A close aide to Maricopa County’s chief prosecutor, Andrew Thomas, says the Arizona Republic’s recent criticism of his boss and Sheriff Joe Arpaio amounts to “editorial jihad.”
Special assistant county attorney Barnett Lotstein made the angry comments in a letter to the editor published in today’s Republic.
Thomas and Arpaio have come under sharp scrutiny by many of the newspaper’s columnists and editorial writers in recent weeks because they have launched more than a dozen criminal investigations into their critics and political foes. Thomas has even called for investigations into fellow prosecutors who have written letters to the editor criticizing him.
But it was a column by the Republic’s Robert Robb that really set off Thomas’ aide this time around.
In the letter, Lotstein said Robb’s column, which examined one of the county’s investigations on Tuesday, was filled with “just plain nonsense.” He called it “the latest episode in The Republic’s editorial jihad against County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio.”
Robb had taken a closer look at the case of Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe, whom Thomas and Arpaio charged with three felony crimes in early December.
Robb pointed out that Thomas and Arpaio have accused Donahoe of obstructing justice and taking bribes, yet are unable to explain what exactly the judge did to warrant those charges or show the public any evidence that such crimes occurred.
But Lotstein said it wasn’t Robb’s place as a journalist to be looking at the evidence.
“In law school,” Lotsein wrote, “we learn that evidence of criminal conduct is presented to judges and juries, not newspaper columnists.”
But what Lotstein apparently forgot before firing off the letter was that his own boss repeatedly begged reporters to “look at the evidence” in the case during a news conference held just a month ago.
In announcing the charges against Donahoe on Dec. 9, Thomas stood before a room of television cameras and microphones and frustratedly tried to explain what, specifically, were the crimes he believed the judge had committed. He stammered and stuttered, but could not explain himself.
Throughout the news conference, Thomas urged reporters time and again to “look at the evidence – look at what’s before you.” But ultimately, Thomas said he was not explaining the case very well and asked reporters to help him out.
Now, Thomas’ close adviser has apparently taken offense to the fact that journalists did exactly what his boss wanted them to do – look at the evidence.
“Andrew Thomas is content to present his case to the court,” Lotstein wrote in the letter. “Unless Robb is chosen for the jury he will just have to wait, much to his chagrin.”
But at this point, it’s looking less likely the case against Donahoe will ever get to a jury – at least not the kind Lotstein is referring to.
On Thursday, it was revealed that a federal grand jury is looking into possible criminal charges against Arpaio and his men for allegedly abusing their law enforcement power with criminal investigations similar to that of Donahoe.
While Lotstein’s boss has not been named as a target of the grand jury, the revelation could spell trouble for Thomas, who has aligned himself closely with Arpaio and frequently given him the legal stamp of approval to go after the critics.
In the end, it’s possible that Lotstein’s take on journalistic jihad will backfire, too.
Former Bush administration adviser Richard Perle famously became the subject of ridicule in 2003 when he called New Yorker investigative journalist Seymour Hersh “the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist.”
The angry comment came after Hersh published a particularly damaging story about how Perle used his position as a government adviser to benefit a private company in which he was a partner.
Rather than discrediting Hersh, though, the comment became a way for many of Hersh’s supporters to praise the journalist who has uncovered government wrongdoing during every presidential administration since the Vietnam War.