- The Washington Times - Monday, August 24, 2009


Reports that President Obama’s Justice Department has begun an “internal ethics investigation” into acting U.S. Attorney Ralph J. Marra Jr.’s remarks about the root causes of corruption in New Jersey raised suspicions in certain political circles last week.

Associated Press reported that the department’s obscure Office of Professional Responsibility was investigating comments made by Mr. Marra about the depth of corruption in the state that some officials think may have crossed the line into politics. But some outside observers think it may be the department’s actions that were motivated by politics.

Mr. Marra is continuing the sweeping federal corruption investigation that late last month led to the arrests of 44 people, 29 of whom were elected or public officials. The arrests were part of a long-term anti-corruption crusade begun by U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie, who resigned his post in December to run against embattled Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine.

Official corruption in the state has become a huge political issue that threatens Mr. Corzine’s bid for re-election to a second term in November. Polls show Mr. Christie, who convicted 130 public officials over his seven-year tenure, has been leading him by double digits for months.

Mr. Corzine’s problem is how to defuse the corruption issue. Enter the Justice Department, which AP says has launched an investigation into Mr. Marra “over public comments that may have helped his ex-boss’ campaign for governor,” referring to Mr. Christie. The AP story is based on Justice Department officials “who spoke on condition of anonymity.” The department itself refuses to comment on it one way or the other.

The investigation revolves around remarks Mr. Marra made at a news conference last month to announce the arrests. Asked about corruption in the state, Mr. Marra said: “There are easily reforms that could be made within this state that would make our job easier, or even take some of the load off our job. There are too many people that profit off the system the way it is, and so they have no incentive to change it. The few people that want to change it seem to get shouted down. So how long that cycle’s going to continue, I just don’t know.”

It’s a statement with which few, if anyone, would disagree, and it certainly falls within the definition of fair public comment on why New Jersey has been victimized by decades of largely Democratic corruption — and, sadly, has been defined by it.

A Corzine campaign official declined to comment on Mr. Marra’s remarks because, as he put it, “we don’t want to criticize an investigation and politicize it.” But some of Mr. Christie’s Republican allies already suspect that politics is the real motive behind the Justice Department’s initiative against Mr. Marra’s remarks and that’s why it was leaked to the news media.

This is not the first time the power of the government has been used, some might say abused, to achieve or advance some political end.

Such abuse was on display last week when Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat and the aggressive chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sent a letter to 52 health insurance companies demanding internal financial records as part of an investigation into the industry’s executive compensation and other practices.

The health insurance industry has been a critic of Mr. Obama’s health care plan, but the White House’s campaign to demonize it has for all intents and purposes largely failed. Polls show most Americans are satisfied with their health care coverage.

So, with national polls recording growing opposition to the Democrats’ health care bills, Mr. Waxman has embarked on what an insurance industry spokesman calls “a fishing expedition” to dig up whatever he can find to attack one of the administration’s chief opponents.

It goes without saying that it is rather late in the health care debate to be demanding insurance industry records. And it does not require very deep analysis to discern Mr. Waxman’s motivations and why he is in a hurry to get this information by early next month, which includes how much top executives earned between 2003 and 2008.

Mr. Waxman and other top House committee Democrats were trying to “silence the health insurance industry and distract attention away from the fact that the American people are rejecting a government-run plan,” an America’s Health Insurance Plans spokesman told AP’s David Espo. Exactly.

So on one end of Pennsylvania Avenue we have the heavy hand of the Justice Department investigating whether the acting U.S. attorney in the district of New Jersey — who is valiantly trying to clean up corruption — has some devious political motivation to observe that things are pretty bad there and getting worse.

Then at the other end of the avenue, a powerful committee chairman is trying to dig up dirt on an industry that insures 180 million Americans, just to score political points when the health care battle resumes on Capitol Hill.

There’s a larger story developing here about political abuse of power in Washington.

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.

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