Rush: Privilege, Not Justice — The Freeing of Sholom Rubashkin (Part Two)


Sholom Rubashkin in 2008 (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

By Nicholas Rush

This article is part of a two-part series. Read the first part here.


Sholom Rubashkin, the owner of a Kosher meatpacking plant, was charged with the harboring of illegal immigrants, aiding and abetting document fraud and aggravated identity theft, among other charges, that resulted in a 27-year sentence. His sentence was commuted by President Donald Trump in December of 2017. A bipartisan group of over 100 distinguished and high-ranking elites from the political and legal community wrote letters in support of a review of Mr. Rubashkin’s case.

Of all the letters begging Trump to commute Rubashkin’s sentence, the letter from former Senator Orrin Hatch stuck out. Hatch’s argument did not emphasize legal irregularities, but rather the needs of Rubashkin’s son. Hatch made an emotional argument about how troubling the 27-year sentence was because “Rubashkin has an autistic son who is heavily dependent on him.”

It is curious that Hatch was so concerned about a citizen so far outside of his constituency. Hatch was sort of a divine blessing sent from Utah, according to Gary Apfel, the high powered attorney who pulled all the strings behind-the-scenes for Rubashkin. Apfel claims that Hatch wrote three letters on Rubashkin’s behalf, personally hand-delivering one of them to the President.

It taps a cynical nerve to see a U.S. Attorney file a motion to dismiss immigration charges against Rubashkin, followed by the galvanization of so many political elites into penning letters hankering for his release. It is interesting that Rubashkin’s case was compelling enough for such an unprecedented joining of bipartisan forces. Did hundreds of politicians and attorneys simply collectively decide Rubashkin was innocent, despite his overt exploitation of other human beings?

The hundreds of meatpacking immigrants pulled from the blood-stained floors never inspired the support of these people. They were left within the insufferable conditions of the plant. A lawyer for underage plant workers argued, “They were hungry all the time, it was freezing cold or burning hot.” A former underage worker testified that she was exposed to harsh chemicals and worked more than 70 hours a week. Agriprocessors blamed the teens, claiming that they lied about their age. Harsh chemicals couldn’t cover the stench of injustice at the meatpacking plant, and the letters in support of Rubashkin similarly stunk.

There is a simple explanation — Rubashkin had power. For a man with such a blighted record of human rights, animal rights and environmental violations, it’s the only explanation for why so many stood behind him. Most crucial of all, his nexus of power and privilege conveniently linked him to Trump.


A Winning Legal Team

As well as naming Hatch, Rubashkin’s attorney Gary Apfel made it clear that the procurement of Michael Mukasey was a critical component to the case.  While Apfel and his team “helped orchestrate” the letter requesting a pardon, Mukasey sent it to Trump and attended meetings on behalf of Rubashkin. According to Apfel, Mukasey played an “extraordinary” role, as did Former FBI director Louis Freeh and Alan Dershowitz, a crony and attorney of Jeffrey Epstein. Rubashkin lawyers recruited former Attorneys General and FBI directors to obtain undue influence.

Michael Mukasey’s son, Marc Mukasey, is Donald Trump’s lawyer. He also represents Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump Foundation. Marc Mukasey also represents Joel Zamel, who ran Psy-Group, a Mossad-connected Israeli firm that collected intelligence for Cambridge Analytica, the controversial media firm who worked for Trump during the 2016 election. Zamel met with Trump Jr. and others involved in the Trump campaign multiple times around the 2016 election to offer assistance of his firm. Zamel has reportedly boasted that he got Donald Trump elected through the involvement of his firm.

So we have former Attorney General Michael Mukasey spearheading the Rubashkin pardon, while his son is the attorney for Donald Trump, the Trump family and Zamel. Zamel’s firm was contracted by Cambridge Analytica, who worked to help elect Trump.

According to David Luban of Georgetown Law, Trump’s behavior “raises the possibility that individuals seeking pardons from Trump could essentially use his personal attorneys as their lobbyists [and] there doesn’t appear to be any specific ethical rules forbidding it.”


Commutations For the Rich, Charges For the Poor

Rubashkin was freed under a process seldom used by Presidents, even though “no one from the Pardon Attorney’s had raised the case [about Rubashkin] with the White House.” There is no organic scenario in which Trump would commute Rubashkin’s sentence — save his extraordinary influence and power.

I suppose Hatch, Mukasey, Freeh, Pelosi, Barr, Nadler and other elites really felt it was worthwhile to defend a man who illegally exploited labor to enrich himself, employed underage workers in abhorrent conditions, abused livestock and committed fraud. It is quite surprising that sanctimonious politicians would risk their reputation to defend this man. It raises an important but simple point — if you have money, and friends in high places, you can earn yourself an amicus brief from influential bureaucratic leeches.

But if you’re an exploited undocumented immigrant, such as one of the 389 workers who worked for Rubashkin, you will be arrested, charged with identity theft and deported. This is the reality faced by 302 of the 389 workers. Their lot was dictated by their lack of power, whereas Rubashkin’s reality was dictated by his ample supply of power.


Escaping Justice

In 2010, Rubashkin was acquitted of other charges related to immigration. U.S. Attorney Bob Teig, who prosecuted Rubashkin early on, described Rubashkin as “building a fortune on the backs of illegal workers and then laundering money through charitable organizations.” Teig claimed that the President received bad advice and the legislators who contacted him were fooled, likely unaware of the details of the case.

Teig concluded, “if you have political influence you can get around the law.” As the Greek philosopher Thrasymachus once said, “Justice is nothing more than the advantage of the stronger.” Laws, and by extension, justice, are existentially dependent on man. Their implementation is subject to the many flaws of man and the sanctity of law and justice in a nation is a reflection of the moral character of that nation. The rich and powerful who lined up in support of Rubashkin’s commutation reflect the weak moral character of our nation.

Socrates argues in the Crito Dialogue that a society cannot function if laws have no power. Socrates claims that the act of trying to escape the law is akin to wishing the city to fall, because this act of escaping justice would destroy the framework that holds the city together.

All of the lawmakers, all of the professors, all of the judges, attorneys and elite figures who helped Sholom escape Justice are in fact, wishing for the Shining City on a hill — America — to fall.


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This article was updated with a different version of the quotation from Thrasymachus and the reference to Socrates.