Being a prosecutor is the world's greatest job because it is honest work for the highest cause — service to one's own community. And it is work that has precious little to do with politics.
In the four corners of a case, however, none of that mattered a wit. Within those four corners, there were rules and responsibilities. There was recognition that prosecutors have breathtaking power over the lives of those they investigate. Power inarguably vital to the rule of law. But power which, if used recklessly or maliciously, can leave lives in tatters. The lives not only of the innocent and the guilty, but of the justice system itself.
This was especially so in investigations of political corruption. We prosecuted Republicans and Democrats, in about equal measure. The cases were hard, but checking your politics at the door was never hard, for at least two reasons.
First, there tends to be nothing ideological about the crimes committed by politicians. They are a stew of pettiness, greed and above-it-all arrogance over which neither party has a monopoly, and the offensiveness of which cuts across philosophical divides.
Second, some wrongs are simply not intended to be crimes. Among them are political wrongs: sleazy abuses of power, cronyism, most acts of nepotism, half-truths or outright lies in campaigns, etc. In a free society, these get sorted out in our bumptious political system. Usually, absent shades of financial fraud, bribery, and extortion, prosecutors should stay their hands. There are too many real crimes to waste resources on that sort of thing. More significantly, the risk of criminalizing politics would only discourage honest citizens from participating in matters of public concern.
On Earle's egregious transgressions:
So there are certain things that are just flat-out verboten. Most basic are these: to resist public comment about non-public, investigative information; to abjure any personal stake in the litigation that could suggest decisions regarding the public interest are being made to suit the prosecutor's private interests; and — if all that is not Sesame Street simple enough — to remain above any financial or political entanglement that could render one's objectivity and judgment suspect.
As Byron York has been reporting on NRO (see here, here, and here), Earle has partnered up with producers making a movie, called The Big Buy, about his Ahab's pursuit of DeLay. A movie about a real investigation? Giving filmmakers access to investigative information while a secret grand-jury probe is underway? Allowing them to know who is being investigated and why? To view proposed indictments even before the grand jury does? Allowing them into the sanctuary of the grand jury room, and actually to film grand jurors themselves? Creating a powerful incentive — in conflict with the duty of evenhandedness — to bring charges on flimsy evidence? For a prosecutor, these aren't just major lapses. They are firing offenses. For prosecutors such as those I worked with over the years, from across the political spectrum, I daresay they'd be thought firing-squad offenses.
By the way for those wags who said "a grand jury indicted DeLay, not Ronnie Earle" they should be reminded that Earle had to go through three grand juries before returning a flimsy money-laundering indictment after his first indictment on conspiracy fell threw due to inapplicable law and a second grand jury refused to indict on money laundering.