At Some Point, Lanny Breuer Is Responsible for William Welch’s “Judgment”

Shane Harris has a long profile of William Welch, the thuggish prosecutor in charge of Obama’s persecution of whistleblowers. One of the things he did for the profile is review all of Welch’s cases as an AUSA; he found three of them that, while not major, exhibit the same kind of abuses he has committed on the national stage.

The Washingtonian reviewed every case that Welch worked on when he was an assistant US Attorney in Springfield, from 1995 until 2006. It was during those years that Welch earned his chops as a prosecutor. His biggest victories were in a string of city corruption cases that became his steppingstone to the Public Integrity Section at Justice.

Most of Welch’s cases in Springfield appear routine. But some raise questions. In three cases, defense attorneys filed motions claiming Welch hadn’t turned over exculpatory evidence, sometimes after a judge had directed him to do so. One attorney accused Welch of mounting a vindictive prosecution against a woman who had refused to cooperate with one of his investigations. One suspected Welch of trying to prevent a witness favorable to the defense from testifying—an allegation that would surface against the prosecution years later in the Stevens case. (None of these complaints resulted in a case’s being overturned.)

Perhaps the most telling part of the profile, though, is DOJ Criminal Division head Lanny Breuer’s effusive praise for the out-of-control prosecutor he put in charge of leak investigations.

Breuer, a prominent Washington attorney who once defended former national-security adviser Sandy Berger against charges that he’d stolen classified documents, looks to be Welch’s biggest fan. “Bill is absolutely tenacious,” Breuer says. “He’ll follow every fact and research every legal issue, and he will be absolutely dispassionate in his conclusions.”

Breuer sees Welch’s doggedness as an asset in the Obama administration’s efforts to stop national-security leaks, which rests on a complicated—some say dubious—interpretation of the Espionage Act. The administration has used the law to prosecute five people in leak-related cases, more than all previous administrations combined.

Breuer doesn’t seem bothered that his lead prosecutor is under investigation. “The fact there’s an allegation in and of itself is insufficient” to keep him from prosecuting, Breuer says. “In my mind, it would be absolutely unjust and crazy at this stage not to continue to let Bill Welch be the great prosecutor he is.” Breuer adds, “I’ve grown to very much rely on his judgment, his acumen, his intellect, and his sense of justice, which I think is terrific.”

What Harris doesn’t mention in his article–I’m sure the publication schedule made it impossible–is the speech Breuer made yesterday to a bunch of prosecutors in Sun Valley. (h/t BLT) Breuer, you see, is miffed that defense attorneys are calling prosecutorial abuse what it is.

As I and others have detailed elsewhere, the Justice Department has taken a series of far-reaching steps in the past two years to ensure that all federal prosecutors consistently meet their disclosure obligations.   These measures – such as providing guidance to federal prosecutors on gathering and reviewing discoverable information and making timely disclosure to defendants, or instituting a requirement that all federal prosecutors take annual discovery training – are important steps forward.   And I think it’s fair to say that, as a Department, we are in a better place today than we were two-and-a-half years ago.   And I suspect that is true for many DA’s offices across the country as well.

Certain defense lawyers nevertheless continue to want to try and turn honest mistakes into instances of misconduct.   This kind of gamesmanship is unfortunate.   The steps we have taken go further than what the Supreme Court requires.  And they go well beyond what any prior Administration has done.   That’s a fact.   Do we need to remain vigilant?   Absolutely.   At the same time, together, we cannot – and I know we will not – shy away from taking hard cases, or otherwise shrink from our obligation to investigate and prosecute criminal activity without fear or favor, because of the possibility that an opportunistic defense lawyer will try and make hay out of an honest mistake.

The time frame Breuer mentions–the two years during which DOJ has supposedly cleaned up its act–maps to the Ted Stevens case. So it’s pretty likely he had poor maligned Welch in mind when he made these comments (though ethics was a focus of the conference).

Fine. Breuer thinks William Welch is the shit. Maybe then Breuer will also take responsibility the next time Welch puts aside all prosecutorial judgment to pursue a minor case?

17 replies
  1. Jim White says:

    The Department Formerly Known As Justice seems to be enamored with Calvinball, and it appears that William Welch currently leads all players.

