(Cross posted at The Albany Project)
When Michael Battle gave up his job as the U.S. Attorney serving the Western region in New York, he went on to serve as the Director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA) within the Department of Justice. In that capacity, Battle played a prominent role in the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. He was the person who contacted seven of them, according to reports, and asked them to resign.
But the firing of U.S. attorneys wasn't the only thing that Battle was guilty of. Being involved in such politically-motivated firings leads to speculation about the political influence behind some of Battle's decisions when he was a U.S. attorney in Buffalo.
Now, many believe that Battle's role in the U.S. attorney scandal was one that he wasn't happy to go along with. That appears to be true in several accounts, including fired U.S. attorney David Iglesias' book, In Justice: Inside the Scandal That Rocked the Bush Administration.
But there was one incident while Battle was the U.S. attorney in Buffalo that featured a nephew of Sen. George Maziarz. That nephew, Stephen Maziarz, worked as an inspector on the Peace Bridge. He was accused of trying to smuggle goods into the United States with the help of another individual. Both Stephen Maziarz and the other individual faced federal charges, but ultimately, Battle dropped all charges, saying that "it wasn't appropriate to pursue charges." Whether or not political motivations were behind that or not is anyone's guess. But considering Battle, while the consensus is that he is a good guy, still was willing to go along with the U.S. attorney firings, it raises questions about political influence in his own office while serving as a U.S. attorney.
That is why the next U.S. attorney in the Buffalo office should take a look at the past cases that have gone through that office and make sure that nothing was done for political purposes. It would also be important for the next U.S. attorney not to engage in the same political games that were rampant through the Justice Department during the Bush years.
There is a nominee for the U.S. attorney's office in Buffalo. That nominee is Bill Hochul, who is best known for his prosecution of the Lackawanna Six. Hochul has been nominated by Sen. Chuck Schumer and would be a great choice to fill the seat. And while Hochul should be held to the same standards, he should also look into the past to see if the office was guilty of anything that involved political influence, including any possible political influence that might have swayed the decision of the U.S. attorney's office when charges were brought against Stephen Maziarz.
Politics doesn't belong in our courts, but under the Bush administration, that's exactly what happened. President Barack Obama needs to be sure that the Justice Department is free of political influence and that the U.S. attorneys throughout the country are doing their jobs free of influence.