Politicians, legal experts and progressive activists grappled with Republican abuses of power at the third annual netroots convention on Friday, debating how an Obama Administration might restore the rule of law. Cass Sunstein, an informal adviser to Barack Obama from the University of Chicago Law School, urged caution in prosecuting criminal conduct from the current administration, while also noting that egregious crimes should not be ignored. Prosecuting government officials risks a "cycle" of criminalizing public service, he argued, and Democrats should avoid replicating retributive efforts like the impeachment of President Clinton–or even the "slight appearance" of it. (Note: I updated this passage after talking with Professor Sunstein; the earlier version did not include his remarks about not ignoring egregious crimes. Some of the panel videos are available online, though so far not this one, if possible I will post more quotes from the panel when video becomes available.)
"Give me a break," responded former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, when told about Sunstein’s advice during an interview with The Nation. Siegelman took a court-sanctioned trip to tell attendees about his conviction for corruption, currently on appeal, which he says was motivated by a malicious Republican effort to destroy his career. Discussing alleged White House abuse of the Justice Department, which led to Alberto Gonzales’ resignation, Siegelman said "what Karl Rove has been accused of doing would make Watergate look like child’s play." The former governor also urged activists to press Congress to hold Rove in contempt for defying a House subpoena in a related investigation. His supporters have launched an Internet campaign, ContemptforRove.org, to advance the cause. Noting that Rove’s potential testimony "could not impact" his appeal, Siegelman said he was still pressing the issue because it was fundamental to "restoring justice and preserving our democracy." He learned how blogs were scrutinizing the Republican corruption at the Justice Department when supporters sent him print-outs from TalkingPointsMemo while he was serving the first 9 months of his prison sentence.