Supreme Court Says: No Harm, No Bribe

  • Share
  • Read Later
WASHINGTON: Donald Smaltz just keeps on losing. Back in December, the take-no-prisoners independent counsel lost on all 30 of his corruption charges against former agriculture secretary Mike Espy. He appealed. Now the Supreme Court says he never had a case in the first place. In a unanimous ruling released Tuesday, the Justices ruled that for a public official to be guilty of corruption, proving that he took the gifts isn't enough. Prosecutors must prove that the official -- in this case, Espy -- granted official favors in return. "The Justices were amazed that Smaltz had interpreted the law so broadly, as not requiring that quid pro quo," says TIME Washington correspondent Viveca Novak. "The ruling ratchets the law back to where it was."

The Justice Department, already steamed at Smaltz for running an investigation that made Ken Starr's look like small-claims court, would have preferred that the law not be tested at all. "Justice would not have pursued this, and they wish Smaltz hadn't," says Novak. "Before, the law was interpreted differently in different areas. Now, it's been defined across the board -- in a way that makes life as tough as possible for the prosecutors who follow him."