Saturday, August 21, 2010

Blumenthal The Ahab of Attorneys General

Not for nothing was Attorney General Richard Blumenthal kept on the American Enterprise Institute’s first spot listing of worst attorneys general in the United States for the last few years. Only recently did Mr. Blumenthal slip from first place, which presented a rare moment of anguish for the heir apparent to U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd’s seat in the congress. Blumenthal wore the first place distinction, he said, as a red badge of courage. The AEI is a conservative (read: “bad”) center of sweetness and light, whereas Mr. Blumenthal is, as every careful reader of Connecticut’s icon burnishing media well knows, goodness unalloyed.

Two icon breaking newspapers recently have taken a shot at St. Blumenthal’s solar plexus: the Connecticut Post and the Journal Inquirer, both relying on a comprehensive report written by Bill Cummings, a Post investigative reporter.

Is it possible that some Connecticut papers are heart-sick at being scooped by outliers such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal?

At the center of the criticism aimed at Blumenthal is the dread suspicion that the attorney general, now clumsily juggling his duties as attorney general with his ambitions as a prospective U.S. senator, has used the usufructs of his office unfairly, if legally, to frustrate the severe demands of justice.

"If you are a small business owner,” said attorney Jim Oliver in the Connecticut Post story, “and he sues you for $70,000, and wants $1 million in penalties, life as you know it is over. Your bank accounts are seized. Liens are placed on property and assets. Even if you win, the state will appeal and you will wait another year. You are out if business. You are dead.”

“First the verdict, then the trial,” says the Red Queen in Lewis Carol’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Blumenthal’s inversion might read, “First the punishment, then the trial.” It is a punishment, after all, to deprive a man of the uses of his property before conclusive litigation has affirmed that a charge involving the fraudulent transfer of assets has been made or seriously contemplated.

In the now notorious New England Pellet (NEP) case, an investigator attached to Blumenthal’s office claimed in a sworn affidavit he had reason to believe that the owners of NEP either had or were about to fraudulently transfer assets, the sole claim upon which Blumenthal was able to secure from a judge in an ex parte proceeding the authority to impound the company’s assets. The so called “investigator,” who examined no bank records showing such a transfer, later admitted in a sworn deposition that he had no reason to believe the claim made in his sworn affidavit.

Having first demanded an exorbitant sum in penalties from owners whose assets Blumenthal had impounded, the attorney general, after two years of litigation, settled the case on monetary terms he might have realized from the first without litigation.

The German social critic Karl Kraus, unfriendly to his famous contemporary Sigmund Freud, once said of Freudian psychology that it “was the disease it purports to cure.” In a similar vein, Blumenthal himself causes the problems he purports, in self serving press releases, to cure  -- but only after his victims, deprived of both the means and the spirit to resist what they regard as preposterous “settlements,” collapse in exhaustion at his feet.

And finally, this attorney general cherry picks cases that are likely to cause him the least difficulty with his media homeboys. Before he entered the race for the U.S. Congress, the relentless Dennis House of Face The State questioned Blumenthal, the most popular politician in Connecticut, concerning the attorney general’s apparent reluctance to probe the connections between Dodd and Countrywide.

Below is a faithful transcription of the dialogue pertinent to the issue, along with some explanatory note in [brackets].

There are some interviews in which the public persona of the politician is more than adequately caught. Such is this interview. House could hardly have been aware of its importance at the time. Since the interview -- after which the ethics committee of the senate, still a good old boy’s club, admonished Dodd for being incautious in his relations with Countrywide, an reproof on a par with spitting in one of the senate’s old spittoons – the Wall Street Journal last week, in an explosive editorial, disclosed that Dodd had six mortgages with Countrywide, not the two reported at the time.

House: You are an astute politician. You’ve won many elections. How did he [Dodd, at the time suffering persistent questioning concerning his reluctance to release mortgage contracts he has signed with Countrywide] get into something like this mess?

