Mary Butler, the lead prosecutor in the Abramoff scandal, is an elusive presence Google-land… While Patrick Fitzgerald, of course has been amply covered, Butler has been virtually ignored.  

But after a rigorous search I found a fascinating Symposium in which she participated entitled Who Controls Corruption? The Press, the Law, and the Public from September 12, 2000. In the course of the conference, Butler presents her philosophy for prosecuting corruption cases. This philosophy does not bode well for Delay, Blount, Rove, Norquist and perhaps some bigger fish.  

Those of us concerned about the effect of Alice Fisher and Abu Gonzalez on the investigation will take heart in a number of Butler’s comments… She also provides us with a clear sense of how difficult her job is, as she describes how infuriating it can be when juries talk themselves into acquitting in a maddening way.

But the bottom line is that this seems to be a “journeyman” prosecutor who is intent on doing her job and gives ZERO consideration to the political implications, and does not expect her boss’s politics to impact her work.

More below…

You can hook up to the audio here.

The video archive does not seem to be working.

Here is the only photo that I could find of Ms. Butler.

Mary K. Butler from the Department of Justice was a panelist in a discussion on corruption sponsored by the Center for Ethics and World Societies. Also participating, from left, were pollster John Zogby, National Public Radio’s Peter Overby and former Congressman Louis Stokes of Ohio. Courtesy Colgate U.

Before we get into what Butler said at the symposium, here is an article from the Hill dated June 15, 2005 assessing Butler as she took on the Abramoff matter…

A little-known but well-respected Justice Department trial lawyer is leading the government’s high-profile criminal investigation into disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

She is Mary K. Butler, one of 26 attorneys in the Public Integrity section and 94 U.S. attorneys around the country who investigate and prosecute cases of extortion, bribery, election crimes and criminal conflicts of interest.

Although there has been intense scrutiny of Abramoff and his associates, little is known about the career government attorneys investigating him. A Department of Justice spokesman declined to comment, but lawyers who represent a witness in the Abramoff investigation or who have dealt with Justice helped flesh out how the section operates.

Butler practiced law in Chicago before joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Florida in 1987, where she prosecuted white-collar crime and public corruption. She was part of the independent counsel’s office, which investigated former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. She joined the Public Integrity section six years ago and has been considered for supervisory positions but apparently was not selected.

I am sure Ms. Butler is thrilled about that.

And here is Ms. Butler’s bio on the Symposium website…

Mary K. Butler

Mary K. Butler is an honors graduate of Vassar College and the University of Wisconsin Law School.  She was a lawyer in private civil practice with the Chicago law firm of Hopkins and Sutter for six years before joining the U.S. Attorneys Office in the Southern District of Florida in Miami in the fall of 1987.  As an Assistant United States Attorney, Mary worked primarily in the areas of white collar crime and corruption until December, 1999.  She also served as Chief of the Corruption Section from June, 1997 through February, 1998.  In April, 2000, she was temporarily assigned to serve as Senior Associate Counsel for the Independent Counsel Investigation of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt in Washington, D.C.  In December, 1999, Mary became a trial attorney in the Public Integrity Section at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.
In her career, Ms. Butler has prosecuted a Mayor, a City Manager, City Council Members and County Commissioners, a bank president, lobbyists and other businessmen and women on corruption-related offenses, including: bribery and obstruction of justice, honest services wire and mail fraud, theft of government funds and federal program fraud.  She also prosecuted a federal grand juror who leaked information and several federal and local law enforcement officers who took bribes, extorted money, stole drugs and money, smuggled drugs, bought child pornography and used unreasonable force.  
This list does not include many more investigations that did not result in prosecutions.

Shorter version, Mary Butler doesn’t waste her time.

There is no transcript available for her remarks, but I have transcribed a few choice statements below.

Curiously, one of the most perceptive assessors of the wages of Bushco’s political sins, Pollster John Zogby, introduces Butler and moderates the symposium panel.  (For a great assessment by Zogby go here, and for an ee cummings-esque interpretation, go here.)

