Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Porn and the DOJ

Max Blumenthal has an article in The Nation that ties the firing of the 8 US attorneys to the DOJ’s obsession with prosecuting obscenity cases for porn starring consenting adults. It revolves primarily around Brent Ward, head of the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force that John Ashcroft created at the DOJ. It was Ward who urged that Paul Charlton, the US Attorney for Arizona fired by Gonzales, be let go because he wasn’t sufficiently enthusiastic about prosecuting adult porn cases.

The other e-mail contained a weirder charge: that Charlton refused to prosecute obscenity cases. Written by Ward to Sampson on September 20, 2006, the e-mail leveled the same allegation against Dan Bogden, the US Attorney for Nevada, who was also dismissed in the prosecutor purge, despite positive performance reviews. “We have two US Attorneys who are unwilling to take good cases we have presented to them. They are Paul Charlton in Phoenix (this is urgent) and Dan Bogden in Las Vegas,” wrote Ward. “In light of the AG’s [Attorney General's] comments…to ‘kick butt and take names,’ what do you suggest I do?”


And Blumenthal fills in some of the details on that accusation:

But the Justice Department did not explain which “good cases” Charlton had refused to prosecute, why he’d refused to prosecute them, or whether he’d even refused the cases.

“The date of the e-mail is subsequent to the date when they asked for [Charlton's] resignation, so it’s gratuitous,” a former Justice Department source intimately familiar with Charlton’s disputed obscenity case told me. “It looks like the White House put this out just to dirty the waters.”

According to the source, Ward’s accusation against Charlton stems from a case he filed in June 2006. That month, Ward ordered Charlton to prosecute Five Star Video, an adult video store that registered on Ward’s radar when it mailed copies of the DVD’s Gag Factor 18, Filthy Things 6, Gag Factor 15, and American Bukkake 13 to customers across state lines. Charlton agreed to take the case, but as the source told me, Ward implored him to attach an additional US Attorney to it. Concerned about wasting the already limited resources at his disposal on a case of dubious value, Charlton hesitated. Despite his misgivings, he assigned the additional prosecutor–a key fact missing from the White House e-mails.

And he quotes other sources about the completely wasted focus of Ward and the DOJ on obscenity cases, and about why they did so – solely as a sop to the religious right:

Ward’s endless stream of mandates, the source revealed, were a source of frustration to many US Attorneys. “There were countless child obscenity cases crying out to be prosecuted,” the source told me, “but [Brent] Ward wanted to focus on cases involving consenting adults. That’s just not a good way of dedicating resources. When you have so many children being harmed, why not allocate your resources towards that?”

Ward’s heedless prosecutions of legally available pornography reflected more than his ideology; they also defined his power within the Justice Department. Once Bush began his second term in the White House, Gonzales declared the prosecution of pornography portraying sex acts between consenting adults “one of the top priorities” of his department. He signed off on an FBI headquarters memo that recruited agents for an anti-porn task force. That memo stated that prosecutions would focus particularly on material depicting “bestiality, urination, defecation, as well as sadistic and masochistic behavior.” These acts, according to the memo, were most likely to offend local juries.

Christian right organizations, from the Family Research Council to Concerned Women for America, lavished praise on Gonzales’s anti-porn initiative. “We will watch closely, though with a growing sense of confidence in our new Attorney General, to see who is appointed to direct the effort,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.

When Gonzales met with Phil Burress, a self-described former porn addict who directs the anti-pornography group, Citizens for Community Values, Burress praised Ward for an aggressive and single-minded attack on sexually explicit material over nearly three decades, which had earned him the adulation of the Christian right. “He’s one of my heroes,” Burress said in describing Ward to the Salt Lake Tribune . As Utah’s US Attorney during the 1980s, Ward prosecuted phone sex operators, shut down Utah’s last two porn theaters by nailing their owner on tax charges, and tried unsuccessfully to force nude art-class models to wear bikinis. When Gonzales tapped Ward as his top porn cop in 2006, the Christian right’s confidence soared.

To support Ward’s task force, Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller diverted ten FBI agents, four prosecutors and a postal inspector. Ward soon secured his biggest score, the successful prosecution of the Girls Gone Wild series producer Joseph Francis for knowingly including footage of two young women without receiving legible documentation, on paper, of their ages. Francis’s company, Mantra Films, Inc., was slapped with a $500,000 fine–a drop in the bucket for an operation that rakes in at least $40 million a year.

Many veterans of the FBI consider Ward’s efforts a burden on their ability to fulfill serious departmental priorities. “I guess this means we’ve won the war on terror,” an anonymous FBI agent sarcastically remarked to the Washington Post about agents diverted to Ward’s task force. “We must not need any more resources for espionage.”

Though his anti-porn crusades rankled the FBI agents and US Attorneys compelled to participate in them, Ward produced an unintended benefit for the White House when it needed to fire politically “chafing” federal prosecutors. Ward’s complaint against Charlton, filed by Sampson for use at a later date, was unsheathed by Rove and Gonzales to smear a competent professional prosecutor–and a Republican–for political purposes.

