- Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich was running a tight campaign for reelection in 2006. Small things could tip the balance against him.
- The indictment of Rezko occurred less than a month before the 2006 election and dominated coverage for the next few weeks. As one Chicago Sun-Times columnist wrote, "Is the fact the feds indicted Rezko, who is this close to Blagojevich, a month before the election sending shockwaves through Blago's campaign? You bet."
- Asked about the timing of the indictment, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (yes, the same one who prosecuted Scooter Libby) had this response: "We're not going to stop momentum or take a siesta for political reasons." This, of course, is entirely contrary to DOJ policy, which states that election time is precisely when you're supposed to take a siesta.
- Rezko's indictment has tarnished Obama, Blagojevich, and Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez a bonanza all around for the GOP.
- Fitzgerald was briefly included on a prospective purge list of U.S. attorneys and was undoubtedly under pressure to make up for having gone after Libby. This is similar to the case of Wisconsin prosecutor Steven Biskupic, also briefly on the list, who wound up redeeming himself with a bogus prosecution meant to hurt Democrats in the state.
In this case, there are two reasons why journalists have dropped the ball. The first is that Fitzgerald enjoys a reputation for fairness and incorruptibility. But part of what the attorney scandal has shown is that even decent attorneys can be pressured into pursuing the wrong cases. (Again, I'm not saying Rezko's innocent I don't have any idea either way.) The second and more important reason is that, until recently, faith in the basic integrity of our justice system has run so deep that it's been hard for most journalists to shake it. But shake it they should. Given what we've learned over the past several months, it's no longer conspiratorial to wonder whether political scheming could have contaminated the DOJ. It's an established fact. Today, therefore, whenever the DOJ announces an indictment, any responsible repoter must ask an additional question: Which political party gains or loses? Sadly, it's the way we live now.