Butler begins with an overview that helps us understand her priorities.  She – at that point in 2000 – was a self-described 13-year veteran “journeyman prosecutor.”  And in the same vein as, say Patrick Fitzgerald, she knows why she wants to do her job…

It’s important obviously to sometimes step back from the mechanics of what we do to make sure that we have not just a perspective that’s healthy about what we do as prosecutors because we have the public trust in our hands, but also to be energized about our commitment to the anti-corruption problem…

I have to use the caveat that I don’t speak really for the justice department.  So I’m giving you my personal views…

After a primer on the mechanics of what she does, she says…

In a more general sense I represent an institution that is the Justice Department, that I think most people think should be responsible for suppressing, for investigating, deterring and punishing corruption.

She then talks about the authority that prosecutors have to prosecute local, state and federal officials on corruption-related crimes, and lays down the gauntlet that political interference is not tolerated in the Public Integrity branch.

the journeyman prosecutors in the Justice Department tend by and large to be career type prosecutors who are simply lawyers with an interest in being prosecutors and not people who would tend to leave the office when the US attorney changes or necessarily be responsive to the personal priorities of the U.S. Attorney and that is also a safe guard in large measure for the fair and even handed prosecution of corruption crimes

…the core corruption statutes are… laws that punish bribery and laws that punish extortion… and there is a whole other range of prohibited conduct that is actually used more often by corruption prosecutors, and those are laws which govern the responsibility to give full and complete disclosure of financial information or of business and familial relationships and to make truthful and accurate statements to investigators… to federal…. All those types of statutes are in the arsenal of the corruption prosecutor…  As well there is a mechanism of civil sanctions and what might be called employment sanctions.  A government employee might be deemed to have committed a crime that justifies their firing but doesn’t necessarily justify their criminal prosecution… and probably the vast majority of misconduct is actually handled in that civil or administrative framework… Because the core corruption crimes are difficult to prove most corruption prosecutions actually resolve themselves on crimes other than the core corruption crimes.

She then goes on to explain that it is very rare to get a public citizen to be a whistleblower.  Usually it is someone with a problem who participates in helping prosecutors build the case.  She also recognizes the problem of selling the truthfulness of a tainted cooperating witness….

The job for the prosecutor then is to corroborate in everyway possible the statements that this accuser, this cooperator makes.

She then goes on to describe the tecniques used to shore up the credibility of these tainted witnesses, including, e-mail, financial records, and audio and video surveillance.

At the beginning of the Q&A she explores the tension between the press and the prosecutor saying that at times the Press raises expectations about what can be proven without regards to constitutional rights and the rules of evidence at other times the press can “stiffen the back” of a prosecutor who is under pressure from the public to show leniency.

Later in the Q&A, she tells a “cynical” story illustrating a pattern of jurors refusing to convict in the face of overwhelming evidence.

“Judges stuffing money in their shirts under their shirts in their belts in the car and all you here is audio tape of the conversation… `Give me that money.  I can fit some more over here. When do you want me to make that decision about the bail reduction?’ All this is going on in the car… The judge gets out, walks across the parking lot with his shirttails flapping.  The jury acquits.  And they ask the jury, “What happened there?”  And the jury says, “We couldn’t see the money.”…
It’s just mind-boggling and wildly depressing to see the same people who demand that the corruption problem be addressed, not have the will… to convict in corruption cases.

She said this pattern is prevalent around the country among all demographics.  That is certainly the kind of story that illustrates why these prosecutors take forever to pain-stakingly make their cases.

One of the most controversial things that she says is this…

As it stands now campaign contributions are what prosecutors call legalized bribes.  Because you are allowed to give money hoping for access, and no one give money hoping for access.  They want more.

Congressman Louis Stokes almost had a conniption when she said that.  Afterall it was Democrats that had been on the hotseat for the previous 8 years on charges of corruption.

Butler concludes her remarks by reaffirming her passion for her work and her expectation that she will be left alone to do her job by political appointees.

In thirteen years in several different offices and I share this experience with many many of my colleagues, I have never been asked to anything but the right thing as quickly as possible.  And I know sometimes people find that hard to believe because think that the prosecution system or the investigation system is influenced by the political agendas of people who have power in those structures, but I have to say that I have never met in my career a prosecutor who said that they were pressured to do a particular case or to not do a particular case, but only to do the right thing and do it as quickly as possible.  And I think that is probably an unlikely (experience) but an experience that I am proud to report.

Now, 18 years into Ms. Butler’s service in the Justice Department, I wonder if Alice Fisher and Abu Gonzalez will try to spoil Ms. Butler’s experience of politically unfettered ability to do her job.  If they do, something tells me that she will not take it lying down.

Cross-posted at The Daily Kos.

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