Living through times with the makings of being historic is fascinating because you get to savor how disorganized and unpredictable lived reality is even when the overarching storyline about this moment, once it becomes history, will be pretty clear. We believe that in 2016 the American people elected a fraud as U.S. president (via the Electoral College, and assisted by robots from Russia) and that his administration has worked doggedly to make this country (and, indeed, this planet) safer for frauds. But you would have a hard time convincing Steve Stenger of that right now.
Stenger has pled not-guilty of fraud and other abuses of office as St. Louis County executive, an office that he resigned on Monday, April 29 after his federal indictment was unsealed. While we grant him his constitutional presumption of innocence, the evidence presented against him in the indictment paints a vivid picture of a fraud brazenly in action while holding and wielding a powerful public office. According to this evidence, Stenger behaved like a fraud who was obviously confident that it was a safe time to be a fraud, especially in public office. Unfortunately for Stenger, he was under surveillance by some of those career federal investigators routinely derided by our federal fraud in chief. Running the investigation was a career federal prosecutor named Hal Goldsmith, who finds more intimidating specimens than Stenger (or his notorious defense attorney Scott Rosenblum) in his morning cereal.
What is fascinating about this deviation from the future historical narrative that Trump made America (and the world) safer for frauds is that Goldsmith is a federal prosecutor today precisely because Trump is president. Goldsmith was coaxed back into federal service from a more lucrative semi-retirement as a partner at a local law firm by U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen, who was appointed by none other than Trump (by way of U.S. Senator Roy Blunt, who therefore also gets an assist in the Stenger takedown). Goldsmith knows Jensen to be a straight shooter who would let him do his job prosecuting frauds, especially frauds in public office — Goldsmith’s specialty, though Jensen brought him on as chief of his white-collar crime division. Ironically, given the way history will be told, Trump’s U.S. attorney in St. Louis is much more dedicated to taking down frauds — especially frauds in public office — than was Obama’s appointee.
Reality is disorganized and unpredictable, no matter how clear it can be made to look when the stories about it are told. A man we believe to be a fraud was eliminated from public office in St. Louis County because a man we believe to be a much more gross and dangerous fraud is president of the United States — and it is precisely the president’s appointing powers over attorneys who investigate fraud that ended up putting this St. Louis County fraud out of business.
We realize that readers and staff of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch may be hearing for the first time that this investigation was directed by Goldsmith and not the Post. The paper’s staffers are counting how many times the paper gets mentioned in the indictment of Stenger like high school kids finding their candid pictures in the school Yearbook. It’s understandable to take glory in an assist on taking down a fraud, but the paper’s name appears in transcripts because Goldsmith had a trusted Stenger ally wired for sound. Post reporting did help stir up Stenger’s filth and Goldsmith captured Stenger in the act of stifling that filth, which contributes to the case against Stenger – as indeed its evidence in the indictment makes clear. But once a trusted ally of the target is wired up and cooperating, the target has worse problems than even the best journalism. Without the Post’s investigation, Goldsmith still indicts Stenger — possibly later than last Thursday and with more evidence against Stenger and more co-conspirators in the wringer, had media coverage not sped things up.
And, as we argued in the Political EYE a month before Stenger became a former county exective, the Post’s reporting on Stenger’s apparent fraud was simply the paper helping to clean up a mess it had a large hand in making. When Stenger was a little-known council member from Affton tilting at County Executive Charlie Dooley, the Post’s news and opinion editors and reporters all fell hard for Stenger’s whispers of rumored corruption in the Dooley administration. Without actual evidence like Goldsmith’s subpoena that Sam Page leaked on Stenger to the Post, the Post reported and editorialized on Dooley like he was a hunted fraud whose days in the daylight were numbered. Without enough actual evidence to engage Goldsmith and drive him and a grand jury to an indictment, Dooley was never charged with a crime – that is, anywhere but in the Post-Dispatch and campaign ads made by Stenger or his trusted ally Bob McCulloch. But those relentless false charges against Dooley handed Stenger a primary victory.
Goldsmith indicts Stenger without the Post, but without the Post there would have been no County Executive Stenger to indict. The missing ingredients between the Dooley and Stenger investigations by the Post are actual evidence of fraud and Hal Goldsmith. The indictment of Stenger should be tallied to Goldsmith and his team. As for the Post, it is now 1-1 on fair and accurate coverage of the past two county executives and should be credited only with helping clean up a mess it helped to make in Stenger. Let’s see how the paper’s best source on bringing down Stenger, former council member Sam Page, fares in the next episode of: As the county executive turns …