The successful TV franchise Law and Order has spun off a number of niche crime dramas over the years: Special Victims Unit, which deals with sexual predators; Criminal Intent, which concerns high-profile murders; and Trial by Jury, which takes viewers into the deliberations that determine a defendant’s guilt or innocence.
Imagine, though, the prospect of a thrilling fourth installment called Law and Order: Federal Nepotism, in which one of the series’ main characters, District Attorney Arthur Branch, is appointed special prosecutor, leading his staff to delve into the Washington intrigue surrounding the appointment of unqualified relatives of federal executives to high-ranking positions in the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State.
In the show, the heroic Branch’s hotshot attorneys investigate the vice president’s son-in-law, a Washington lawyer who landed several plum appointments in the veep’s administration. First he served as acting associate attorney general, then as general counsel to the White House Office of Management and Budget. Branch’s investigators focus on the son-in-law’s involvement in drafting the 2002 legislation that created the Department of Homeland Security, because he later became a partner at a prestigious D.C. law firm where he lobbied for major government contractors in dealing with the DHS.
Branch’s team pores over official lobbying documents filed with Congress, learning how this familial appointee helped his firm secure liability protection from lawsuits prompted by terrorist attacks, according to the 2002 SAFETY Act, making them one of a only a few firms whose products have been certified for coverage.
Furthermore, after his father-in-law was reelected, he was given an even more prominent role general counsel of the DHS. After being confirmed, the son-in-law was forced to recuse himself from decisions involving his former clients.
But the main target of Branch’s investigation is the vice president’s daughter, a low-level attorney who stepped over dozens of highly qualified career diplomats to earn the post of assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs in 2002. She then resigned from the post to work on her father’s reelection campaign, only to return to the epicenter of American foreign policy-making when the opposition party’s dunderheaded decision to nominate a windsurfing elitist for president resulted in her father’s second term.
Branch and his staff discover that in her official role, the daughter acted in a seemingly autonomous manner on behalf of her father’s foreign policy objectives, objectives borne of deeply flawed neoconservative theories that often conflicted with the on-the-ground experience of Foggy Bottom staffers who questioned the ease of “liberating” Iraq and cast strong doubts on the potential to “spread democracy” in authoritarian environments with no functioning civil society.
Thus, this neocon princess of sorts essentially acted as her father’s spy in the State Department. Branch is shocked to learn of instances where the daughter would obnoxiously insist upon meeting with heads of state in Arab countries in the absence of the U.S. ambassador to that country. The prosecutors thus explore the daughter’s efforts to establish a “shadow foreign policy” on behalf of her father.
Through their interviews with Washington insiders, Branch’s attorneys further discover that the vice president’s child has developed a reputation as the “go-to girl” for sleazy foreign agents with axes to grind in their home countries, some of them posing as U.S. citizens while they openly establish Washington offices of foreign political parties to lobby for American military intervention. One such individual befriended by the neocon princess is a fourth-rate con man by the name of Farid Ghadry, who was born in the Republic of Syria and immigrated to the Republic of Lebanon as a child. In addition to these two passports, he was awarded citizenship in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (later revoked), then immigrated to the United States and earned American citizenship. Apparently for Ghadry, pledging allegiance to a nation is about as momentous an experience as filling out a new credit-card application.
Branch sees how Ghadry decided after Sept.11, 2001, that an ideal con job would be to wind back the clock, jettison his preferred name of “Frank” and his preference for Lebanon, and reassume a Syrian identity. Ghadry then set himself up as head of the Reform Party of Syria, hoping for U.S.-led regime change in the country he left as a little boy.
While investigating Ghadry’s ties to the vice president’s daughter, Branch quips to his staff that Ghadry would probably have more supporters on the Wall Street Journal editorial board than in all of Syria itself. They grill Ghadry about his true allegiance, particularly after he returns from visiting Likud Party leaders in Israel. Branch wants to know if he traveled there with his American passport or his Syrian one, and whether he testified before the Knesset committee as the head of a Syrian political party or as an American citizen. He further asks whether Ghadry’s testimony before the U.S. Congress was given as a Syrian citizen or as an American citizen. Branch probes the legality of Ghadry’s donations of thousands of dollars to Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who summoned him by an amazing coincidence to testify as a foreign agent, as well as a contribution of $2,000 to the same congresswoman from Ghadry’s teenage daughter.
Though Branch does his best to avoid politicizing the investigation, increasing public outcry over the Iraq War does seem to color his approach, especially as it pertains to the vice president’s daughter and her views on Iran. Branch evaluates the evidence and finds her following the same playbook that the Mesopotamian Misadventure architects used, especially when cultivating links with discredited exiles. The district attorney picks up clues from journalist Laura Rozen, who chronicled some of the neocons’ maneuvers in this area, including expensive gifts given to the vice president’s daughter in 2005 by a prominent Iranian exile from Los Angeles named Manda Shahbazi. One of these, a carpet worth $4,000, ranked in the top 12 most expensive gifts given by foreigners to U.S. officials that year.
Ultimately, the show ends as Branch publicizes these dishonorable details and successfully exposes the treachery of the neocon underworld. His investigation severely embarrasses the vice president in particular, who is subject to ridicule for the remainder of his tenure in Washington on account of the nepotism he promoted. Although Branch’s report to Congress does not recommend impeaching the president for the administration’s nepotism, his analysis amounts to a stern rebuke of the administration’s modus operandi, in which the vice president’s daughter and son-in-law played a major part, particularly as it relates to foreign policy. Subsequently, a conservative House faction emerges as a watchdog for sole allegiance to the United States, and enacts legislation intended to strip Ghadry and other foreign operatives of dubious loyalty of their American citizenship.
Finally, Branch’s heroism has one unintended consequence. He puts the final nails in the coffin of a presidential candidate who had hired the vice president’s daughter as a foreign policy adviser. With the adviser’s fall from grace and her ideas thoroughly discredited in the eyes of a disgruntled conservative base that finally awoke after being lulled to sleep by neoconservative fairy tales, the candidate’s prospects plummeted. Though he once was well-hyped in conservative circles and a potential front-runner for his party’s nomination, his donor base quickly dried up and his campaign was left with little more than stale rhetoric.
All thanks to Law and Order‘s star character, Arthur Branch.