1991 was the Grim Reaper’s year. In Iraq, he massacred 293 Americans and 50,000 Iraqis in a fiasco called Operation Desert Storm. In its wake he left 467 Americans and 100,000 Iraqis bloodied and mentally and physically wounded. In America, he took the lives of Senator H. John Heinz III, former Senator John G. Tower and Joseph (Danny) Casolaro. Then the King of Terror paused to let it all sink in. There was a little time before he had to continue his walk through history, swinging his scythe and cutting off people’s lives as though he were harvesting grain. This time, the Grim Reaper had the end of a Presidency in mind. President George H. W. Bush could not have foreseen how the deaths of Heinz, Tower and Casolaro would expose his own ineptitude and injustice and place the garbage pile at the doorstep of the 41st President of the United States.After years of controversy and corruption Attorney General Edwin Meese III was replaced with Richard Thornburgh in the waning days of the Reagan administration on August 12, 1988. Naive observers might have assumed that it would have been wise for President Bush to choose an Attorney General who would clean the dirty house Meese left behind. When Meese had assumed the Attorney General's position in Reagan's administration he had brought into the Department of Justice with him a group of men commonly referred to as the "California Mafia". Their nickname proved prophetic of their actions and they departed in disgrace in the grip of the Iran Contra scandal.
Certainly the long suffering Department of Justice desperately needed a man who placed justice above politics. But the newly elected President and former head of the CIA had to consider more immediate personal needs in making his choice. President George H. W. Bush needed someone indebted to him who would stonewall matters relating to the Iran-Contra scandal, the "October Surprise", the investigations of BCCI (often referred to as the Bank of Crooks and Criminals International) and the infamous Inslaw case. Each seemingly separate scandal was, in reality, a tentacle of the same octopus and led back to it's head -- Bush. Bush's own past dictated his choice of an individual who knew the meaning of cover-up. The former U.S. Attorney and two-term Philadelphia governor understood quid pro quo and he would serve his president's purposes well. It seemed somehow fitting that when Richard Thornburgh replaced Edwin Meese he brought with him his own support system who were well known as the "Philadelphia Mafia".
In the spring of 1990 President Bush granted Thornburgh "ethics-law waivers" that enabled the Attorney General to chair the Bush administration's discussion of legalities of the Clean Air Act despite Thornburgh's substantial investments in 12 industrial companies that accounted for 20 percent of his total assets. The waivers made a mockery of the federal conflict-of-interest law which bars high-ranking officials from participating in decisions that affect the value of personal investments.Thornburgh would repeatedly defend his leadership of the Department of Justice by stating, "We're not in the political business." And yet, in what could be described as a quintessential quid pro quo, he took the unusual step of publicly clearing the president's son, Neil Bush, of savings and loan crimes.
On May 15, 1990, less then two years after he had taken office, Attorney General Richard Thornburgh was accused of using his office to harass elected African American officials. Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, Thornburgh dismissed these accusations by Representative John Conyers, D-Mich., as "totally and absolutely false." Conyers responded by declaring "We've had millions of dollars of wiretaps, surveillance, leaks from the grand jury. It's an incredible story of how justice shouldn't work. An impression of fairness is nowhere to be found." One week prior to this confrontation the second-highest official in Thornburgh's Department of Justice, Donald B. Ayer, resigned in protest over what he said was an attempt by Thornburgh to shield two aides from an ongoing investigation into DOJ leaks damaging to black Representative William H. Gray III of Pennsylvania. The Attorney General's two aides, press secretary David Runkel, and his executive assistant, Robert S. Ross, Jr., had both failed polygraph examinations. Shortly thereafter Thornburgh became the first attorney general to take a lie detector examination to clear his name in the ongoing internal criminal investigation. At the that time it was revealed that Thornburgh had passed the polygraph and that Representative Gray was not the target of any criminal investigation.
