Appearing on an Orange County cable broadcast, embattled District Attorney Tony Rackauckas made a startling, possibly accidental admission: If he wins re-election in June, he plans to handpick an unelected successor who will control the powerful government position for as long as four years.
In response to a question about why he wants a sixth term, Rackauckas—who recently turned 75 years old—said, “I . . . feel a strong need to continue [DNA-collection, gang-reduction and human-trafficking] programs, to guide them, to develop them.”
So far, that answer ranked merely lame. The programs he mentioned have been in place for years. But the DA then contradicted the first part of his answer about a desire to personally shepherd the office for another term.
Rackauckas added he wants to “try to find somebody, uh, um, pretty soon after the election who would be able to take over that job.”
The confession of electioneering shenanigans duping voters should have landed with the force of a nuclear explosion, but the interviewer, who works for Village Television at a senior-retirement community in Laguna Woods, must not have appreciated what he’d captured on video.
He didn’t ask a single follow-up question before moving on to other topics during the 17-minute show, which was uploaded to YouTube on Feb. 5.
(You can watch the key clip at the bottom of this story.)
As I’ve previously reported, Rackauckas and his inner circle for years have plotted ways to block fellow Republican but hated nemesis Todd Spitzer—a sitting county Supervisor and former state Assemblyman who has also worked as a high-ranking prosecutor—from becoming DA.
Spitzer is Rackauckas’ most dangerous competition in the upcoming election. Entering 2018, his campaign’s cash on hand stood at $1.4 million, nearly seven times the DA’s coffers. A quarter-century younger, this challenger is also articulate and can intelligently argue public policy minutiae. Plus, his own scandals are comparatively petty.
The DA tried to defend his proven corruption in May 2017 on CBS’s 60 Minutes, following developments in the Orange County jailhouse-informant scandal that has earned national rebuke for systemically violating constitutional protections of hundreds, if not thousands, of pretrial defendants. Nineteen murder, attempted murder and felony assault cases so far have been upended as a result. In one of the state’s most historic rulings less than two years ago, the California Court of Appeal lambasted the DA for lousy ethical practices. Numerous employees have complained that Rackauckas demands personal loyalty over a commitment to honesty.
On the other hand, Spitzer’s worst offense is that he is a hard-charging boss, nitpicker and relentless micro-manager who doesn’t like proselytizers interrupting him while eating lunch at Wahoo’s Fish Tacos.
Hmmm . . . Who would you want as your DA? An unrepentant, lying cheater or an often-obnoxious, news-camera hog?
To Rackauckas’ immense delight, Orange County voters have proven ignorant about his corruption, a scenario likely to earn him a sixth term or, as he’s now publically conceded, one of his stooges a sneaky first term.
It’s been no secret that Susan Kang Schroeder, the DA’s glorified public-relations flack, wants the job, but she wouldn’t likely defeat Spitzer, a tireless campaigner, in a face-to-face election. Not long ago, she handpicked an easy drug case to prosecute to show her legal prowess and ended up hilariously demonstrating the opposite. A jury didn’t buy her presentation.
In addition, a substantial number of DA’s office insiders despise her, given weekly over-the-top performances as a modern-day Marie Antoinette.
She has tried to soften her image by publicizing photographs of her in the company of dogs.
Winning the election, naming Schroeder as his replacement and capturing the Board of Supervisors’ approval of the trickery would keep the Rackauckas regime in power for nearly a quarter of a century.
On the morning of March 19, Schroeder said she unaware of Rackauckas’ interview assertion, then in the afternoon, she tried to explain his words. The DA promises to fully serve his next term, she said, confusingly adding he “may consider looking for someone to replace him.”
Whatever mental gymnastics are playing out on the top floor of the DA’s office, one fact is certain: If you believe Rackauckas intends to complete a sixth term deciding who does and who doesn’t face criminal prosecution in a county with a population larger than 20 U.S. states, know that he would leave office approaching 81 years old.
Unless, he wants a seventh term.
CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; earned six dozen other reporting awards; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; featured in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.