Mary Beth Buchanan’s Going Away Present: Jack Murtha?

In December, US Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan wrote a letter declaring that she would not resign at the end of the Bush Administration.

Last month, Buchanan released a letter stating that she had no intention of submitting her resignation. An ideologically committed Federalist Society member, Buchanan is close to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who actively promoted her as U.S. attorney. Following her appointment in 2001, Buchanan quickly gained the favor and approval of the White House. In the key period of 2004-05, while groundwork was laid for what later became the U.S. attorney’s scandal, Buchanan served as director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, the key position at Justice that oversaw all the 94 U.S. attorneys. A later internal Justice Department probe, in which Buchanan figures prominently, highlights the role played by that office in Karl Rove’s plan to sack U.S. attorneys.

She said she had to stick around, at least partly, so she could see her trumped up prosecution of Cyril Wecht through.

The second case is a corruption prosecution of one of the country’s most prominent medical examiners, Dr. Cyril Wecht, also not coincidentally a leading figure in Pittsburgh Democratic politics. The charges brought against Wecht involve a long list of petty accusations, including that he used his office telephone and fax machine for personal matters. These charges happen to bear remarkable similarity to accusations of petty improprieties that flew around Buchanan’s mentor Santorum in the two years before Pennsylvania voters retired him from public life in 2006. Buchanan, however, opted not to pursue any of the accusations surrounding Santorum. Wecht’s defense counsel, former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, who served under George H.W. Bush and was governor of Pennsylvania, testified before a House Judiciary inquiry that Buchanan’s prosecution was improper and politically motivated. "It is not the type of case normally constituting a federal ‘corruption’ case brought against a local official," said Thornburgh. "There is no allegation that Dr. Wecht ever solicited or received a bribe or kickback. There is no allegation that Dr. Wecht traded on a conflict of interest in conducting the affairs of his selected office." The case was originally tried before a judge appointed by George W. Bush who, though close to Buchanan, refused to recuse himself and forbade defense counsel in any way from referencing Buchanan’s political motivation. The trial ended in a hung jury, which divided sharply in favor of Wecht’s acquittal. Afterward, individual jurors harshly criticized Buchanan’s conduct and she responded by sending FBI agents to “interview” them.

Notwithstanding broad appeals from the Pennsylvania legal community for Buchanan to drop the case, she has pledged to continue it. The judge who originally oversaw the case, meanwhile, has been removed by order of an appeals court. Buchanan cites the supposedly unresolved Wecht case as a reason why she must stay on as U.S. attorney.

But I think she’s got much bigger Democratic fish she wants to stick around to fry: Jack Murtha. The NYT follows up on what ABC reported earlier: that investigators conducted two raids on entities associated with Murtha.

Federal investigators have raided the offices of the PMA Group, one of Washington’s biggest lobbying firms, as part of an investigation into potentially improper campaign contributions, a person briefed on the investigators’ questions said Monday night.


Last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation also raided one of the local contractors, Kuchera Industries, which has benefited heavily from his appropriations work while its executives contributed to his campaigns.

Kuchera was not a PMA client, and it is unclear whether either raid is related to Mr. Murtha. But Steve Ellis, a spokesman for Taxpayers for Common Sense, said PMA’s ties to Mr. Murtha had long been its calling card.

“PMA has been known as the gatekeeper to Jack Murtha,” Mr. Ellis said, “and if you wanted to get an earmark from Murtha you went through Paul Magliochetti and associates.”

Note the timing: Murtha wins his closest election in years in November. And then the Feds raid a lobbying firm closely connected to him. In December, Buchanan refuses to step down. And in January the FBI raids Kuchera–a company that has no clear ties to PMA, but is closely associated with Murtha. 

Mind you, Murtha has long been acknowledged to be one of the most corrupt Democrats in Congress. I’m sure there’s at least something that Buchanan used to justify this investigation.

But just as Murtha has long been acknowledged to be one of the most corrupt Dems, Buchanan has been acknowledged to be one of the most corrupt US Attorneys. Which means, given Buchanan’s obstinate refusal to leave, this one may blow up into a full-fledged political witch hunt.

20 replies
  1. scribe says:

    You leave out that she’s from the same Buchanan family that is the first name on the door of the major (PGH and regional) law firm “Buchanan Ingersoll”.

    She has no worries as to future employment – she got the USAtty job as a means of keeping her out of the house and out of trouble, while building the Permanent Republican Majority project for herself and the menfolk.

    Why the hell is she still hanging around, anyway? She could be fired at a moment’s notice: “Those holding the office of United States Attorney serve at the pleasure of the President. Your service no longer pleases the President. Goodbye.”

