As several of you have pointed out, Geoffrey Fieger and his law partner, Ven Johnson, were acquitted yesterday of all charges against them. While there was no question that Fieger and Johnson had reimbursed their employees for donations to John Edwards in 2004, the government did not prove that Fieger and Johnson intended to evade campaign finance laws, and therefore did not prove that they had broken the law.
I think the government lost this case for a number of reasons. First, Fieger’s team made a reasonable argument that the law in question doesn’t explicitly forbid reimbursement of employees; it only forbids giving in another person’s name. This made Fieger’s claim that he had researched the law and determined he could do what he did–reimburse employees–without believing he was evading the law.
Just as importantly, the government repeatedly put witnesses on the stand that severely damaged its case. For example, it put Jeffrey Danzig on the stand only to have him testify about how common reimbursed donations are in the legal community.
“I’ve done exactly what I’ve done at the Fieger firm that’s the subject of this litigation on numerous occasions through my legal career at another firm,” Jeffrey Danzig testified on direct examination.
Fieger and partner Vernon (Ven) Johnson are charged with breaking campaign finance laws. Money was collected from employees, friends, relatives and other for the 2004 John Edwards presidential bid and the donations were then reimbursed by law firm checks.
The times he’d done the same thing while at the Lopatin-Miller law office were “too many to count,” Danzing said in later cross-examination.
Danzig also discredited the government’s key witness, Jay Humphrey.
Finally, though he’s a blowhard, Fieger did not botch his own testimony, and apparently convincingly argued that he would never do anything that might ruin his career. Which seems to be why the jurors voted not to convict.
“I think it was the lack of evidence that got us to our decision,” said juror Krista First 24, an accountant from Adrian.
Juror Maria Kruger, 42, a college student from Clinton Township, said there was no logical explanation for why Fieger and Johnson would commit career suicide over political contributions.
“I can’t imagine you would intentionally destroy your lives and the lives of the people around you,” she said.
Scott Horton reminds us that this is one of many cases that raised questions about selective prosecution. Now, frankly, if John Conyers thought there was an easy way to make hayout of a case in his own city, I suspect he would have made it. Sure, there is no doubt that the AG, one Supreme Court Judge, and the US Attorney have reasons to gun for Fieger. Sure, they went way overboard in sending 80 agents–in a city with significant terrorism investigations that never muster 80 agent stings–to question Fieger’s employees. Fieger is so notorious in the this town, though, it’s hard to separate an average FBI aegnt’s desire to take on a big legal blowhard from the AG’s desire to do so.
Mostly, though, I suspect that Republicans found Jay Humphrey while conducting a state-level investigation, and coached him to walk in the FBI’s front door to launch this case. Humphrey got fired from Fieger’s firm long after he complained about the donation scheme; after the charges were filed, Humphrey sued Fieger for wrongful termination (his attorney is one of the guys who fights the Republicans’ anti-affirmative action battles in the state), so he’s the classic disgruntled employee getting his revenge using something that–temporally at least–seems entirely unconnected. Sending Humphrey through to the FBI apparently of his own accord would have been a way for the state’s obviously personalized and politicized witch hunts against Fieger to try again at the federal level in a way that was, on the surface, clean from political taint. (This is precisely how Republicans inserted Linda Tripp–and with her, Monica Lewinsky–into Ken Starr’s investigation of Bill Clinton.)
And frankly, I think it was due more to the fact that the FBI agent and the AUSA investigating the case got so excited about taking down Fieger–therefore got really really sloppy–than any proper exercise of justice that the government didn’t win its case.