The revelation of Ward’s participation in the dismissals arrived as the Christian right clamored that more resources be funneled to him. “Give him some gas and he’ll win the war,” Burress told the Salt Lake Tribune. “I wish the Department of Justice was full of Brent Wards.” The prosecutor purge may have backfired, but Burress and his allies can take heart that the Bush White House is devoted to their culture war, even at the expense of its “war on terror.”

By any sane measure, foregoing child porn prosecutions to go after adult porn is crazy.

Comments

  1. #1 J-Dog
    March 28, 2007

    IMO, Gonzalez should be fired for stupidity and wasting money. What an idiot asshat!

  2. #2 J. J. Ramsey
    March 28, 2007

    “By any sane measure, foregoing child porn prosecutions to go after adult porn is crazy.”

    Indeed. Puts a whole new spin on “Won’t somebody think of the children?”, doesn’t it?

  3. #3 chris
    March 28, 2007

    The point, I guess, is to go after the people who are thinking of the children.

  4. #4 Stuart Coleman
    March 28, 2007

    Foregoing child porn to go after adult porn is crazy, but so is going after adult porn in the first place. Is anyone else tired with the war on sin? I know I am.

  5. #5 Reed A. Cartwright
    March 28, 2007

    Does anybody know how many obscenity convictions that the task force has gotten?

  6. #6 Greta Christina
    March 28, 2007

    I am so very glad that our national priorities are so sound. It makes me feel so much safer, knowing that the DOJ is turning their attention away from bank robbery and mail fraud and trivial stuff like that, to focus on grownups who spank each other on camera for money.

    I’d write more, but I’m in the middle of watching “Fashionistas 2.”

  7. #7 Jim Lippard
    March 28, 2007

    A further problem with the JM Productions/Five Star Video case is that another video chain (The Castle Megastore) was carrying the exact same material but was not being prosecuted because it was being run by U.S. government trustees (it had filed for bankruptcy).

    The Castle sold at least 100 copies of the same works while being run by two appointees of the U.S. Trustee’s Office of the DOJ.

  8. #8 MIchael Heath
    March 28, 2007

    Bill O’Reilly likes to protray himself as the crusading journalist most effective at changing state laws that he claims will decrease the amount of child predation in this country.

    What are the odds that Mr. O’Reilly will use his bully pulpit to accuse the Bush Administration of prioritizing the prosecution of porn distributors at the expense of putting more child predators away?

  9. #9 Andrew Wyatt
    March 28, 2007

    How can the DoJ evem be pursuing obscenity anyway? I thought obscenity was generally a local crime, at best a state crime. Is there a federal obscenity law that I’m unaware of? Or is the distribution of the material across state lines the issue? Which locality’s laws are considered the standard–the locality of the sender or the locality of the recipient?

    Now that I type that, I suspect it’s the latter. Isn’t that how the religious right keeps trying to nail Adam & Eve: Going to ultraconservative counties or municipalities with strict obscenity laws and ordering DVDs and toys through their catalog?

  10. #10 Pseudonym
    March 28, 2007

    A more paranoid person than I might think that an assult on pornography involving legal acts performed by consenting adults might be deliberately targeted to move resources off cases involving corruption of public officials.

    I’m glad I’m not that paranoid.

  11. #11 DuWayne
    March 29, 2007

    What bothers me about all of this, is that it should be the job of the DOJ, more specificly, their enforcment branch, the FBI, to fight the war on terror. But in the most incompitent fashion, our current administration, would rather our military deal with, what should be, a law enforcment issue. So we’ll let the military use brute force to weed out the terrorists, and let the FBI deal with porn – not kiddie porn, oh no, they can go after those selling videos and pictures, of consenting adults screwing.

  12. #12 Pseudonym
    March 29, 2007

    When you look at the mandate of the FBI, you can see that it does a lot of good stuff (counter-terrorism, counter-intelligence, combatting public corruption, combatting organised crime etc), but one job in particular stands out.

    The FBI is the lead agency for investigating violations of federal civil rights laws… and we take that responsibility seriously. Why? Because as Director Mueller has said, “When just one of us loses just one of our rights, then the freedoms of all of us are diminished.”

    Errr… right!

  13. #13 MattXIV
    March 29, 2007

    If you haven’t hit your daily quota of disgust yet, Radley Balko (http://www.reason.com/news/show/119324.html) and Glenn Greenwald (http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2007/03/20/doj_recordings/index.html) have even more.

  14. #14 mouthybitch
    April 30, 2007

    What a lovely mix of fatalism and misdirection.

    I cannot help but think that the reluctance to actually prosecute child abuse/child pornography cases in the face of adults (with money) to be coerced into payments or businesses to be shut down is either profiteering or fatalism. I am inclined to believe it is fatalism. After all, of those kids were going to be good, American, tax-paying, middle-class citizens, their parents wouldn’t be exploiting them. Why waste the resources? And besides, they can just pull themselves up by thier bootstraps at a later date.

    The misdirection is invaluable.

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