No news is good news.

The questions Steven Colbert didn't ask.

None of the eighteen Illinois investigations cited in the Cragan-Shields study involves cases in the Southern District of Illinois.

Meanwhile, of eleven Missouri names cited, one — Bill Waris — was neither in office nor running for a post at the time of the probe in question.

Two others appear not to pan out.

Jackson County Legislator Dan Tarwater testified before two grand juries in connection with a wide-ranging federal probe into county government that began in 2004. Both times, Tarwater says, he was a witness, not a target. Press accounts from the Kansas City Star back up this assertion. "I was interviewed by the FBI and had to go before two grand juries," Tarwater says by phone from Kansas City. "I was never under investigation," he says, adding, "If I run for office again and someone puts something like that [study] out there — not only is it wrong, it's slanderous."

Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, who at the time was the county prosecutor, was linked to that same probe. Cragan and Shields may have included his name on their list owing to press accounts of an assertion made by a political nemesis, then-Jackson County Executive Katheryn Shields, who reportedly alleged that Sanders was under investigation. (Both Sanders and Katheryn Shields are Democrats.)

But press accounts from the following day note that then-U.S. Attorney Todd Graves departed from Justice Department policy and issued a written statement declaring that Sanders wasn't the target of any probe.

"I can guarantee that I was never under investigation," Sanders says in a phone interview, pointing to the U.S. Attorney's statement. "I think that anyone that had honestly researched the issue would not have put me on that list. I question the motive of anyone who would put me on that list, and I would question the accuracy of the entire report."

Sanders says he was unaware of the professors' study, but he is familiar with Donald Shields — who, he notes, is Katheryn Shields' brother.

Adds Sanders: "If I'm being used as an example of someone who has been unfairly targeted or harassed, I should be taken off that list. I can't speak on a national level, but locally both the FBI and the U.S. Attorney have been gems to work with. They're 'R's and we're 'D's, but we've enjoyed a very good relationship."

Donald Shields defends the inclusion of Sanders and Tarwater. "We have no idea how many of these people were ever targets. We were kind of using a lay definition of 'investigation,'" Shields explains. "If a newspaper said that the feds were 'investigating,' then that was good enough. There were at least half a dozen cases where the U.S. Attorney said nothing was found. But [Sanders and Tarwater] were once said to have been under investigation. It's the political ramifications of that leak being given out that we're reporting on."

Regarding his relationship to Katheryn Shields, the professor notes that the study was begun long before his sister was the subject of any investigation. "I'm not related to the other 374 people in the study," he says. "They investigated her three different times when she was county executive, and she only gets to count for once [in the study]. And that happened to a lot of other people too — they investigate them every year, particularly in election years."

The eight actual Missouri investigations cited in the study have led to eight indictments and five convictions so far. (For more specifics, see the chart that accompanies this story.)

That statistic sheds new light on a March 9 column by New York Times op-ed writer (and former Colbert Report guest) Paul Krugman. If Stephen Colbert introduced Cragan and Shields to the ironic crowd, Krugman did the honors for the intelligentsia. (Patrick Leahy was the first to widely publicize the study; the U.S. Senator from Vermont referenced Cragan-Shields in mid-February in a statement supporting a bill to reverse the legislation that has allowed the White House to appoint interim U.S. Attorneys to indefinite terms without Senate confirmation.)

Krugman wrote that the White House has had "prosecutors...harassing Democrats while turning a blind eye to Republican malfeasance."

Unless you consider prosecuting crimes to be "harassment," Krugman appears to be only half right.

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