Immunizing Crimes: Blankfein, Zirbel, and Arpaio, but Whither Corzine?

DOJ has been doing a lot of immunizing of late. There’s Lloyd Blankfein, who not only ripped off his clients with “one shitty deal,” he then lied to Congress about it. There’s Matt Zirbel,* the CIA officer who had Gul Rahman doused with water and left to freeze to death in the Salt Pit. And there’s Joe Arpaio, who used the Maricopa County Sherriff’s office to investigate his political enemies.

DOJ immunized all these men in the last month, in spite of a vast amount of publicly available evidence clearly showing their crimes. And while DOJ had the courage to announce their decision about Blankfein and Goldman Sachs on a typical news day, not so their announcements about Zirbel and Arpaio–DOJ slipped those announcements into the journalistic distraction of Paul Ryan’s dishonest speech and Clint Eastwood’s empty chair, and the more generalized distraction of an imminent holiday weekend.

But with these grants of immunity, DOJ cleared the board of most of the politically contentious cases of immunized criminals just in time for election season. The Goldman banksters could donate with no worries, the NatSec types wouldn’t pull an October surprise, and Republicans couldn’t claim Arpaio was caught in a witch hunt because of the witch hunts he himself conducted.

DOJ cleared most, though not all, of the politically contentious cases they plan to clear though. The exception may prove the rule.

After all, between the time they granted Blankfein immunity and the time they granted Zirbel and Arpaio immunity, “people involved in the case” made it clear DOJ probably won’t charge Jon Corzine for stealing millions from his customers. Sure, particularly given the way that article focused on rehabilitating Corzine’s reputation, maybe it was just disinformation spread by his lawyer. But if not, then the timing will work out perfectly for campaign season: an interview with Corzine in the next few weeks–during election season–which will make DOJ generally and Preet Bharara specifically (who seems to employ an entire PR industry to claim he’s mean to banksters) look tough. At precisely the time people start paying attention, we’ll have bankster prosecution theater.

And then, sometime after the election (probably on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving Day, given how cynical the Zirbel and Arpaio timing was), we’ll likely learn that banksters can steal hundreds of millions from farmers with impunity so long as they claim confusion when they get caught.

But that decision will come after the election, too late for Republicans to suggest that the Obama DOJ let a former Democratic Governor get off easy.

And so it is that these immunizations not only make it clear that the law is just for little people, but they serve a tidy–and timely–political purpose as well.

None of this should surprise us, of course. Obama’s been in the immunizing business for a while. One of the first things Obama did four years ago–before we elected him but after he became the nominal head of the Democratic Party–was to capitulate to the NatSec types and gave the telecoms (which ended up being the government, too) immunity for their illegal spying. That immunization may have served a political purpose, too.

So it’s a familiar feel, this immunization just in time for campaign season.


*Two and a half years ago, when I first noticed Zirbel’s name in an officially released document, I not only didn’t publish it, but warned DOJ it had been disclosed–an opportunity to protect his identity they didn’t use. I warned folks because I thought DOJ was conducting a credible review of the torture committed under the Bush Administration. Obviously, I was a chump. As DOJ continues to shield the powerful from any accountability, they might find fewer people putting their faith in a justice system that is obviously failing.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

23 replies
  1. bell says:

    when a country no longer stands for justice, what does it stand for? i guess this is why some folks say corporations are now running things.. i guess that is what the usa is now – a corporation, not a country..

  2. joanneleon says:

    I actually wondered if Corzine would be the October surprise, announcing an investigation, but then somehow ending the investigation with no charges after the election. Is that what you are suggesting here?

    “But if not, then the timing will work out perfectly for campaign season: an interview with Corzine in the next few weeks–during election season–which will make DOJ generally and Preet Bharara specifically (who seems to employ an entire PR industry to claim he’s mean to banksters) look tough. At precisely the time people start paying attention, we’ll have bankster prosecution theater.”

    Maybe Corzine would actually even agree to that as a way to try to clear his name in a very public way (though I don’t know one person who would fall for that).

