Prosecutor Michael Chertoff: Ken Lay’s Worst Nightmare

For those who are outraged at the thuggish behavior of Enron Corp. and the Arthur Andersen accounting firm, it’s good news that the cases are being prosecuted by Michael Chertoff, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division. By indicting Andersen on felony obstruction charges, Mr. Chertoff has shown that he’s not going to let the rogue accounting firm’s executives off the hook. And the indications are that he’ll go no easier on Enron and its two top crooks, chairman Ken Lay and president Jeffrey Skilling–men who belong in prison for ripping off shareholders and banks while skimming millions for themselves. Mr. Chertoff has had experience building cases against men like Mr. Lay and Mr. Shilling: He prosecuted Anthony (Fat Tony) Salerno and Carmine (Junior) Persico in the 1980’s.

Mr. Chertoff belongs to an estimable tradition of litigators who have devoted themselves to public service rather than earning fortunes in private practice: men like Tom Dewey, who prosecuted Murder Inc.; Leon Jaworski, who took on Richard Nixon; Joseph Welch, who demanded of Senator Joseph McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”; and, of course, Rudolph Giuliani, who broke apart the Mafia in New York. Like these men, Mr. Chertoff simply does his job, immune to the politics of the day–even though he is a Republican, he has not hesitated to expose the Bush administration’s unseemly coziness with Enron.

A 48-year-old rabbi’s son from New Jersey, Mr. Chertoff graduated from Harvard Law School and worked his way up as Assistant U.S. Attorney in New York and then U.S. Attorney in Newark, N.J. For the past 10 months, he’s held the office of the country’s top prosecutor. Every U.S. Senator except one voted in favor of his confirmation; the holdout was New York’s Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is still steaming over Mr. Chertoff’s work as counsel to the Senate committee that investigated Whitewater.

Mr. Chertoff’s toughness is exactly what’s needed as Enron and Andersen run for the hills. According to The Wall Street Journal , the Andersen executives have whined that the prosecutor is treating them like crime bosses. They seem to believe that because shredding documents wasn’t forbidden in the firm’s by-laws, they did nothing wrong. They are in for a rough education.

One can rest easy that Mr. Chertoff will bring some relief to the thousands of Americans who have had their life’s savings wiped out and have lost their jobs because of the illicit behavior of the con artists who sat in the corner offices at Enron and Andersen.

Cardinal Egan Must Resign

When Edward Egan was the bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., he inherited a terrible sexual-abuse scandal involving several priests accused of molesting children. His reaction was not one of horror, but of spin management. “Allegations are allegations,” he said. He suggested that some of the tales of rape and molestation were fictitious.

Now, as the Archbishop of New York and therefore one of the American Catholic Church’s most visible leaders, Cardinal Egan’s behavior during his Bridgeport years is coming under renewed scrutiny. Court documents made public over the St. Patrick’s Day weekend show that Cardinal Egan, while the bishop of Bridgeport, knowingly transferred clerical molesters from parish to parish rather than turn them over to the authorities. The court documents–part of a legal case that resulted in a multimillion-dollar settlement with victims last year–indicate that many complaints were not pursued, and that then-Bishop Egan chose a blame-the-victims strategy in other cases. Incredibly, according to the documents, Bishop Egan said that individuals who accused a priest of sexual misconduct had no right to know whether there were any other complaints against the priest.

These are the actions and comments of a bureaucrat, not a moral and ethical leader. As a sign of contrition, Cardinal Egan should resign his post in New York. His continued leadership would send exactly the wrong message at the wrong time: that there are no consequences for immoral decisions and behavior.

Didn’t he realize that hundreds of young men–children–were at risk, that their lives could be ruined, when he allowed sex offenders to be placed in positions of authority? Surely he must have, for the evidence against the priests was clear and graphic. He made his choice, and it was horrific. Now he must suffer the consequences.

The Christian narrative offers the prospect of redemption, and perhaps Cardinal Egan will find a way to redeem himself. That journey must begin now, with his resignation.

McCall’s Funny Money

Carl McCall hopes to be the Democratic candidate who has what it takes to unseat Governor George Pataki this November, and he has collected almost $7 million in campaign contributions to help him on his way. But as he prepares to face Andrew Cuomo in the primary, Mr. McCall has some explaining to do. One of the most noted aspects of his tenure as State Comptroller has been his disturbing willingness to reward campaign contributors by giving them business from the state’s $112 billion pension fund. And according to The New York Times , Mr. McCall is continuing this unsavory practice as he raises money for his gubernatorial campaign, soliciting contributions from firms and people who stand to benefit from his pension-fund responsibilities.

Mr. McCall insists that he awards state business to firms that merit it, not those with generous campaign donors. But one can’t escape the impression that he uses the state pension fund as a honeycomb to attract bees who are willing to give and give. “In the last three years,” reports The Times, “Mr. McCall has received at least $800,000 from equity managers, lawyers and real estate companies doing business with the pension fund.”

The facts do not show the Comptroller in a flattering light. Over the past year, for example, partners at Warburg Pincus gave $81,000 to the McCall campaign; it just so happens that Mr. McCall upped the state’s investment in Warburg’s private equity funds by $375 million during that same period. Over the past two years, executives at Progress Investment Management Company of San Francisco donated $39,000 to Mr. McCall’s coffers; meanwhile, the state’s investment with Progress shot up from $200 million to about $1 billion.

Mr. McCall’s campaign spokesman, Hank Sheinkopf, is trying to wiggle away from these revelations by saying, in effect, that Mr. McCall has no choice–until campaign-finance reform cleans up the system, he needs to get down in the mud with everyone else. That is the coward’s way out. Why not take a principled stand against accepting contributions from those who do business with the state? Why not take a page from Arthur Levitt Sr., who ran the State Comptroller’s office between 1955 and 1978 as a trustworthy, politics-free zone? Had Mr. McCall spurned the donations of firms and individuals who are in business with the state, he would have lost just $800,000 out of his almost $7 million–surely a relatively small price to pay for a clean reputation.