Thursday, February 03, 2005

Johnson-Street bugging questions becoming clearer

Yesterday Charles posted on the report that Police Commish Johnson knew about the bug probe. This all followed the Daily News publishing an editorial calling for his ouster. As more news came out today, it seems more and more like I suspected yesterday- Johnson leaked that he knew about the bug, because he was tired about being linked with the Street/Burrell regime when he in fact knew about the bugging all along, but kept it secret from the Mayor. As a result, the Daily News has made a sort of apology with a new editorial.

From the new, oopsie editorial:
Here's what is known so far: Sources close to the federal investigation told the Philadelphia Inquirer that mayoral aide George Burrell instructed Johnson to sweep Mayor Street's office for a hidden listening device and mislead the press and public on why the office had been swept. Johnson complied, found a bug planted by the FBI, ending the feds' covert operation, and told reporters the bug had been found during a routine sweep.

When we asked Burrell and Johnson about the Inquirer story, neither chose to comment or challenge it.

But sources are now telling the Daily News that Johnson alerted the feds before conducting the search. According to one source, federal agents "arrogantly" believed that the bug wouldn't be found. Johnson's men were better than expected.

Sources say the feds also asked Johnson not to comment on why the office had been swept.

Given the choices, it's now more understandable why Johnson took the highly unusual - and to our mind still unwise - course of action that he did.
The always entertaining windbag, Michael Smerconish also weighs in on the whole thing. And for once I agree with him, it really seems like the Commish really was doing the right thing here. He gives the new, more complete account of what went down:
Johnson knew about the bug long before the mayor did. That's because the feds took the police commissioner into their confidence, and he kept their secret. Almost immediately after the bug was planted, and for reasons that would seem to warrant an investigation in itself, Burrell came to Johnson and asked for a sweep of the mayor's office.

Johnson called the feds, and told them about Burrell's request. The feds were shocked to hear about it. (Why did Burrell asked?) They told Johnson to proceed with the sweep, believing that police would find nothing.

But they did find something in the ceiling above the mayor's desk. The media learned this immediately.

Then, when Johnson was asked whether his search was at anyone's request, he lied to the media. The l-word is harsh. But it means he made a false statement, which he presented as being truthful. He had noble intentions, mind you, but he still said something that he knew to be inaccurate.

He didn't do it to protect the mayor, nor to protect Burrell. To the contrary, he did it to protect what he believed to be the feds' interest in how Burrell came to request the sweep. He wanted Burrell to believe he was keeping his secret so as not to jeopardize the fact that Burrell's request of the bug sweep was itself something that had now raised the curiosity of the feds.
So what it really comes down to, is that Johnson, instead of simply saying "no comment" when asked why he swept the mayor's office for bugs, lied. And, we really cannot have cops lie about police business. But, it all seems a lot better for him than it did three days ago.

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