Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Steno Sue Schmidt of the Washington Post Strikes Again)

I don't read Susan Schmidt--"Steno Sue"--of the Washington Post. But I have a correspondent who does:

Brad,

In her article on Safavian, Schmidt writes that the prosecutor "asked the judge to add a perjury conviction to Safavian's crimes for his testimony at trial." Does she know so little about the judicial system that she thinks a judge can simply "add" a conviction at sentencing?... [W]hat the prosecutor was likely doing was asking the judge to add "points" to the sentencing guidelines, based on Safavian's obvious lying...

Schmidt also writes: "The 18-month jail sentence was about halfway between the 30 to 36 months sought by government prosecutors and the defense's proposal for alternative sentencing that would avoid any prison time at all." It seems likely that the 30 to 36 months is what was in the sentencing guidelines -- so that the judge gave Safavian a break relative to what the system anticipates.

But we don't really know, do we?

The Post assigns someone who doesn't know what was going on to write the story, doesn't it? I'm not a lawyer, so I have some digging to do to find out.

This "quality" of reporting is the principal reason I don't think the Post will last the decade. Unless you know the reporter and know that they are reliable, the phrase "staff writer for the Washington Post shakes your trust:

Official in Abramoff Case Sentenced to 18 Months - washingtonpost.com: Official in Abramoff Case Sentenced to 18 Months: By Susan Schmidt: Washington Post Staff Writer: Saturday, October 28, 2006; A03A federal judge yesterday sentenced David H. Safavian, a former top Bush administration official, to 18 months in prison for lying and concealing unethical dealings with lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

During an unusual hearing that lasted much of the day, U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman wrestled with how to mete out justice to Safavian. He said Safavian was a man who had "pulled himself up by his bootstraps" and had been "a very good person to a lot of people." But, the judge said, Safavian also committed "an abuse of the public trust" in his relationship with the lobbyist. "Did he believe in public service? I guess he did," Friedman said. "But he also wanted someday to join Mr. Abramoff in that lucrative lobbying business." Friedman lamented that Washington has become "more and more corrupt," increasingly a home to greedy lobbyists and politicians on the take.

Safavian, 39, a former chief of staff for the General Services Administration, wept as he told Friedman that he knows now he never should have given Abramoff inside information about government-owned real estate that the lobbyist wanted to acquire. At the time, Safavian said, he thought what he was doing was innocuous. "I didn't see anything wrong in helping Jack," he said.

The 18-month jail sentence was about halfway between the 30 to 36 months sought by government prosecutors and the defense's proposal for alternative sentencing that would avoid any prison time at all. Barbara Van Gelder, Safavian's attorney, urged leniency, telling Friedman that Safavian exhibited an ethical "blind spot" in his dealings with the brazen and flashy Abramoff. "He may have been blinded, dazzled," she said, but his wrongdoing with Abramoff was "isolated, not a man beginning a life of crime." But prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg asked the judge to add a perjury conviction to Safavian's crimes for his testimony at trial. "For the two days he spent on the witness stand, Mr. Safavian lied about virtually everything," Zeidenberg said. "He testified under oath that he never lied, never concealed.... He even went on to say, 'I never gave Jack Abramoff favorable treatment,'" statements the jury rejected in its verdict.

Friedman said he did find some of Safavian's statements from the witness stand "incredible," including the defendant's claim that he believed his payment of $3,100 would cover the cost of a week-long luxury golfing excursion to Scotland with Abramoff. But in the end, the judge decided against the prosecutor's request for a perjury conviction...

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