- The Washington Times - Monday, February 21, 2000

There have been several illegal fund-raising trials and a few highly sensitive political cases that even Janet Reno's Justice Department was unable to deep-six. Fortunately for the Clinton-Gore administration and the Democratic National Committee (DNC), however, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, a liberal jurist appointed in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter, has directed the overwhelming majority of these cases to the courtrooms of justices appointed to the federal bench by none other than Bill Clinton. In doing so, she has bypassed the normal procedure in which cases are randomly assigned by computer.

One particularly egregious case involves the illegal shakedown and reimbursement of monks and nuns in a Buddhist temple at a 1996 fund-raiser in California attended by Vice President Al Gore. The Justice Department decided to prosecute this case involving longtime Gore fund-raiser Maria Hsia in the Democratic-friendly environs of the District of Columbia rather than in California, where Ms. Hsia allegedly committed the crimes. "As an old prosecutor, usually it's the defense that's screaming about the venue," former House Judiciary Committee counsel David Schippers, a registered Democrat who twice voted for Mr. Clinton, recently told Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly. "In this case," Mr. Schippers observed, "Ms. Hsia's from California. The co-conspirator, the temple, is in California. The money was paid in California. The reimbursement was made in California. [But] the trial is being held in Washington, D.C." at the request of Miss Reno. Moreover, in their opening statements, prosecutors took the unprecedented step of asserting no fewer than four times that the Clinton-Gore re-election committee knew nothing about the illegal contributions. Interestingly, however, congressional hearings last year revealed that Justice investigators, who interviewed Mr. Gore several times, never once asked the vice president whether he knew Asian money was being raised at the temple.

Reinforcing Justice's sneaky diversion of the trial to Washington, Judge Johnson assigned the case to District Judge Paul Friedman, whom Mr. Clinton appointed in 1994. It was at least the third fund-raising case assigned to Judge Friedman. At Judge Johnson's direction, Judge Friedman also oversaw Charlie Trie's case; and he is the trial judge assigned by Judge Johnson to the case involving Pauline Kanchanalak, a Thai businesswoman accused of funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to the DNC.

Judge Friedman has been notorious for throwing out numerous charges. Indeed, on several occasions, he has accused the Justice Department of using "Alice-in-Wonderland" logic in filing its charges. In fact, it has been Judge Friedman who has used his own "Alice-in-Wonderland" logic. He has repeatedly dismissed charges against the fund-raisers, ruling that citizens of foreign countries are permitted to make unlimited soft-money political contributions and that disclosure rules did not require political committees to reveal the original sources of soft-money donations.

Time and again, however, various appellate panels have overturned Judge Friedman's rulings. Shortly after one of his rulings was overturned, Trie pleaded guilty. Last year appellate panels also reinstated several charges that Judge Friedman had dismissed in the Hsia and Kanchanalak cases, ruling that federal election laws require the reporting of the "true sources" of soft-money donations and forbid foreign donations of soft money.

Judge Johnson also bypassed the random-selection procedure in assigning another tax case involving Webster Hubbell. She directed that case to Clinton-appointed Judge James Robertson, who dismissed the tax charge. However, an appeals court overruled the judge and reinstated the case, after which Hubbell pleaded guilty. Judge Robertson later was assigned another Hubbell case in which Hubbell was charged with lying to federal investigators. Judge Robertson again dismissed the principal felony count against Hubbell; and an appeals court again overruled him, after which Hubbell once again pleaded guilty to yet another felony.

Last week the Judicial Council of the D.C. Circuit, an appellate court body that oversees the conduct of judges at the D.C. federal court, ordered an investigation into Judge Johnson's assignment of criminal cases involving friends and associates of President Clinton and Vice President Gore to judges appointed by the president. The council instructed acting Appeals Court Chief Judge Stephen Williams to determine why the random computer assignment system was bypassed in prosecutions involving several campaign fund-raising cases and Hubbell. This judicial investigation was long overdue. Its announcement is a comforting indication that the Clinton administration has not succeeded in politicizing every last element of the criminal justice system in the nation's capital.

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