In early August 1990 the weekly news magazine, Executive Intelligence Review, announced it was pursuing a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) lawsuit to obtain documents and audio tapes that could prove the allegation that the Reagan-Bush campaign in 1980 used an "October Surprise" operation to make a deal with Iran to refuse to release the American hostages until Reagan was elected and President Carter was defeated. Documents requested in this lawsuit were expected, in turn, to shed new light on the scandal-ridden BCCI bank. The suit accused the Bush administration and Thornburgh's Department of Justice of suppressing evidence consisting of tapes and transcripts of wiretaps which had been placed in the New York offices of Iranian banker and gun runner Cyrus Hashemi from October 1980 through January 1981. Congressional committees had been refused the tapes and transcripts by the FBI and the DOJ. Referred to as "The Pottinger Tapes", after a former official of the Nixon and Ford Justice Departments, the tapes would allegedly reveal how Pottinger advised Hashemi how to ship military supplies to Iran in violation of the U.S. arms embargo. Numerous sources asserted that Pottinger was acting on behalf of the CIA. It was yet another tentacle that would attach to the CIA's former head, Bush. Again Thornburgh stonewalled and had his Justice Department lawyers demand that the court issue a protective order to halt all discovery in the lawsuit.
The attorney general's contemptuous attitude and thin skinned confrontational manner only escalated his moral and political problems. On August 22, 1990 national headlines revealed a member of Thornburgh's "Philadelphia Mafia" was indicted for using drugs during a four year period beginning in 1985 and then lying about it on his application to become a special assistant to Thornburgh. The man, who had served as a close aide and friend to the attorney general for the past 19 years, was 47 year-old Henry Barr. At the time of his indictment, he held a job that gave him access to DOJ's most confidential drug operations. He was Thornburgh's liaison to the FBI and the DEA and he was the funnel through which officials had to seek the attorney general's approval for counter- intelligence wiretaps and undercover drug operations.
On April 4, 1991 Senator John Heinz was killed in a mysterious plane crash on his way to Philadelphia. No one paid greater attention to the Senator's death then President Bush and Attorney General Richard Thornburgh. With democrats holding a 56-43 advantage in the Senate, national Republicans saw Thornburgh as the best chance of holding onto the Pennsylvania seat and filling the vacancy with a Senator more attuned to the administration's far right philosophy. The 58-year old Attorney General saw an opportunity to return to his home state and put his troubled tenure as head of the DOJ behind him. On April 11, 1991 national newspapers featured the picture of the beautiful, grief-stricken widow, Teresa Heinz and her three sons attending the funeral of her husband side by side with the unseeming political speculation about who would run against Attorney General Thornburgh for the late Senator's vacant seat.
In May of 1991 U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel sitting in San Francisco issued a ruling that contained a scathing rebuke of Attorney general Richard Thornburgh as she dismissed a case against an alleged drug dealer, Jose Orlando Lopez.
Turning to the case at bar, this court has no difficulty in finding that the government misconduct at issue here was egregious and flagrant. An assistant United States attorney twice met with a represented and indicted defendant in a criminal case and concealed those meetings from the defendant's attorney. The prosecutor's actions constituted an intentional violation of the longstanding ethical prohibition, adopted by this court's local rules, which categorically proscribes contacts between a defendant without the knowledge and consent of the defendant's attorney. What is worse, the prosecutor's actions are not those of a renegade, (but instead) relied on a memorandum from the attorney general which instructs attorneys of the Department of Justice to disregard the ethical rule concerning contact with represented individuals, regardless of whether the rule has been adopted by a court of its own. The court can conceive few forms of government misconduct which could pose a greater threat to the integrity of judicial proceedings than a directive from the executive branch instructing its employees to disregard a rule duly adopted by the courts. Indeed, the very basis of the court's supervisory power to oversee the administration of criminal justice is the court's inherent authority to enact rules not required by the Congress or Constitution.Underlying all of the many scandals was the Inslaw case involving the alleged theft by the Department of Justice of Inslaw's proprietary software named Promis. Three declarations had been introduced under penalty of perjury attesting to the involvement of former Attorney General Edwin Meese, former Reagan gubernatorial cabinet member Earl Brian and others in the theft and laundering of the software. It was alleged that CIA operatives had "backdoored" the Promis program allowing it to spy on friends and enemies of the United States. Congressman Jack Brooks (D-Texas) chairman of the House Judiciary Committee locked horns with Thornburgh over DOJ papers involving Inslaw that the Attorney General refused to turn over to the Committee.
