The circus has come to town in Raymondville, South Texas. But, first off, you've got to hand it to the sparsely populated Willacy County grand jury that had the guts to do something the Democratic leaders in Congress have not had the courage to do.
It indicted Vice President Dick Cheney.
The circumstances may be a little hazy, and the characters may be a little crazy, but the indictment was handed down earlier this week and the judge has scheduled a hearing for Friday to consider motions. That is, if the prosecutor, District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra, or someone in his place, decides to show up.
He was a no-show yesterday prompting the judge to wonder aloud how the case could go forward if there was no one in attendance from the prosecutor's office.
Despite his apparent absenteeism, Guerra is an unusual man. He not only was able to get an indictment of Cheney but also of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for their involvement in the ownership of the Vanguard Group which holds financial interests in the private prison companies running the federal detention centers in the county.
According to the Associated Press, "the grand jury accused Cheney of a conflict of interest because the more the prison companies were paid to hold inmates, the better he did financially." In so doing, the jury drew a connection between Cheney's influence over the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency, which oversees the county's federal detention facilities, and his "substantial" holdings in Vanguard.
And then there was the matter of the brutal treatment of prisoners, all of which has resulted in Cheney and Gonzales being additionally charged with engaging in organized criminal activity.
Prosecutor Guerra also managed to get indictments on several local people that he has had it in for, ever since they conducted an investigation into his activities last year. At that time, when his office was raided by investigators, Guerra attracted some attention by camping outside the courthouse with a horse, three goats and a rooster. And, because he suspected that local law enforcement had aided in the investigation, he threatened to dismiss hundreds of cases.
After his no-show yesterday, the judge attempted to designate a replacement in case Guerra was still unaccounted for by Friday's hearing.
His clerk, Gilbert Lozano, was ineligible, however, because he was under indictment. When asked for a suggestion, Lozano said his top deputy was a witness and his only other possible choice was out of town. The judge finally gave the job to a clerk from another district whose boss, it turned out, was also under indictment.
As one might well imagine, there will be a blizzard of motions from a bevy of attorneys on Friday, all calling for the cases to be dropped. At least one will claim that a district attorney cannot prosecute federal officials and then there is that old defense of last resort for administration officials - the "qualified privilege."
Cheney will not be easily cornered and his track record speaks to his elusiveness. Efforts to look into his activities by Congress have fallen under the curse of executive privilege with Cheney claiming he was a member of the executive branch. And, similar efforts by the office of National Archives, which is responsible for the executive branch, have been turned back with Cheney claiming he was a member of the Senate.
But regardless of whether this new case sinks or swims, it has effectively turned the spotlight on a potential, but very real, conflict of interest.
And, in this respect, some may be reminded of a Meet the Press show in 2003, during which Cheney said "Since I left Halliburton to become George Bush's vice president, I've severed all my ties with the company, gotten rid of all my financial interests. I have no financial interest in Halliburton of any kind and haven't had, now, for over three years."
The truth was that Cheney, at that very time, held over 400,000 Halliburton stock options and was continuing to receive deferred compensation from the company of between $200,000 and $300,000 per year. He later claimed that he would pledge all profits from the stock options to charity.
Also, at the time of the interview, Halliburton had taken in more than $20 billion from the Bush-Cheney administration for work related to what was then the new war in Iraq and had also been awarded some of the first "Katrina" contracts. Since then, its Iraq contracts have skyrocketed and its domestic contracts have included the construction of, you guessed it, federal detention centers......which brings us full circle back to the situation in South Texas.
Obviously, for our esteemed vice president, crime pays quite well.
Dave McGill, News Correspondent
Dave's column, "The Contrarian," generally published every Friday to Gather Essential News will sometimes present a contrary view to various aspects of the news, or an alternate take on the conventional wisdom of the day. Also, it will often appear on other days of the week.
Dave has been a senior officer of an eastern insurance company, involved in economic projections and investment strategy, president of a Midwest mortgage banking company, and a financial consultant in Southern California serving clients in the field of commercial real estate development.
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