City Councilor Chuck Turner speaks out in his own defense against federal bribery charges during a rally held Nov. 24, 2008, on City Hall Plaza. Turner once again came out swinging on Monday, calling on his supporters to petition President Barack Obama and newly confirmed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to dismiss the corruption charges he faces and investigate the possibility that the office of U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan engaged in prosecutorial misconduct in their handling of the District 7 city councilor’s highly publicized court case. (Don West photo)
|City Councilor Chuck Turner speaks during a radio interview at the Grove Hall studios of TOUCH 106.1 FM on Nov. 24, 2008. Though Turner launched a media campaign proclaiming his innocence in the immediate aftermath of his November arrest, he had scaled his efforts back in recent weeks. That changed with Monday’s missive to supporters. (Tony Irving photo)
City Councilor Chuck Turner fired off the latest salvo in the dramatic effort to rescue his reputation on Monday, tying his prosecution to what he termed “the judicial atrocities of the Bush administration” and asking his supporters to petition President Barack Obama to drop the federal charges against him.
“We move beyond the first phase of my Campaign for Truth, Light and Justice by focusing national and international attention not just on my arrest and indictment but also on the eight years of corrupt practices of President Bush’s Department of Injustice,” Turner wrote in an e-mail to supporters.
In the e-mail, sent just after 8 a.m. on Monday, the District 7 city councilor called for the president and newly confirmed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to drop the “fraudulent” charges of bribery and conspiracy that have been filed against him and to examine whether the investigation against him had racial or political motivations.
Turner also asked supporters to sign an online petition created by the activist International Action Center, founded by former U.S. Attorney General and Turner supporter Ramsey Clark. Addressed to Obama and Holder, the petition requests that in addition to Turner’s own case, the attorney general also review the cases of all public officials tried during the Bush administration “to determine which ones should have new trials because of political and/or racial motivation.” The petition also asks Holder to “initiate legal action against those [state] Attorney Generals who set up politically and/or racially motivated indictments and prosecutions.”
In addition to Obama and Holder, electronic carbon copies of the petition are apparently being sent to a wide variety of parties, including local and national news outlets, civil rights organizations, the Congressional Black Caucus, Gov. Deval Patrick and even U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Finally, Turner called for legislation “to end collusion between prosecutors and media that destroys the opportunity for a fair trial by distributing governmental allegation as evidence before any arraignments, indictments or trials have taken place.”
Turner also used the letter to call into question the motivations of U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan and Assistant U.S. Attorney Suzanne Sullivan, who are not related. The U.S. attorney’s office keyed the investigation that led to Turner’s arrest and subsequent charges.
“We believe that this petition drive is taking place at an excellent time given the focus on corruption in the Justice Department locally and nationally,” Turner wrote.
According to published reports, U.S. Chief District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf rebuked Suzanne Sullivan for failing to disclose evidence that may have helped clear a Mattapan man who is awaiting trial on gun charges of any wrongdoing in his case. The judge called the “egregious failure” to reveal the evidence an extension of “a dismal history of intentional and inadvertent violations,” citing at least nine major cases in which similar instances of withholding evidence took place under the watch of Michael Sullivan and his predecessors as U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts.
In an interview with the Banner on Monday after sending the letter to his supporters, Turner said, “Here’s a federal judge saying that this U.S. prosecutor lied in a case he was involved in, but other prosecutors under [Michael] Sullivan’s jurisdiction have lied and concealed evidence that would have helped the defendant prove his innocence.”
Turner also attempted to frame his ordeal within the context of recent trials of high-profile politicians, including former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was recently impeached and removed from office in connection with federal corruption charges.
“In the Blagojevich situation in Chicago, there were tape recordings played, lengthy discussions by a U.S. attorney, worldwide coverage, the man was impeached, and yet he hasn’t been indicted,” Turner said. “Regardless of what the truth is or isn’t, the reality is that the U.S. attorney in Illinois used information that [he] had gathered in an investigation to drive [Blagojevich] out of office without ever having established that he has, in fact, committed a crime.”
For Turner, the specter of a political takedown was also a possible factor in the attorneys’ decision-making.
“Looking at the fact that during the Bush administration, [nine] U.S. attorneys were removed, apparently for being unwilling to engage in political prosecutions — that is, unwilling to go after politicians the Bush administration wanted out of the way — it’s obvious those removals have affected the thinking of the other 41,” he said. “It creates an atmosphere where corruption, either personally motivated or [as the result of] a desire to stay in favor with the Bush administration, becomes much more likely.”
Turner is now also speaking explicitly about race as a potential factor in his prosecution, something he did not do after his arrest back in November.
“I think now that we’re really looking at the situation more objectively, and we have more information that’s going to be coming — Rove is going to be forced to testify in front of the judiciary committee, Wolfe has pointed out that [Michael] Sullivan has been corrupt and his attorneys have engaged in procedures that would be called corrupt — we can’t ignore the issues of race,” Turner said.
He then guessed at the U.S. attorney’s future political ambitions, adding: “Sullivan wants to run against a black governor [Deval Patrick], so to take action against two black politicians can certainly create some interest in the minds in white voters.”
Turner found an ally last week in the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which filed an amicus brief on his behalf in opposition to the protective order that Michael Sullivan has sought to prevent the councilor from discussing evidence against him with the media.
“What the government has proposed would be a restriction on what Councilor Turner can say about his defense, and what he can publicly say based on information made available by the government,” said ACLU legal director John Reinstein.
“[This is] obviously a matter of some public importance, and if the government wishes to advocate a gag order of this type, it needs to come forward with a specific justification that would allow the withholding of designated information. They can’t just say, ‘We think he’s going to talk about it publicly’ — he’s entitled to talk about it publicly.”