Tom Daschle’s permanent campaign against John Thune continued today on familiar grounds…the pages of the Argus Leader. This time they moved David Kranz’s Op-ed from the front page of the Sioux Empire news section to the front page of the entire paper. Here is his introduction:
Figuring out who is the U.S. attorney from South Dakota can seem like a legal game but the whole thing is really more of a political mystery.
At the center of the plot is Sen. John Thune, on whose shoulders it would traditionally fall to forward names to President Bush. The president then, would pick a nominee who would need approval by the U.S. Senate.
But that hasn't happened and the office - responsible for prosecuting federal crimes in the state - has been open for a year.
The complicated ring of legal characters and political subtext played out last week as a butting of heads between three federal judges in South Dakota and the Department of Justice in Washington. It started when U.S. District Judge Lawrence Piersol issued what seemed an odd order - he was appointing former state Attorney General Mark Meierhenry to temporarily fill the job as U.S. attorney.
There was already someone in that role, Michelle Tapken. But her 120-day interim term was ending Dec. 24 and the Bush administration, through the Department of Justice, asked Piersol to re-up Tapken.
The judge said no and picked Meierhenry.
Tapken resigned Dec. 22 and the feds put an Oklahoma lawyer in her place, sidestepping Piersol's order.
Which leads to the mysteries.
Mystery No. 1: Why wouldn't Piersol extend Tapken's term?
Mystery No. 2: Why hasn't Thune made a public recommendation?
In both cases, we don't know.
David Kranz spent the rest of his column attacking Thune in regard to Mystery No. 2. Example:
Tapken is a former member of the Board of Regents. She was expected to get the official appointment as U.S. attorney before a potential conflict occurred. Her son, Chris, had financial interest in Dan Nelson Auto in Sioux Falls when the business became the subject of investigation after encountering serious financial problems last year. Nelson, owner of the business at the time, is one of Thune's best friends.
But when it came to Mystery No. 1, here is all Kranz would say:
Piersol of Sioux Falls is the chief judge of the state's federal district court. He was recommended to the position by Daschle and nominated by Democratic President Clinton. He once served as Daschle's lawyer.
Remember that the elements of journalistic bias are very subtle. The most common element is not reporting important facts that do not fit your worldview. In this case, Kranz does not want to disclose the friendship of Daschle and Piersol, even though he brought up the friendship of the judge’s husband’s business partner to Thune. And David Kranz knew about this friendship as he reported it himself in 2001:
Piersol, a longtime friend of the senator, said Daschle has risen to the point where he faces the ugliness of power.
Certainly Kranz did not forget the bonehead move the Daschle campaign made in Piersol’s courtroom on Election Eve 2004:
According to the complaint, Daschle asked U.S. District Judge Lawrence Piersol for a temporary restraining order to prevent Republicans from doing anything that would "harass, intimidate or discourage voters or having that effect."
Joseph Bottom pointed out the partisan nature of that event:
LAST NIGHT, Tom Daschle threw his campaign into the shredder. What is it that makes South Dakota politicians do this kind of thing? There must be something in that Missouri River water that makes even the best of political pros tuck their thumbs into their armpits and squawk like demented chickens.
Daschle's new outbreak of ornithological lunacy started yesterday, when he requested from federal circuit-court judge a temporary restraining order banning Republican--and only Republican--poll watchers from all election sites on Indian reservations or majority Indian districts.
Dick Wadham’s, Thune’s campaign manager pointing out the bias problem regarding Judge Piersol:
Thune campaign manager Dick Wadhams shot back that the intent was to keep GOP watchers away and lay the groundwork for a judicial challenge of the election results.
"Who goes into court the night before an election if they're not afraid they're going to lose," he asked.
Wadhams said Piersol was, at one time, Daschle's lawyer, the judge was recommended to the bench by Daschle and Piersol's wife supports Daschle's campaign.
"This is a joke," Wadhams said.
The issue of Piersol’s bias was ruled on by James B. Loken, Chief Judge of the Eight Circuit US Court of Appeals on August 22, 2005. Excerpt:
The complaint and its attachments confirm that, before coming to the bench, the judge [Piersol] was a long-time personal friend and political ally of one of the candidate litigants, the incumbent office holder [Daschle].
Kranz fabricated his Mystery No. 1. There is little doubt why Piersol refused to extend Tapkin’s term. And there is little doubt why Daschle’s college buddy did not report all the facts surrounding this controversy. He did not want the facts to get into the way of a good mystery story.
Tom Daschle’s supporters are still stinging from his defeat. And this time it is his longtime friends, one a judge and the other a reporter, that continue to attack the guy who defeated him.