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The "Ashcroft defense"

A pathetic attempt by some defense attorneys to blame the attorney general for their clients' arrests

In courtrooms around America, attorneys for drug dealers, mobsters, gang members, white-collar criminals, even Martha Stewart are  suggesting that Attorney General John Ashcroft is behind some insidious conspiracy to imprison them. Particularly in more liberal areas like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, federal prosecutors are telling me that they have come to expect that the defense will try to invoke the name of the controversial attorney general in the hope that somehow that might prejudice the jurors against the government, make them believe that somehow the big, bad attorney general is behind each and every prosecution and that overly aggressive prosecutors are just puppets, regularly charging the wrong people.

That’s nonsense. Yes, he’s the boss. But these defense attorneys are just trying to avoid dealing with the evidence by making political arguments. Instead, I assure you the local federal prosecutors are making their own charging decisions without consulting regularly with the attorney general. But with that said, it doesn’t help the cause that the attorney general has been meddling in some decisions generally reserved for the local prosecutors, like whether to enter into plea deals or whether to seek the death penalty.

As I’ve said before, Mr. Ashcroft I think is unnecessarily restricting the discretion of the prosecutors who know these cases best and, it turns out, helping to provide a puff of smoke and mirror for defense attorneys trying to avoid the facts. The attorney general isn’t to blame for some defense attorneys’ efforts at distraction, but no question he’s providing them with ammunition.

Dan Abrams is the host of 'The Abrams Report.' on MSNBC.