  2. SaltinWound says:

    Did Jane ever write an update of her series on how Murtha was being unjustly smeared, including her blanket assertion that he turned down a bribe on video tape? If not, I think it would be a good idea. I know we were desperate for heroes back then, but it was silly. What’s long been acknowledged actually wasn’t acknowledged at firedoglake–it was the opposite.

  3. SaltinWound says:

    I understand the timing of the attacks on Murtha, I’m only disputing the idea that he was an innocent accused.

    • emptywheel says:

      As I pointed out in the post, he’s corrupt, the worst of ours. I’m not disputing that.

      I’m saying that the person to go after him was not MB Buchanan.

  4. hate2haggle says:

    I’ve been calling the U.S.A. Pittsburgh office regularly just to ask if Mary Beth is still employed. The lady who answers the phone always says, “Yes she is,” and in a way that leads me to think that she’s happy to have her. Bums me out.

  5. Professor Foland says:

    There’s this Bush pattern of appointing extremely young (and manifestly under-qualified) USA’s; Paulose and Buchanan are just two examples. I’ve heard it said that this is so they can “burrow in” and stay a long time, and I’m sure that’s true.

    But it also seems to have a whiff of the British colonial strategy: appoint local leaders who have no chance on their own, and whose loyalty is therefore ensured by dependence on the outside (here, read WH) power.

  6. freepatriot says:

    so, uhm, don’t USAs serve at the pleasure of the President ???

    why hasn’t Obama sent the walkin papers yet ???

  7. freepatriot says:

    this is off topic, but it needs to be discussed:

    the repuglitards have this idea that if Obama’s economic policy fails, that Americans will elect repuglitards in 2010 ???

    here’s a hypothetical situation:

    an arsonist starts abuilding on fire, and then pleads innocent because the fire department failed to put the building out

    is there a name for hypocrisy like that ???

    we ain’t gonna forget who started the economic fire, so telling us that Obama couldn’t put it out ain’t exactly a winning plan …

    am I missing something ???

    • Professor Foland says:

      If the local newspaper refuses to print the name of the arsonist, and has a series of “special investigative reports” of the fire department’s failures, how might it look then?

    • skdadl says:

      That’s sort of like the classic definition of “chutzpah”: kid kills both his parents, and then throws himself on the mercy of the court as an orphan.

  8. justbetty says:

    This probably EPUed, but I have to add that I turned on the TV right after first reading this post and much to my amazement saw the story of Mary Beth’s ascension to power and her hideous witch hunt against Tommy Chong- Operation Pipe Dream. This is a documentary and it demonstrates clearly just what a terrible person our Mary Beth really is – and the able assistance she received from federal law enforcement in their attempts to destroy a pretty harmless fellow. Shame on all of them! Disgusting!

  9. Neil says:

    Does Holder review Bush’s USA’s and decide which to keep and which to cast off? What is the timing of that process? Am I foolish to think that MBB has a claim to stay if she’s required to go? Won’t the Federal Marshals just have her arrested for trespassing?

  10. kspena says:

    OT-via today—Porter says Patraeus spreading false stories (lies)about Obama.

    Petraeus Leaked Misleading Story on Pullout Plans by Gareth Porter

    “The real story of the leak by Petraeus is that the most powerful figure in the U.S. military has tried to shape the media coverage of Obama and combat troop withdrawal from Iraq to advance his policy agenda – and, very likely, his personal political interests as well……

    “Obama is obviously treading warily in handling Petraeus. His concern about Petraeus’ political ambitions may have been a factor in the decision to bring four-star Marine Corps Gen. James Jones in as his national security adviser.

    “I’ve been told by a couple of people that one of the reasons for Jones being chosen was to have him there as a four-star to counter Petraeus,” says one Congressional source.”

  11. rich2506 says:

    Very distressing to hear that one of the “leftover” USAttys is still there. It’s even more distressing to hear that she may be gunning for Murtha. Had Obama sent he packing on January 20th, he could have justified her departure on the entirely reasonable grounds that USAttys “serve at the pleasure of the president.” Now, if he gets rid of her, she can suggest that he’s just doing so to protect one of his liberal buddies. Sounds to me like the window of opportunity has already closed on this one. What an awful precedent!!!!

  12. dolso says:

    When does a new administration usually appoint US attorneys that are consistent with their judicial preferences? It would seem to me that it is passed time to fire MB Buchanan. Why would Obama even consider keeping her?

    The Cyril Wecht case should never have been brought up in the first place and should have been dropped after a hung jury that favored the defense. The judge did not poll the jury as I assume he did not want to embarrass the prosecution. The retrial is slated to take place in Erie, which will be more of an expense and inconvenience for Dr. Wecht. I would recommend that the new US attorney for Western Pennsylvania decide not pursue this prosecution any further and drop this farce as soon as possible.

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