Blumenthal: You know, he actually has apologized for not disclosing earlier what he did with respect to those mortgages. Now, I have sued Countrywide. I took Countrywide to court to get money back for people Countrywide misled and deceived. That corporation has a lot of answering to do. And I believe that Chris Dodd may regret having waited to disclose some of these facts. But there’s no evidence of wrongdoing on his part, any more than victims who were misled or deceived by countrywide.

House: If countrywide said said, “All right Mr. Blumenthal, we’re going to let you see the documents, but you can’t make copies of them, and you have only a short amount of time like the reporter [who viewed them]. Would that be acceptable?

Blumenthal [cracking a smile]: Well, we subpoena documents. We don’t voluntarily, necessarily accept the representations that are made to us by companies like countrywide. But Chris Dodd has disclosed those documents, has disclosed the facts, and I believe -- the bottom line – that the people of Connecticut will accept his explanation and re-elect him in 2010.

House: I think this new poll shows that 42 percent more people distrust him than do [trust him]. And many people want to see those papers. They’re not satisfied with the answers. And if this gentleman who works for Countrywide comes out and, you know, it’s determined that he’s telling the truth and the senator did know he was getting preferential treatment – then how does that look?

Blumenthal: Again, you know, we can speculate on a variety of potential circumstances that could arise in the future. What we know now is that he [Dodd] has shown the documents, and if he ethics committee of the senate discloses those documents, or if he does, then we can draw conclusions based on those facts.

House: If the ethics committee comes out and determines that Sen. Dodd did commit some wrongdoing along the way, would you challenge him in a primary?

Blumenthal: I have no plans to challenge Chris Dodd in a primary. I have no reason to think there is anything that we will find from the ethics committee that will conflict with what he [Dodd] has said so far. And there is no evidence of wrongdoing. And again, he apologized. He may well regret not having disclosed those documents sooner, because it would have taken a lot of the mystery and questions [out of it].

House: If you were his political advisor, would you tell him to do that?

Blumenthal: He has better political advisors than I, and I…

House: Some might argue with that [laughter], considering your poll numbers.

Blumenthal: [Here, by way of answer, Blumenthal flourishes his attorney general’s red cape] But, you know, I’m doing my job. I’m focused on the challenges and opportunities I have. We’re taking [on] Countrywide again, to sanction them for their breaking security. We’re trying to do something about gender bias in our insurance programs and, of course, internet safety, the challenges of social networking, predatory pornography and [other] initiatives just within the past week. I have plenty to do.

House: You know, the [U.S.] senate seats [in Connecticut] have been held since the 1980’s by the same two men. Do you ever secretly wish to yourself: I wish there were, like, term limits? [Explosive laughter] I mean, you’ve said you want to be a senator, and these opportunities just aren’t coming up.

Blumenthal: You know, the longer I live, the more important I think are having things like: my kids are healthy, everybody’s fine, I love what I do. How could I wish for more? And if I wish for more, the old saying is: Be careful what you wish for. We have two senators, and they’ve served Connecticut. And I enjoy the job I have right now, and I’m going to be asking the people of Connecticut to renew my contract in 2010.

House: Good enough. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, nice to see you again. Thanks for being with us.
The disclosure made by the Wall Street Journal that Dodd had obtained from Countrywide four more mortgages than were reported at the time of the House-Blumenthal interview places the issue of the non-disclosure of facts back on the front burner. In the interview above, Blumenthal manages to sound the notes of a defense attorney when Dodd is before the bar of public opinion, a posture he regularly spurns when pursuing, Ahab-like, his targets of investigation. But now that other of Dodd’s mortgages have been inserted into what House calls in his interview with Blumenthal “this mess,” both  Dodd and Blumenthal , to filch a phrase from the attorney general, “have a lot of answering to do.”

Perhaps House should invite both Democrats, one a departing senator and the other his possible replacement, to appear jointly on his program. House is a more efficient inquisitor than some of the members in the good old boy’s congressional ethics committee. House has no subpoena powers but, even so, he does manage to get answers.
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