Democrats hoping to elect a U.S. senator from their party to represent Kansas for the first time in decades will likely need to look for someone other than Barry Grissom, one of the announced candidates.
Grissom’s campaign suffered a devastating blow last week when Judge Julie Robinson of the United States Court for the District of Kansas issued a blistering ruling in a case involving misconduct by federal prosecutors under Grissom’s supervision.
The prosecutors are accused of improperly eavesdropping on recorded phone calls and videos involving incarcerated defendants and their lawyers. They’re also accused covering up their behavior.
The lawyers’ ethical breach during Grissom’s tenure in charge of the Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Kansas is reason enough to reject his candidacy. But the court ruling and testimony in the case also show the office in Wyandotte County was a dysfunctional mess under Grissom.
“It was essentially an inmates-run-the-jail-type office,” said Mike Warner, Grissom’s first assistant, in federal court testimony. “There was no support from (Grissom), (who) basically wanted to stick his head in the sand and go out and get his picture taken, and maybe run for office someday.”
Erin Tomasic, a former assistant U.S. attorney at the center of the phone call allegations, testified to fierce infighting in the office. “There was a ‘Lord of the Flies’ mindset, and people were at full-out war with one another,” she told the court.
Was Grissom aware of this? Yes, Warner said.
“I would go to the U.S. attorney, yes, sir, and complain and say we should sanction these people; we need to do something. I did that on a, excuse me, damned daily basis,” he said. “I documented it. I did it verbally. OK? Nothing happened. It was frustrating.”
Grissom’s failure to properly supervise his office seems clear. “Kansas City prosecutors distrusted current and past management, to the point of insubordination,” Robinson found.
In a recent interview, Grissom defended his work, insisting he was unaware of the misbehavior in his office. “If somebody’s hiding something from you, how would you possibly know that?” he said.
“I can’t wave a wand and make someone tell me the truth,” he continued. “You have to have some faith in your people that they’re not lying to you, or hiding things from you.”
Grissom, a Democrat, was not a part of the contempt finding by Judge Robinson. He isn’t mentioned in her ruling.
But voters will have serious questions about Grissom’s service anyway. If he didn’t know about the inappropriate behavior of his staff attorneys, he failed as a supervisor and a manager.
If he did know, and did nothing to stop it, he’s complicit in a serious breach of ethical standards. Either way, Grissom’s record suggests he lacks the qualifications and character to serve as a U.S. senator.
He has made his tenure as U.S. attorney the centerpiece of his argument for a seat in the Senate. It’s the first thing you see on his campaign website, and it was a prominent part of his campaign announcement.
We now know the office was egregiously mismanaged. Dozens of criminal defendants may escape punishment or walk away from charges because of the rogue behavior of lawyers under his command.
Next year, Kansas Democrats — and Republicans — need to nominate a serious Senate candidate for these serious times. The evidence is mounting that Grissom simply is not up to the job.
— The Wichita Eagle