Government Corruption?

Ashcroft firm stands to make millions…

The law firm of former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft could earn as much as $52.2 million helping the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey monitor a leading knee and hip replacements manufacturer, according to recent SEC filings. Ashcroft’s law firm is among five legal teams whom U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie selected to monitor implant makers who agreed in September to pay $311 million and hire monitors to settle allegations they paid surgeons to use and promote their knee and hip replacements. Christie worked under Ashcroft from 2002 to 2005.  

One appropriate way to look at any situation involving a settlement in which one side of the case was The People, being represented by any portion of the Department of Justice, and the loser accepts a monetary penalty, is that the money is really government money. The way that the settlement gets structured may create a technicality where the pay outs from the liable party never pass through the U.S. Treasury, but the more important point is that the lawyer for the winning side, for us, is on the government payroll. The old saw about “it was cheaper to settle for hundreds of millions of dollars than to continue fighting” is always spoken and accepted with a wink. 

So, anyway, the ex-employee of John Ashcroft just agreed to give his ex-boss $52 million of our money, and I’m having a hard time getting a warm fuzzy feeling about the whole thing. As I understand it there is nothing that would prohibit Mr. Ashcroft from now hiring Mr. Christie, and agreeing to pay him, say, a $5 million signing bonus. Not exactly the same thing as the U.S. Attorney directly writing himself a U.S. Treasury check for $5 million, but having the money take a short break over with his old buddy is not that far removed either. And even if Ashcroft is the most shining legal light in the nation, and Christie never does go back to private practice, there’s still the need for things to pass the smell test. I always think that I understand the concept of “conflict of interest” until I see folks get away with this stuff, and then I decide that plain English just doesn’t get the job done sometimes. 

John Edwards says that our government is suffering from corruption. I take that to mean that he is referring to the way that people approach their roles while part of our government because, without people, I’m not sure what would be left to be corrupt. Now, personally, I’m some kind of embarrassed or ashamed that stories like this are put into the paper just like they’re routine news. When stories of brazen theft from the public purse can become routine by covering them with the thinnest veneer one wonders if even Edwards knows how corrupt things have really become. 

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