If you don’t hail from the New Orleans area or live there you probably don’t know who Jim Letten is, so a brief primer is in order. Bear with me here.
Letten is — or should I say, was — the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana. He was appointed 11 years ago by President Bush, which made him the longest tenured U.S. attorney in the country going into today.
Shortly after taking office, Letten made a name for himself taking down some of Louisiana’s notoriously corrupt politicians, most notably former four-term governor Edwin Edwards. Letten was also instrumental in helping to root out some of the rampant corruption in the New Orleans police department — his office rang up a number of prosecutions against corrupt judges and dirty cops post-Katrina, with many of the cases receiving national attention.
Additionally, as HuffPo notes, he also took down “bribe-taking officials in New Orleans’ long-troubled school system and scammers who tried to rip off Hurricane Katrina aid programs.” As of late, he’s been hot on the tail of bungling former Mayor Ray Nagin, who everyone in town knows is a crooked as the Mississippi River.
Put simply, Jim Letten helped make New Orleans, and Louisiana, a better place.
Because of this, Obama didn’t replace him with a Democrat when he took office in 2009 (incoming presidents often stack the federal judiciary with judges affiliated with their respective parties). Throughout his career, Letten received overwhelmingly positive bi-partisan support. He was, in the eyes of many, untouchable. That’s what makes his downfall all the more remarkable.
Seriously, try to wrap your brain around this: Jim Letten resigned today because people, two of them confirmed so far, working beneath him were leaking information about cases in the comments section of New Orleans-centric websites.
The first, a prosecutor named Sal Perricone, who commented under the handle “Henry L. Mencken1951” on Nola.com, resigned earlier in the year.
Writes Gambit.com’s Clancy Dubos:
By his own admission, Perricone posted some 600 comments under the “Mencken” nom de plume. Attorneys and others who have followed this story suggest he had several other online alter egos, all of whom, like “Mencken,” had a penchant for pretentious but archaic words (“dubiety” was a favorite), alliteration and, above all, spleen. The other fake names ascribed to Perricone include “campstblue,” “legacyusa” and “dramatis personae.”
If those suspicions are correct, one has to wonder when Perricone did any work. Those respondents posted well over a thousand comments in recent years.
From behind his online mask, Perricone assailed a wide range of targets: President Barack Obama; U.S. Attorney Jim Letten; fellow prosecutors; various defense attorneys; several federal judges; high-profile federal targets; and even some journalists — including me.
Letten admitted this week that a second prosecutor, Jan Mann, from his office also commented about cases under the name “eweman.”
Why would Mann and Perricone do this sort of thing, you ask? Presumably because they felt that they could influence public opinion on certain cases, and thereby possibly influence juries. (Apparently, the people in Jim Letten’s office don’t realize that something like less than 1% of online readers actually read the comments on things.) Or perhaps they’re just the type of people who can’t stand to keep secrets, that it just kills them knowing stuff that they think others would want to know about, and commenting on websites was a way for them to get the thrill that comes with spilling secrets while at the same time enjoying the false sense of security online anonymity brings.
Regardless, this all strikes me as a pretty momentous moment in the history of internet commenting — whether he knew about it or not, a powerful and respected public official has been taken down by online comments made by anonymous commenters working in his office. Yet another reminder that we live in a strange new world.
(Pic via Nola.com)