    There has to be some kind of bankster theater October surprise, right? This Bain subpoena could be it, I guess, but isn’t that too obvious? Diverting the attention from the usual Wall Street banks to evil private equity firms who can be blamed for sending our jobs to China sounds like a way to divert attention from trade deals and other policies that place no barriers in front of corps who gladly outsource and offshore jobs. There has to be some red meat bankster investigation. But after the well publicized appointment of Schneiderman to the redundant fraud task force by Obama, it seems too obvious to have him go after Bain right now even if he’s doing it as a state AG, not federal. But maybe they are panicking more than I thought.

  3. D12345 says:

    I know it is minor compared to the cosmic injustices which we are witnessing every day…
    But could we reconsider the constant reflexive use of “folks.” This is a completely new style.
    popularized by Obama and now a staple of every news channel.

    “The folks at Apple”
    “the folks on Wall Street”
    “Folks in the Romney campaign.”

    It is all over the place. Interestingly, I have never once seen it used to refer to people in other countries.

    Never

    “Folks in Afghanistan are tired of…”
    “Folks in Sudan are starving…”

    Etc..

    No. Folks are exclusively American. And it represents a false sense which Obama exploits

    “Folks trying to pay their mortgage” etc.

    To suggest a false casual identification with people.

    As I say…minor, compared to a Justice Dept which is a disgrace and an insult to the word “Justice.”

    Just as we should refer to Military spending….not “defense”….I think we should call it the
    “Administration’s legal staff.” Justice doesn’t enter into it….

  4. everybody skates says:

    When they made Eric Holder the AG, you knew that official impunity would be absolute. Holder got the AG’s job by lying to try and cover up the US government’s extrajudicial killing of Martin Luther King, http://www.thekingcenter.org/sites/default/files/KING%20FAMILY%20TRIAL%20TRANSCRIPT.pdf . He did it for the Clinton administration and then he was made. Holder is Uncle Sam’s mob lawyer: hits, heists, cons, meathook jobs, Eric Holder’s gonna get you off.

  5. Milton Arbogast says:

    Corzine will never be prosecuted. If anyone asks between now and the election, they will be told that the investigation is in full swing. After the election, he will walk.

    His pockets aren’t deep enough to immunize him now, and the victims of his crimes are too sympathetic. On the other hand, he is a member of the club. We will be allowed to remember to forget.

    http://youtu.be/ANxlTNTSY0s

    http://youtu.be/HaqjSCx_3uw

  6. MadDog says:

    OT – The AP and the Yemen Post on the latest in the recent wave of US drone strikes in Yemen:

    The AP:

    Yemen: Drone Kills Alleged Tanker Attacker

    “A U.S. drone strike Sunday killed a top al-Qaida militant wanted for allegedly masterminding a 2002 attack on a French oil tanker, Yemeni military officials said.

    In a separate incident, Yemeni warplanes killed 14 civilians in an errant airstrike, officials said…”

    (My Bold)

    The Yemen Post:

    Misdirected Drone Attack Kills 13 Yemeni Civilians

    “At least 13 civilians including three women were killed in an airstrike which targeted their car in Yemen’s Baidha province on Sunday, local sources told Yemen Post.

    The raid was carried out in the Manaseeh district in the Rada town, and the victims were all civilians and had nothing to do with Al-Qaeda or terrorism.

    It was carried out by a US drone at a time when the Yemeni authorities are receiving direct support from the US including drone strikes to target Al-Qaeda operatives…”

    (My Bold again)

  7. Gobsmacked says:

    Many thanks for taking the time to gather the threads and connect the dots for us, especially on a Holiday weekend. this is why Bloggers have become so very very important to the world – they are able to break it down and make it comprehensible for their readers. very much appreciated.

  8. A Stick In The Spokes says:

    0’s DoJ may be doing the bidding of its masters, but the NY State Attorney General is once again poking his nose into everybody’s business and will probably be pissing somebody off real quick like.

    Inquiry on Tax Strategy Adds to Scrutiny of Finance Firms

    The New York attorney general is investigating whether the nation’s biggest private equity firms have abused a tax strategy in order to slice hundreds of millions of dollars from their tax bills.

    The attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, has in recent weeks subpoenaed more than a dozen firms seeking documents that would reveal whether they converted certain management fees collected from their investors into fund investments, which are taxed at a far lower rate than ordinary income.

