Keep An Eye on The Philly Mayoral Race
Knowing what we know about this Justice Department and the political operation of this White House, and an Attorney General who has used the powers of the Patriot Act not to nab terrorists but to expand domestic police powers, why shouldn’t this story bother many of us?
Federal law enforcement officials on Wednesday confirmed that listening devices found in the offices of Mayor John F. Street were planted by the FBI a discovery that touched off a political furor just weeks before Election Day.
Three federal law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that the FBI was responsible for the bug, but refused to comment on whether Street is a target of an investigation or to provide any details about the nature of the probe.
Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, and U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, a Republican, were among several politicians who called on the FBI Wednesday to tell the public what it knows about the eavesdropping equipment, found Tuesday.
The bug was found during a routine sweep of Street's office by police. The Democrat is a locked in a bitter rematch against Republican businessman Sam Katz, and the campaign has been marked by charges of threats and race-baiting. Election Day is Nov. 4.
Street's campaign suggested the bugging was instigated by the U.S. Justice Department for political reasons.
An AP wire report earlier in the day noted that the FBI was particularly quick to distance itself from the possibility that the bug-planting was politically motivated.
Earlier, an FBI spokeswoman said the bureau will take "appropriate action" but declined to answer questions about the devices. She did say almost immediately that the agency had ruled out any connection to Street's re-election campaign. The Democratic mayor is in a hotly contested race with Republican challenger Sam Katz.
Street said he doesn't know how the FBI can say so quickly that the hidden devices have no connection to his re-election campaign.
Street's campaign officials suggested the bugging is politically motivated -- and could even have been instigated by the Bush administration.
Campaign spokesman Frank Keel said the Republican Party -- at the state and federal level -- is capable of "dirty tricks." He said he finds it "incredibly curious" the FBI could so quickly leap to the conclusion that the bugging isn't related to the campaign.
The timing is also curious given the fact that the bugs were not there in June. Also curious is that none other than Karl Rove has used the “there’s a bug in my office” gambit before to sidetrack Texas Governor Mark White in 1986 when Rove was working for Bill Clements. The claim by Rove that the White camp bugged his office came only days before the only debate of the campaign, certainly meant to sidetrack White’s preparations and give Clements an issue. The early story on this yesterday by the AP and USA Today finds some interesting parallels:
"What the campaign does find incredibly curious is that the FBI could so quickly leap to the conclusion that this was not related to the mayoral campaign in any way, shape or form," said Street campaign spokesman Frank Keel. "The timing of the discovery of these listening devices seems incredibly strange, seeing that we are four weeks out of the election, and we have a Democratic mayor ahead in the polls, and we are on the eve of the first mayoral debate."
The bugging follows by six weeks an incident where a Molotov cocktail was allegedly thrown at a Katz campaign office, an incident that Street supporters claim was actually done by Katz to impugn the mayor for alleged dirty tricks.
Democratic political consultant David Axelrod, who is both Street’s and John Edwards’ manager, believes that the Philly mayoral race is a high priority for Rove as a stepping stone to capturing the Pennsylvania electoral votes next year. The city’s Democratic chairman, Congressman Bob Brady says the timing of the disclosure couldn’t be worse for Streets.
Yet the FBI was very quick to assert that the bugging was not politically motivated, while confirming by their denial that it possibly was just that.
Vizi would not talk in detail about the matter but did say: "We have come to the conclusion that this is not associated with the election in any way."
While refusing to say how the FBI knew this, Vizi said the FBI felt it important to tell the public that the bugging was not politically motivated because, with the election four weeks away, the campaign was "at a very critical time."
And who would have to approve such a bugging? Well, it turns out that John Ashcroft would.
In order to bug a top public official's office, legal experts said, federal prosecutors would have to receive approval from the Justice Department and a federal judge.
Prosecutors would have to persuade the judge that there was "probable cause" to believe there would be discussions about an ongoing crime, the experts said, and that they could not obtain that evidence through less-intrusive means. The order allowing such interceptions would be regularly reviewed by the authorizing judge.
And the political cover for such a bugging has already been established: there has been underway several federal investigations of the city, and the bugs were planted after the city turned over 25,000 of discovery material to the government.
Even when the FBI is nailed dead to rights with doing this, instead of confirming publicly that the mayor is not a target, they allow the impression to fester that he is in fact a target. Sounds like Rove.
So keep an eye on this story, because it is possible Rove is at it again in a state Bush needs for next year, this time using federal law enforcement resources for political purposes, just like they did in Texas for the redistricting fiasco.