The Thornburgh memorandum is nothing less than a frontal assault on the legitimate powers of the court. Thornburgh's memorandum advises DOJ attorneys to disregard an ethical prohibition adopted by U.S. district courts across the land. The government misconduct at issue is thus the result of an explicit policy of the attorney general of the United States which promises to wreak havoc in federal trial courts everywhere.
July 16, 17 and 18, 1991 saw a series of press releases and news articles detailing the failure of the Attorney General to appear before the House Judiciary Committee to answer subpoenas issued for a variety of issues. Chairman Jack Brooks stated, "He (Richard Thornburgh) has turned his back on the very constitutional structure of government he has sworn to uphold. I am deeply saddened and amazed."
As the battle heated up, reporters centered on the case and countless articles were written and published world wide. Few placed the DOJ or its head in a good light. Then in the later part of July and the early part of August 1991, two reporters investigating the case were executed, one at the Sheraton Inn in Martinsburg, West Virginia and the other at his apartment in Guatemala. In Martinsburg, Joseph "Danny" Casolaro who was found naked in a bathtub full of warm bloody water. His wrists had been slit to the bone many times. None of his reporter notes were found in the room or in his car. His death was announced by former Attorney General Elliott Richardson, the attorney for Inslaw. Anson Ng, a stringer for the Financial Times of London was found shot once in the chest. Senator Alan Cranston announced his death from the floor of the United States Senate and urged the government of Guatemala to prosecute his killers and return his computer and reporter notes to his family. Repercussions were felt the world over.
On August 14, 1991 the Washington Post published a review by Michael Skiff of a Department of Justice memo justifying the so-called "Thornburgh Doctrine". According to Skiff, the document "asserts that the President and attorney general have 'inherent constitutional power' to order a wide range of law enforcement actions in foreign countries without the consent of foreign governments, even if they violate international treaties. It also argues that 'as a matter of domestic law, the executive has the power to authorize actions inconsistent with U.N. Charter provisions barring use of force against member nations.'"
"Such decisions are 'fundamentally political questions'," the opinion states, and therefore do not constrain the chief executive in fulfilling his law enforcement responsibilities." The decisions should be made by lower ranking officials, the memo argues, so as not to unnecessarily prejudice U.S. international relations with the victim governments.
This memo was authored by William P. Barr, at the urging of Richard Thornburg. Barr would take over as head of the Department of Justice when Thornburgh left.
Although Thornburg had announced he would run for the Pennsylvania Senate seat vacated by the death of Senator Heinz on June 5, 1991, President Bush stated that his Attorney General would continue on through July to work on the administration's crime and civil rights bills and other matters, prompting Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to say that Thornburgh was wearing two hats, one as attorney general, the other as candidate, and not looking well in either. Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.) commented that Thornburgh made her "nostalgic for Ed Meese." The Wall State Journal of December 10, 1990 was even more blunt: "Attorney General Dick Thornburgh has a peculiar knack for reminding people of Watergate."
The court of public opinion would hold President George H. W. Bush and his Attorney General Richard Thornburgh accountable for their failure to enforce the law and uphold the Constitution. In November of 1992, a young governor from Arkansas would soundly defeat the sitting President. Some believed governor Bill Clinton was carried into office by the campaign slogan “It’s the economy, stupid!” Others knew better. They had long heard and well believed the loud and steady drumbeat, “Bush will not enforce the law or uphold the Constitution.” The Grim Reaper could be heard laughing and sarcastically saying that the two simply had too many bones in their closet to survive.
Next: The deaths of Senator John Heinz and Senator John Tower in airplane crashes within two days -- the impact of their lives and deaths on Bush and history to this day.
Virginia McCullough, Kathryn Dixon © 2004