Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Two verdicts: one for jail time, one for vindication

Express Staff Writer

Justice was a long time coming for two very different, prominent Washington figures. And it came in two vastly different forms.

For former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, it was a crushing rebuke by a criminal court jury. Once considered Washington's most powerful and ruthless congressman, DeLay was found guilty of laundering corporate campaign donations and illegally funneling it into state elections, then sentenced to three years in prison by a Texas judge.

For Teresa Chambers, justice meant vindication. She was ordered restored to her job as U.S. Parks Police chief—along with back pay—after the Merit Systems Protection Board ruled the Bush Interior Department unjustly fired her six years ago for merely speaking the truth.

Naturally, DeLay will appeal. He's already spent $10 million on his defense. One can never predict how appeals courts will react, especially on small technical legalese that could free DeLay or lead to a new trial.

Three years in prison, however, seems a small penalty for DeLay, who brought thuggery to the House of Representatives in such grand, strutting style that he seemed like a Mafia don utterly contemptuous of rules or laws.

He ordered business groups to donate only to Republican politicians—or else. He also told them to hire only Republican lobbyists—or else.

DeLay's operation trained and graduated the premier crooked lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was sent to prison for his corruption.

So brutal was DeLay's style that colleagues nicknamed him "The Hammer."

When convicted by a jury of the felony, DeLay resorted to characteristic gall. "This is an abuse of power," said the man who arrogantly abused his power without pause for years.

Then there's Chief Chambers, a professional law enforcement officer fired by a Bush official because she truthfully answered a Washington Post reporter about slashed Bush budgets for Parks police that she felt left Washington government sites vulnerable to crime.

Chambers lacked political connections. She had no millionaire donors, as did DeLay, to help her fight her dismissal. However, she did have something at least as powerful working for her—the truth. She also had hundreds of colleagues and small donors all over the country who rallied around her plea for help, plus her unbowed persistence in seeking vindication.

Sadly, these verdicts are rare. Whistleblowers such as Chambers will continue to be fired for embarrassing their political bosses with truth. And Washington's powerful continue to traffic in millions of dollars as tools of influence in ways that surely are as crude—and illegal—as DeLay's methods but remain to be exposed.

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