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Steinburg should apologize to DA for 'politicization' claim

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Sunday, December 16, 2018

State Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, did the right thing last week when he belatedly fired his legislative assistant, Diana London, following her guilty plea to a charge of misdemeanor larceny in Dare County.

London, who had been facing felony embezzlement charges prior to her plea agreement with District Attorney Andrew Womble’s office, shouldn’t remain in a job funded by taxpayers, particularly in light of the evidence prosecutors had in the case. The fact she’s required to repay Pigman’s Bar-B-Que, her employer before Steinburg, $25,000 as part of her plea deal shows her misuse of a company credit card was a serious criminal matter and not a simple “contract dispute,” as Steinburg previously claimed.

London’s firing also ends her troubling dual employment as both Steinburg’s legislative assistant and aide to his successful state Senate campaign. Steinburg had claimed there was nothing wrong with London’s working in both roles, adding he had received both ethical clearance and permission for her to do so from top House leaders. It should be obvious, however, that Steinburg should not have employed London as both the person who helped him with his public duties and the one who assisted with his private, election efforts. The opportunity for those roles to become mixed — for London to work on campaign-related matters when she was supposed to be working for the taxpayers — was always a danger.

That’s especially true given the fact that even Steinburg is now questioning London’s candor and truthfulness. 

The lawmaker, who initially said he was standing by London following her guilty plea, now claims he decided to fire her because of her untruthfulness about the existence of a tape recording on which she admits stealing from Pigman’s. On the tape, released last week by the district attorney, London acknowledges to one of the restaurant’s owners that she “stole” from the business. Steinburg apparently had heard about the tape and asked London if it existed, and she, according to him, told him it didn’t.

Steinburg also noted London hadn’t told him that she twice had faced theft allegations when she previously lived in New York, including one instance when she was arrested and charged with stealing — and making $1,700 in illegal charges to — the credit card of someone who had employed her as a babysitter.

Fact is, the only reason Steinburg knows about London’s taped confession or her prior arrest for theft — she was never convicted of it — is because of the District Attorney’s Office. Womble released evidence in London’s case, including the 27-minute tape, following her guilty plea. But if you thought Steinburg was grateful to Womble for helping him to make the right decision to cut ties with London, you’d be wrong.

In his previous defenses of London, Steinburg took veiled swipes at the District Attorney’s Office, suggesting she never should have been charged with a crime for what he deemed a civil matter. But following her guilty plea last week, he was even more explicit in his criticisms. Steinburg claimed the allegations against London and her prosecution were “political” and that his opponents had “weaponized” the criminal justice system against her.

“It is disappointing and outrageous to have the District Attorney's Office motivated by politics force a young woman to choose between paying thousands of dollars to defend her innocence in a process that would likely take years versus paying a settlement of thousands of dollars now to make the charges go away,” he said in a statement.

These were clearly intemperate remarks, particularly since Steinburg wasn’t familiar with the facts of the case, and as Womble subsequently pointed out, wasn’t in court when London entered her guilty plea. But even after listening to London’s taped confession, and deciding he had to fire her, Steinburg refused to stop seeing himself as the victim.

Noting Pigman’s owners supported Clark Twiddy, the opponent he defeated in the Republican Senate primary, Steinburg claimed Womble never would have prosecuted London had she not worked for him. He implied that his political embarrassment — and not London’s stealing — was the real motivation for her prosecution. And in what appears to be a veiled swipe at Womble, Steinburg claims that “serious judicial reform” is needed in the both the region and state. It’s interesting he’s never made that claim before; it’s only now, after the conviction of his former aide, that reform is needed.

The real outrage here is Steinburg’s unwarranted attacks on Womble’s integrity. President Trump does this all the time, casually impugning, without evidence, legitimate investigations into the actions of his close associates as politically motivated. Such unsubstantiated attacks by political leaders are dangerous because they risk undermining the rule of law. They give license to anyone facing criminal investigation or prosecution to make the same claim that they’re the victim of a rogue prosecutor out to get them for political reasons. It’s wrong for Trump to do it, and it’s wrong for Steinburg to do it. The senator-elect, who has now acknowledged the truth about London’s conduct by firing her, needs to stop making these outrageous claims and apologize to Womble and his staff for what he’s said.

 

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