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The Name of the Game

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Last Saturday's runoff election did more than give Louisiana a United States senator. It should resolve once and for all who's going to be the permanent United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, which is based in New Orleans.

Until now, the selection of a permanent federal prosecutor for this area was mired in politics, none of it having anything to do with Democrats. It was the GOP that couldn't get its ducks in a row.

That may soon change.

Gov. Mike Foster early on claimed dibs on the appointment, which officially comes from President George W. Bush. Presidents typically look to local party leaders to provide names of competent (and loyal) nominees. Foster, a pal of the prez, gave him businessman Fred Heebe Jr., who has practiced law part-time for more than 10 years.

Even before national women's groups trashed Heebe, there was a bitter fight behind the scenes between, among others, Foster and Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell, over the appointment. Terrell did not support Heebe, reportedly because she didn't think he was qualified. Whatever the reasons for her opposition to Heebe, it rankled Foster plenty -- and that's why Gov. Warbucks was so cool to Terrell throughout her Senate campaign.

Now that Terrell is the darling of the national GOP (and possibly the new senator -- note: I'm writing this a day before the runoff), she may have even more to say about who the new U.S. Attorney will be. Even if she's not the new senator, she's clearly the future of the state Republican Party, whereas Foster is well into his political dotage. Nobody knows that more than the White House.

Since former U.S. Attorney Eddie Jordan left his post, the job has been held by Jim Letten, a career federal prosecutor and top Jordan assistant. Letten also led the courtroom team that put Edwin Edwards behind bars. It's no secret he would like to hold onto the job. He certainly couldn't be accused of lacking qualifications, but he appears to lack a qualified patron, which underscores why we call it patronage (as opposed to, say, "meritage").

If Terrell is the new senator, she will soon get around to suggesting someone as the permanent federal prosecutor. They call that "senatorial privilege."

As for Letten, he appears to have been trying to score as many brownie points as possible by putting as many bad guys in jail as he can. He's got one more opportunity on the horizon: neo-Nazi David Duke, the perennial bad boy of Louisiana politics. Duke reportedly wants to return to his Fatherland from his current self-imposed hiatus in Russia.

A few years back, the feds raided Duke's Mandeville home and confiscated armloads of records, supposedly in support of a mail fraud and tax case against the former KKK leader. Duke at the time was already in Russia, and he has found it convenient to stay there ever since.

As Gambit Weekly first reported last week, Duke's attorney has been quietly negotiating Duke's return to the U.S. with Letten's office, reportedly in exchange for a year-plus in jail and a fine.

The possible crimes committed by Duke stem from his fundraising schemes, which included the "sale" of his mailing list to then-candidate Mike Foster in 1995 for more than $150,000. The "sale" came just as Duke was getting out of the governor's race and giving his tacit endorsement to Foster, who quickly jumped to the front of the pack. The price paid for the list, which Foster never used, was wa-a-a-a-ay more than the market. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.

If Edwin Edwards had done this, the feds would not have hesitated to call it money laundering. Duke could certainly shed some interesting light on the transaction, if federal prosecutors were interested in that sort of thing.

So Letten now has to ask himself two questions. How badly does he want to be the permanent U.S. Attorney? And, more important, does going after Mike Foster now help or hurt his chances?

I'm not sure of the answers, but I am sure that that's why we call it "politics."

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