  2. orionATL says:

    at some point

    attorney general eric holder is responsible for both breur’s and welch’s behavior.

    at some point,

    and we have already passed that point long ago by the way,

    president barack obama is responsible for



    and welch’s


    whenever you see a whining exculpatory comment like this from a leader (always couched in the abstract):

    “… the Justice Department has taken a series of far-reaching steps in the past two years to ensure that all federal prosecutors consistently meet their disclosure obligations. These measures – such as providing guidance to federal prosecutors on gathering and reviewing discoverable information and making timely disclosure to defendants, or instituting a requirement that all federal prosecutors take annual discovery training – are important steps forward…”

    you know you are reading/hearing boilerplate bureaucratic/corporate p.r./spin on bureaucratic/corporate incompetence or misconduct.

    sounds quite a bit like bill keller to me or david cameron, et al., et al., et al.

  3. rosalind says:

    “honest mistake”. the new “sloppy paperwork”.

    and seriously, “opportunistic defense lawyer”??!! what a tool. it’s getting hard to wade through the deep contempt oozing down from the top.

  4. marksb says:

    If a defense lawyer isn’t “opportunistic”, she shouldn’t be working. Are these people too young to have watched Perry Mason when they were kids?

  5. marksb says:

    Honest mistake = the rules are different–flexible and secret–for me ’cause I’m right and you’re wrong, and besides the guys with guns are on my side.

  6. Mary says:

    Shades of Steven Biskupic and Georgia Thompson; Mary Beth Buchanan and Cyril Wecht – Breuer must have a hard time focusing with so many “rock stars” of tenacity that DOJ has offered up for his admiration.

    (BTW – after Buchanan’s vendetta, the building where Wecht worked before she indicted him is now named after him, the Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science, )

    From vicious prosecution to prosecutorial cover up – Wecht is getting to see it all.

    The thing is – this is a DOJ that has shamelessly promoted not just imprisoning innocent people, but disappearing them. All as an enhancement of Executive power, without respect for any mimimum levels of decency or justice. After a decade of that, the people who still voluntarily associate themselves with such an enterprise don’t flinch over persecuting and imprisoning Americans on American soil for internal political gain and they’ve learned the courts and law really can’t and don’t touch them.

    You don’t overcome that culture by putting peole like Breuer and Holder and Obama at the helm.

  7. bmaz says:

    Pretty funny comedyt skit by Lanny Breuer coming hot on the heels of the Roger Clemens fiasco.

  8. Gitcheegumee says:

    Whenever I hear the names Ted Stevens and William Welch , I think of the Don Siegelman case in Alabama-and Leura Canary,Karl Rove’s BFF.

    Perhaps some of you recall the marvelous bmaz thread from last year(who could forget the title?)

    DOJ PIN Head Steps Into More Malfeasance Poo | Emptywheel
    Apr 6, 2010 – Don Siegelman (D) and whose husband has close ties to Republican Gov. ….. William Welch, the head of DOJ’s Public Integrity Section ……/doj-pin-head-steps-into-more-malfeasance-poo-2/

  9. Gitcheegumee says:

    Casualties of Justice: William Welch Leaving Ruined Lives in His … – CachedJan 4, 2011 – The New Yorker’s lead article this week is on the tragic suicide of one of the attorneys.

    NOTE: Jessalyn Raddack pulls no punches in this article.

  10. EoH says:

    I would say Breuer is already responsible for Welch, as is Eric Holder. Or has command responsibility been as denuded as risk of loss, when capitalist bets go wrong, or as the rule of law, which no longer applies to the American elite?

  11. P J Evans says:

    I don’t think Breuer and Welch would recognize ethics even if those ethics stood up and bit them in the ass.

    I’m about this >< far from wanting an asteroid or something to land on them.

  12. Gitcheegumee says:

    orionatl- From your 2009 link:

    Welch’s departure, set for Oct. 30, comes after the exit of several other lawyers connected to the Stevens case. Earlier this year, Brenda Morris, the section’s deputy chief, relocated to Atlanta for personal reasons. Morris served as the government’s lead voice during the Stevens trial and delivered a forceful cross examination of the senator. Two other section lawyers who worked on the Alaska case, Nicholas Marsh and Edward Sullivan, were transferred to the department’s international affairs unit in June.

    NOTE: Nicholas Marsh is the attorney who worked on the Ted Stevens case who committed suicide(see my 4:25 pm post).

    Brenda Morris,who also had been on the Stevens case,went onto the Don Siegelman debacle.(see bmaz PIN head thread).

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