    Among the firms to receive subpoenas are Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, TPG Capital, Sun Capital Partners, Apollo Global Management, Silver Lake Partners and Bain Capital, which was founded by Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for president.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/02/business/inquiry-on-tax-strategy-adds-to-scrutiny-of-finance-firms.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

    NY AG probing equity firms, including Bain

    New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is examining whether firms have abused a tax strategy to avoid paying hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes. The practice involves converting some fees collected for managing accounts into fund investments, resulting in a lower tax rate.

    Some tax experts believe the strategy is illegal.

    http://news.yahoo.com/source-ny-probing-equity-firms-including-bain-154036294–election.html?_esi=1

  9. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: Yeah, I plan to say more about this. But the big question here isn’t so much whether we or Yemen pressed the button. It’s about who gave faulty intell. If it was Hadi’s govt, we’re not that far from when Saleh was giving warnings. If it was the Saudis, then THAT could get far more interesting.

  10. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: The question arises as to whether Obama is still personally approving all US drone strikes in Yemen as has been reported previously?

    If so, does that mean he signed off on the US drone strike today that killed 13 civilians as reported by the Yemen Post?

  11. MadDog says:

    @emptywheel: I’m taking the Yemen Post’s piece more seriously than the AP’s reporting. It would seem logical that a locally-based media outlet like the Yemen Post would likely have good local sources.

    And I agree with you that the faulty intelligence in this particular strike really smells. And with the ramp up this week of multiple US drone strikes in Yemen, somebody is fingering a lot of folks in Yemen.

  12. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: More OT – And speaking of US covert drone operations, this from Australia’s ABC News:

    Revealed: US flew spy drone missions from Australia

    “The United States flew highly classified Global Hawk spy drone missions from the Royal Australian Air Force base at Edinburgh in South Australia from late 2001 until at least 2006.

    The operations were detected by a group of Adelaide aviation historians who had a member monitoring aircraft radio frequencies 20 hours a day.

    With a wingspan greater than a 737 airliner and a $200 million price tag, the RQ-4 Global Hawk is the biggest, most expensive unmanned aerial vehicle to ever take to the skies…

    [snip]

    …Were the US Global Hawks targeting countries in our region? And why did the drones need to fly specifically to Edinburgh for “replenishment”, requiring such a huge detour from the international hotspots they targeted?

    The Australian Defence Department refuses to comment.

    Mr Daw thinks location was a key factor.

    “I believe RAAF Edinburgh was chosen because it is close to but outside a major city, had hangars that could conceal the Global Hawk and back then, it was a quiet base,” he said.

    American author Matthew M Aid, an analyst specialising in US intelligence operations in the post-9/11 world, agrees.

    He says Global Hawk operations in the Asia-Pacific region have been based out of Andersen Air Force Base on the US territory of Guam – but only since 2010…

    …”Almost every day one of the US Air Force Global Hawks based on the island of Guam can be found flying off the North Korean coastline taking pictures of targets deep inside the country that are more detailed than those coming from satellites.

    “They fly at 60,000 feet, 75 miles off the North Korean coastline, taking grainy shots taken from a 45-degree angle…”

  13. Bill Michtom says:

    @jo6pac “Yes or just close it down and send everyone home since they do nothing already.”

    But it’s their only successful jobs program!

  14. Jeff Kaye says:

    I warned folks because I thought DOJ was conducting a credible review of the torture committed under the Bush Administration. Obviously, I was a chump.

    Well, I too have been struck by the amount of credulity I have had at times with regards to the motives of some in the US government to investigate and prosecute government crimes. So I salute your courage in noting you were fooled. However, I don’t think I would have ever told the government they had accidentally released a name, as there is way too much secrecy already. Their mistakes are the bread and butter of any press that is trying to actually accurately report the truth, because the government’s job is to hide the truth.

    I suppose I am still awash with angst over my own self-discoveries that the US so effectively covered up some pretty egregious crimes. Until the 1990s, there was the radiation experiments. Also, and in the US barely still publicized or understood, the existence of right-wing “stay-behind” units in Europe, working for NATO, but later used in false-flag terror attacks to justify crackdowns on leftists (GLADIO); or US backing of the right-wing Latin American dictatorships reign of terror (torture, assassination, stealing children!) on leftists and even the liberal class in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, etc. (CONDOR); and finally, the US deal with Imperial Japan’s biological warfare units, whose insane human experimentation included live vivisection of US POWs, providing immunity for war crimes if they’d turn over their research data to the US, and perhaps work for them as well (UNIT 731).

