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Race to the Bottom (or plumbing the depths)
(Review of "Licensed to Lie: Exposing Corruption in the Department of Justice")
[Ed. Note - This review was first published here in Book Source Magazine several years ago. In light of recent events, I think we can agree that plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.]
According to the experience of most booksellers I know, Amazon and the internet have nearly trashed the antiquarian book trade – and in order to survive many independent booksellers have become data-entry catalogers for the online giants. I think it was at least twelve years ago when I first heard someone's opinion that antiquarian book-selling had become a rat race to the bottom.
And then there's the crazy pricing. Many of us have seen identical copies of the same title offered on-line for anywhere from 99¢ to $100,000, so when recently published books, especially good ones, become remaindered for whatever reason there are often incredible bargains to be had.
Once in a fit of temporary madness I bought a case or two of Geoffrey Wawro's Quicksand: America's Pursuit of Power in the Middle East (New York, Penguin, 2010) on the internet (Biblio). Written by a professor of military history at the University of North Texas and published at $37.95, the three or four dollars a copy I paid was actually cheaper than the paperback version, and missionary-like I offered to sell them at cost to anyone interested in the the Middle East. I had already read the book and naïvely thought others would jump at the chance – I thought wrong and except for the two copies I sold and three others given away to friends, I still have most of the shipment.
In 2014 another controversial book was published that explored corruption and obstruction of justice within the Department of Justice. The title, appropriately enough, is Licensed to Lie: Exposing Corruption in the Department of Justice (Dallas, Brown Publishing Group, 2014), by Sidney Powell. According to her bio “Sidney Powell served in the Department of Justice for ten years” and for twenty years has been a federal appeals attorney. Also, “She was the youngest Assistant United States Attorney in the country and the youngest elected fellow of the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers, for which she also served as President”.
Much of the book explores in excruciating detail the Federal prosecutions that grew out of the Enron collapse in the early years of the new century (and) the 2008 prosecution, conviction, and ultimate acquittal and exoneration of Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. (The Stevens case came at a politically convenient time that changed the balance of power in the Senate). In all high profile prosecutions, the cost of providing an adequate defense places an immense economic burden on the accused, and in a Gogolesque scenario, when threatened with financial ruin many defendants have struck immunity deals and have become witnesses for the prosecution, telling the court what they've been instructed to say, even if they absolutely know it to be untrue or misleading. In other words, while under oath the targeted defendant/witness is asked to tell a lie, a whole lie, and nothing but a lie.
And when, as rarely happens, a corrupt prosecutor becomes the target, the cost of his or her defense is entirely born by the taxpayers. Nonetheless Nicholas Marsh, even with financial immunity, must have harbored strong feelings of guilt for his conduct in the Stevens case because when slashing his wrists didn't do the job, he hung himself with an electrical cord.
In this important personal chronicle of the DOJ's moral and ethical race to the bottom, there were two main areas of concern:
1. Witnesses for the prosecution (as mentioned previously) were in many cases threatened with prosecution themselves if they didn't cooperate with the Federal prosecutors' theory of the case and state for the court record as being true, something the witness actually knew to be untrue. In other words, DOJ prosecutors were suborning witnesses to commit perjury, according to documented information and examples of unredacted Brady evidence contained in this book.
2. Flagrant disregard of the Brady rule arising from a decision back in 1963 that prosecutors are bound to turn over to defense counsel all evidence that they know to be exculpatory (see: Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83). In various examples prosecutors were allowed to submit to the court summary reviews of unedited Brady evidence, often reducing more than a thousand pages of witness statements and documentation to less than ten, and in the process leave out any exculpatory evidence that would prove useful to the defense. Redaction on steroids as it turned out.
At any rate, after I had learned of the existence of what seemed to me a critically important book, I tried to buy a copy ($28.95) from the area's last remaining bookstore of any size. They didn't have it in stock or on back order, so I went online. The results were interesting.
Barnes & Noble didn't have it in stock or on back order but offered an e-book version for $8.99.
Biblio had two copies listed, one at $301.76, the second at $326.15.
Powell Books. No copies available.
Books-a-Million. Four copies available ranging in price from $71.58 to $133.25.
Vialibri. (aggregated results from other databases). One copy at $399 (ABE); $131 (ABE and Alibris); $70 (Alibris); $138 (Amazon, Canada); $135 (Amazon, UK); $96 (Amazon, UK); $144 (Amazon); $70 (Amazon); $1,303 (Amazon); $149 (e-Bay); $187 (ABE).
Next step was to borrow a copy from the local library. Cazenovia didn't have it, neither did our regional library system. A statewide search turned up nothing, but finally Cazenovia was able to borrow a copy from the Rolling Hills Library in St. Joseph, (MO), half way across the country.
The whole sorry episode reminds me of the back-story of The Gulag Archipelago in which early type-script copies of Solzhenitsyn's book were supposedly circulated surreptitiously and allowed to be in the possession of a reader for 24 hours before being passed on to someone else.
In conducting my own inter-library search I was startled to learn how unhelpful the old LC or NUC catalogue has become since my early library days. Happily, Worldcat.org came to the rescue in a big way. WorldCat not only shows which libraries own what, but also whether loanable copies are currently available or on a waiting list. Anyway, according to their database:
The Department of Justice Library does not own a copy.
The Arlington Public Library (just across the Potomac) has 10 people on the waiting list as of September 2, 2018.
And so on, and so forth...
At any rate Raquel and I have both read the book and to say we were stunned by what we've learned would be something of an understatement. I've contacted Brown Books, a contract book publisher from Dallas, and from what I'm able to understand, high profile trade book publishers were reluctant to touch the subject with the proverbial ten-foot barge pole.
Parenthetically, I must say the actual printing and binding of the book surpasses most trade book standards, although the first edition needed some editorial work. I understand the author has taken on the job of printing the second edition under a different imprint (Licensed to Lie) and at something close to the original price. (Warning! If you were disappointed when you first learned about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, you probably shouldn't read this book)