tie at the office; let alone for refusing to prosecute a case upon which the Executive has set them.

    But not even Hugh Hewitt can defend the Justice Department here. There has got to be a RICO statute against what Brent Ward has done; and his superiors are negligent at least.

    What did the Attorney General know, and when did he know it? I can’t believe I am saying this but I miss John Ashcroft.

  9. The least the AG should do is to terminate Kyle Sampson with extreme prejudice (as well as Ward), and to start over with a fresh chief of staff.

  10. you’d need buckets of acid to simply even things up on the surrealism scale.

    Where is Tros, anyway? Probably watching a porno, I guess. Perhaps the thing is, that the Feds are ok with people selling porno, so long as they aren’t too successful at it.

    This is a kicker: Charlton’s office refused to pursue marijuana cases unless the amount of the drug seized was over 500 pounds. Finally, a DA who is not wasting time or money on pointless cases, and they toss him out.

    rant: Violent crime is on the rise, identity theft is epidemic, and the morons in the Bush admin are going after potheads ond porn. Shitheads. /rant.

  11. You had me at “buckets of acid.”

  12. I do hope the government run porn stores were in full compliance with applicable federal contracting laws requiring more woman-owned and small disadvantaged business porn suppliers, publicly posting their inventory needs to permit full and open competition, etc.

    For that matter, was any thought given to the poor and maybe issuing Porn Stamps to the truly needy?

  13. Because those things are immoral, they need to be banned, and those doing those things must be punished. If Jesus was alive today he would support the war on drugs, porn and gambling because those things are immoral and everone what does those things needs to get SEVERE punishment, including perhaps life in prison, solitary confinement, torture and perhaps the death penalth. If Jesus was alive today he would support torture and death for those who blasphemy the lord by participating in porn, drugs or gambling, which is whay they must be illegal. Anthing that protects the kids and helps the cops keep us all off of porn, drugs or gambling is inherintly a good thing, I’m all for it. Let’s face it the risk of being killed by an Iraqui terrorist is low, porn, drugs or gambling is the biggest risk to our children these days. If it save one life from the Devil then I’m all for it.

  14. Wow, not even the slightest regret for blowing off the story, Radley?

    Nothing to see here, folks. Happens all the time. So someone got fired for successfully busting a Republican bribery ring? All presidents want their United States Attornies to “share their priorities,” and if this president prioritizes the use of United States Attorneys offices to show partisan bias in the handling of corruption cases, that’s no different than, say, wanting the ratio of gun prosecutions to mail fraud prosecutions to shift slightly. Right?

    Boy, that word “political” is great, isn’t it? It’s like duct tape – you can use it anywhere, to cover anything, and make even the shoddiest construction hold together.

  15. joe, I have no problem with Congress holding hearings on this, and as I’ve said before, it is critical for the Senate to regain it’s ability to check the executive branch’s power in naming U.S. Attorneys. However, given the DOJ’s record of abusing citizens over the last several decades, up to and including getting people killed, with voters doing very little in response, what reason is there to think that the electorate will react in a punitive fashion in regard to this matter?

  16. “…what reason is there to think that the electorate will react in a punitive fashion in regard to this matter?”

    Because the public understands the distinction between political differences and corruption.

    Same reason the WMD fraud gets more press than the Bush Doctrine that made that fraud happen, even though the latter is probably more important.

  17. BTW, this would have been a good time to link to the stories about John Ashcroft spending the eight months of his term pulling FBI agents off of counter-terrorism to put them on obscenity investigations.

  18. er, “…first eight months…”

  19. So what does a government porno look like?

    I’ve never seen one, but I imagine it involves fucking a taxpayer in the ass.

  20. You fill out that form, you little worm!

  21. Reminds me of the whole “ban gambling except for government lotteries” shtick.

  22. smacky | March 19, 2007, 1:31pm | #
    So what does a government porno look like?

    I’ve never seen one, but I imagine it involves fucking a taxpayer in the ass.

    Yeah, but the cinematic quality is even worse than free-market porn.

  23. The good news is that all government pornos are five hours long.

    The bad news is that this is only because everyone appearing in the video works for the post office, and the sex doesn’t actually occur until 04:57:00.

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