    Faith in the US government? Hardly. One will do far better if you attribute the worst motivations to government, because you are far more likely to be closer to the truth than not in doing so. This is why we need a free, and much more importantly, an active and enquiring press.

    The British press, btw, have been much better about reporting the Unit 731 material, and this because the US, uncharacteristically for their “special relationship” partners, cut the Brits out re the deal with Shiro Ishii’s Unit 731 crowd. The first real expose on the Ishii group and the US deal (signed by MacArthur) was by British journalists Peter Williams and David Wallace in the late 1980s. Even then, when Williams and Wallace’s book was published in the US, their chapter about US use of biological weapons during the Korean War was censored and left out of the US edition entirely. (Reminiscent of how one cannot buy David Hicks’ memoir of Guantanamo in the US!)

    See “Japanese veteran admits vivisection tests on PoWs”, UK Guardian, 11/27/06 http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/nov/27/secondworldwar.japan

    After sedating the men by placing ether-soaked cloths over their faces, he was instructed to make an incision with a surgical knife and study their livers….

    Mr Makino is one of several former Japanese soldiers who decided to reveal the truth about their country’s use of human guinea pigs before they die.

    Unit 731, the imperial Japanese army’s notorious germ warfare unit, killed thousands of Chinese civilians and Allied PoWs at its sprawling complex in Harbin, northern China, from the late 1930s until the end of the war.

    The victims, named “logs” by their torturers, were injected with typhus, cholera and other diseases. They died during the experiments or were executed to prevent them from talking about their experiences….

    The US authorities secretly granted unit officials immunity from prosecution in return for access to years of research into biological weapons. Several former Unit 731 officials went on to enjoy prominent careers in medicine, academia and business, including its former leader, Dr Masaji Kitano, who headed Green Cross, once Japan’s biggest pharmaceutical company.

    Secrets? So, will I tell the government if I find a name accidentally redacted? Hell no.

  15. everybody skates (even the Green Berets) says:

    @ M. Arbogast, Holder issued the US government whitewash after the jury verdict. http://www.versobooks.com/books/313-an-act-of-state , an Act of State by William Pepper devotes a dense chapter to Holder’s feckless debunkal and blasts it to entertaining smithereens. (Incidentally, I’m honored to get the reflex facile conspiracy slur from civil war enthusiast PJ Evans (lemme guess – Great Grandpappy’s regiment was gray, right?) ) Yep, the United States Government blew King’s face off. But then the government put up that nice Stalinist-gothic statue, too, and that has a nice face.

  16. Bob Schacht says:

    @Jeff Kaye: At least we now have Desmond Tutu in the news calling for charging Bush & Blair with war crimes. And the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly – a 320-member organization comprising lawmakers from Europe, North America and Central Asia – adopted a resolution in plenary session on July 9 condemning U.S. secrecy regarding the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program – secrecy that is effectively stonewalling a number of European investigations into the program of secret arrests and torture of terror suspects. (http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/12481-pressure-to-investigate-bush-torture-program-grows). And Obama himself is under scrutiny (John Cusack Interviews Law Professor Jonathan Turley About Obama Administration’s War On the Constitution, http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/11264-john-cusack-and-jonathan-turley-on-obamas-constitution). This issue is not going away, and maybe it will be the Europeans who, in the end, will shame us into doing something.

    Tonight, CNN reviewed Obama’s first term, and one of the lady journalists asked him a question about the assassination of US citizens, and Obama replied with an answer that AGAG might have said, himself. Basically, Obama said that they asked John Yoo if it was legal, and he said sure, go ahead. Of course, he did not actually name John Yoo, but what difference does it make? If you need a John Yoo, it is not all that difficult to find one.

    At some point, I really hope Obama (before leaving office) learns that handing Get Out of Jail Free cards to Bush, Cheney and the torture crew, and to the banksters who committed massive fraud and wrecked our economy, has important consequences that cannot be ignored.

    But it is Congress as well as the White House that is feckless in this regard. A competent Congress would open a Select Committee on War Crimes with subpoena powers and a Sam Ervin type as chair. But, sadly, our Congress seems no longer competent.

    Bob in AZ

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