‘Man of Integrity’

How the Supreme Court Saved Bill de Blasio From Himself

The Supreme Court let ex-Virginia GOP governor Bob McDonnell skate, and funny thing—it’s Democrats who are trying to exploit the ruling.

The Republicans made this mess, but Democrats who think they’re better than it are kidding themselves.

The story starts in Virginia, with Republican Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen, who both liked to accept nice little things—a Rolex here, a plane flight there, some nice dresses and shopping trips— from “friends” who just happened to conduct business in the state he ran. Prosecutors thought that looked like just like a crime and tried the couple separately, with husband and wife smearing each other in court to try, unsuccessfully, to save their own skin.

Anyways, both were convicted and Bob rolled his appeals all the way up to Chief Justice John Roberts, a Bush appointee, who wrote for a unanimous Supreme Court chasing its absurdist logic in Citizens United ever further down the rabbit hole that the lower courts had been wrong to convict the couple for cashing in. That while “tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns” may be “distasteful,” those weren’t "official actions." So, basically, if you don’t accept a quid, say a Ferrari, in exchange for a quo, say signing a bill subsidizing Ferraris, and leave a paper trail making clear you did the official act in exchange for the personal gift, ideally while twirling a villainous mustache and cackling loudly into the camera, then what’s the crime?

Corporations are people too, my friends, and governors and mayors and legislators are still simple citizens like you or me who just happen to be a lot more likely to have friends who run those corporations and like to kick very expensive gifts their way. The Court didn’t quite define deviancy down, but it got there by defining criminal corruption up to such a high bar that even the most venal and sloppy politician would have a tough time clearing it and only the most righteous and committed prosecutor would even try to prove that they had. Behind the fig leaf of refusing to criminalize politics, the Court freed politicians to be criminals.

Jump to Florida—where Bob’s now a distinguished professor and founder of the Governor’s Center for Federalism and Civility at the evangelical university founded by televangelist Pat Robertson because game recognizes game but never seems to notice shame or irony at all—and then to New York to talk about the Democrats who appear on President Donald Trump’s ballot.

They’ve learned to play bigly, too, to rail against Citizens United to get the base going but then turn around and squeeze money out of people who need their offices—all while explaining that they’d love to change the game, but they’ve got to play it in until then, player.

Trump just fired corruption busting U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who’d managed to take down, among other pols, the Democratic boss of the State Assembly, the legendarily wily Shelly Silver, and his Republican counterpart in the state Senate, the less oleaginous but equally dirty Republican Dean Skelos. Both are using the McDonnell decision to appeal their convictions, and Silver was in the state’s top court Thursday as his lawyers made their case that crime isn’t crime no more; SCOTUS says so. (A classic New York Times headline: Sheldon Silver Appeal Looks to New Definition of Corruption).

That happened the same day, coincidentally but not at all incidentally, that acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim issued a terse statement declaring that his office wouldn’t charge Mayor de Blasio in the host of shady deals he’s been involved in as a candidate, the leader of an outside group dedicated to promoting his political agenda and as mayor in which people who kicked him cash kept on feeling the love from his City Hall. A lengthier letter from Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, who’d been conducting his own somewhat parallel probe, went into excruciating detail about all the compromised arrangements that maybe should be crimes but aren’t thanks to the crooks in Albany who see no reason to shut down their own racket.

De Blasio, though, acted as if the U.S. Attorney’s letter that went out of its way to squeeze both “corruption crimes” and “corruption schemes” in the same sentence was a complete exoneration, proof that he’s always acted not only legally but morally and ethically. Ha! That when he collected money from people whose livelihood depended on his government that those weren’t shakedowns, since it was going to de Blasio’s agenda and campaigns and those are one and the same as the public good. Of course, he also proclaimed Silver “a man of integrity” back when that hypocritical crook was on trial for his assiduously hidden schemes to, among other sins, collect millions from people he’d never even met who were suffering from a rare form of cancer.

He won’t say so in public, but de Blasio’s fellow Democrat and fierce rival, Gov. Andy Cuomo, can surely relate to the mayor’s relief now, what with having scored his own “we’re not charging you with a crime” letter from the feds last year. The Southern District, though, is about to try two of his closest aides for using his government’s actions to put money into their own pockets.

For everything appalling about Trump’s “I’m too rich to be bought” campaign, Democrats need to do some soul searching about their own criminals, who because they at least feign shame, usually end up appearing that much more hypocritical when exposed—and how they made their party look bad enough that the country elected as its President an unrepentant conman who’s already enriching himself through public office.