Comparative Obstruction

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Imagine that you are a manager for the Federal Aviation Administration on 9/11. You have in your possession a piece of public property — an audio tape of an hour long interview with six key air traffic controllers made just after hijacked aircraft crashed into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

This tape is a valuable piece of evidence to official investigating bodies that are ostensibly trying to finds out exactly what happened that infamous morning. Quite possibly, it is this century’s Zapruder film.

So what do you do with it? Find a safety deposit box? Bury it in a discreet spot in your back yard? Make as many copies as possible to ensure that it cannot be lost? Give it to Drudge or (even better) Seymour Hersh?

In real life, an FAA manager found himself in such a position. For reasons we are very interested in finding out, he "destroy[ed] the tape, crushing it with his hand, cutting it into small pieces and depositing the pieces into several trash cans." One could assume that he didn’t want the tape to somehow find life on a splicer’s table.

His actions were unfortunate, to say the least. The tape would have been of much interest to those who wonder about the placement of U.S. military jets on the morning of September 11. This is an especially serious debate between two groups of well-meaning people: Those who believe that United Flight 93 crashed in a field in Pennsylvania because of the efforts of courageous heroes like Todd Beamer who "took control of their destiny and stopped the terrorists from using their plane as another weapon," and those who wonder if the United Flight 93 was shot down an anonymous F-16 fighter plane.

Of course, we may never know, in part because a piece of evidence that might shed light on such controversies was destroyed. What we want to know, however, is why such a serious obstruction of justice is met with yawns by the political class when it occurs in the public sector, while in the private sector, while former Credit Suisse First Boston investment banker Frank Quattrone is going to jail for sending a routine 22-word email, the contents of which were hardly criminal — despite what federal prosecutors and yet another sycophantic, pro-government jury have declared.

We find these two parallel situations interesting — and they tell a very sad tale of the present state of justice in the United States. One case involves an exhaustive federal investigation of a man and his company, with no evidence of unlawful behavior among the numerous financial deals that had been made. The other case involves the most egregious breach of security that has ever happened in this nation’s history, resulting in nearly 3,000 deaths.

Perhaps it is fitting that the United States government would spend millions to convince a federal jury to convict Quattrone, yet do virtually nothing when information about something as important as 9/11 is destroyed. There was no evidence that Quattrone and his subordinates had done anything similar to their files, yet according to the U.S. Department of Justice, Quattrone is a scoundrel and the man who really did destroy and cover up evidence is back on the job unmolested.

If the reader has concluded that we are claiming a dual standard of justice with the federal government, then we have done part of our job. The other and more important task is to present evidence that convinces those readers who already were not convinced the moment they logged onto this website.

Thank goodness, we do not have to do this ourselves. For one, government prosecutors and others on the federal payroll have been working overtime to demonstrate that those wearing the badge of government are above the law. For example, in articles that one of us co-authored on the Martha Stewart conviction, we point out that, like Quattrone, Stewart did not commit any underlying crimes, yet fell to the "obstruction of justice" charge. As we also have pointed out, quite grimly, no federal prosecutor need worry about being charged with obstruction of justice or any other crime no matter how many times he or she breaks the law.

In case one doubts that a dual standard of justice exists within the federal system, consider the following article, which appeared in the Baltimore Sun January 10, 2003:

A federal immigration judge who presides over sensitive visa and deportation cases sought a financial partnership with a Virginia firm whose clients could end up before him in court, according to a tape recording seized in a government raid.

Judge D. Anthony Rogers’ conduct appears to violate federal conflict of interest regulations and prompted a memo in March from an investigator for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service expressing exasperation that Rogers remains on the bench in Dallas.

In the taped conversation, the judge bragged that his business relationship with an Arab sheik would generate millions of dollars in business and said that a $20,000 fee for referring each potential client to the Interbank Group was not sufficient. The Herndon, Va., firm helped foreign residents gain permanent U.S. residency under a federal program that required them to invest at least $500,000 in an American business.

"Let me go ahead and just be as abrupt as I can about it. If you think for some reason or other I am going to bring you $30 million worth of potential investors for a $20,000-a-head pop, I’m not interested in doing that," Rogers said. "I’m not that dumb."

The judge said he was interested in "a more coordinated and partnership approach to a relationship with you all."

The Code of Ethics for immigration judges issued by the U.S. Justice Department, which oversees the nation’s 220 such jurists through a subdivision, the Executive Office for Immigration Review, bars them from engaging in outside employment activities, "including seeking or negotiating for employment, that conflict with official government duties or responsibilities."

In the taped conversation, Rogers spoke repeatedly of being in partnership with Majed Abdeljaber, a man who had been practicing before him in court without an American law license, records show. In 2000, the two formalized their arrangement when both became officers of a Texas corporation involved with foreign investors with business interests in the United States.

Rogers, an immigration judge since 1993, declined to comment. He remains on the bench, earning $132,636 a year.

In case one believes that such overwhelming evidence of illegal dealings would prompt a federal criminal investigation, think again. When given this taped evidence, the U.S. Attorney for Northern Virginia, Paul McNulty, ignored it and refused to do anything. And, yes, the judge is still on the bench, and the men who taped the conversation sit in federal prison. (They refused to go along with the judge’s criminal schemes, but were convicted in federal court of other charges.)

McNulty, it should be remembered, is a very high-profile prosecutor, and one would think that he, being an elder in a conservative Presbyterian congregation and a "law-and-order" Christian, would jump at the chance to demonstrate to the world that the U.S. government will not accept such blatant corruption within its ranks, and especially within the immigration bureaucracy following the 9/11 attacks. Think again.

No, McNulty’s non-actions, like those of federal officials following the destruction of the FAA tapes, follow the dictates of what we call Westley’s Law: government grows on low expectations. In the cases to which we have pointed, it would seem that federal prosecutors and other decision-making officials, not to mention the body politic, expect people on government payrolls to be held to lower standards of conduct than those in the private sector.

If Frank Quattrone had worked for the FAA or the federal bench, he could have engaged in activity that actually caused demonstrable harm to person and property and receive a pass. We note that throughout his career his actions were already held to much scrutiny by the millions of investors who had a vested interest in his integrity. We wish that the same standards could be held to the public sector.

When that happens, such instances of comparative obstruction will not be so conspicuous.

May 10, 2004

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Christopher Westley [send him mail] teaches economics at Jacksonville State University, Alabama.

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