The effort by a conservative county prosecutor in Arizona to hire a big-name Washington lawyer power couple to go after a local official has hit a roadblock.
Earlier this month, we told you how Maricopa county prosecutor Andrew Thomas, working closely with the notorious anti-immigrant sheriff Joe Arpaio, had hired Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing, a famed Republican husband-and-wife team, to investigate a local county official — and political antagonist of both Thomas and Arpaio — on campaign-finance charges.
But now county officials are throwing a spanner in the works. Consent from the board of supervisors is needed before diGenova and Toensing can get started investigating Don Stapley. And this morning, County Manager David Smith sent a letter to Thomas, obtained by the Arizona Republic, outlining the board’s many objections to the hiring — including the fact that diGenova and Toensing don’t live in the area - “as required by applicable statute” — and that Thomas hasn’t provided a cost estimate for the probe.
Thomas had been criticized for his original decision to bring in diGenova and Toensing, rather than turning to other Arizona prosecutors, after no local prosecutors would take the case. And before that, Arpaio’s deputies had arrested Stapley in a high-profile bust that was itself was slammed as politically motivated.
DiGenova and Toensing made their names in the late 90s as ubiquitous presences on cable news, where they stoked the Monica Lewinsky scandal and even accused the Clinton White House of improperly targeting them in retaliation. Before that, they had run some of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich’s partisan investigations of Democrats and labor leaders. Earlier this month, they jetted into Phoenix for a press conference to trumpet their involvement in the case.
In the letter to Thomas, Smith explained why the item that would have sought the board’s approval for diGenova and Toensing’s hiring had been removed from the agenda for tomorrow’s board meeting:
1. The services of these attorneys were not properly procured. Procurement is required for the expenditure of any county or state funds, including RICO monies.
2. Two of the attorneys are not residents of Maricopa County, as required by applicable statute, including the person proposed to be in charge of all aspects of the matters.
3. The substantive matters set forth in the appointments have been previously assigned to the Yavapai County Attorney and cannot be reassigned by the County Attorney.
4. The three individuals cannot commence work or use court processes until the Board approves their appointments.
5. Your office refuses to provide a cost estimate for the proposed work and now appears to admit that the RICO fund does not contain sufficient funds to cover the costs (see attached MacDonnell memo, which states that Diversion Fund monies may be used). There may be an unknown substantial impact on the County Attorney’s budget or the County’s general fund if the previously planned uses of these funds have to be funded from other sources.
And the head of the county’s civil litigation department, Wade Swenson, came out swinging against Thomas, his colleague, telling the paper:
Thomas has gone out and tried to hire very expensive, very high-profile, lightning-rod, Washington D.C. attorneys. He’s giving them - or trying to give them - carte blanche with the taxpayers’ dollars. But it doesn’t look like the county attorney did his legal homework.
A spokesman for Thomas said he would look into whether the office wanted to respond to Smith’s letter.