The Gibson Guitar Saga Gets Steadily Curiouser

These days, you can’t keep up with all the news. There is just too much going on. So inevitably, there are interesting stories that you have to catch up with when you can, like a moving train. The Justice Department’s raid on four Gibson guitar factories is in that category. The raid took place last Wednesday; this Memphis Daily News story, published this morning, is a good place to start:

Around 8:45 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 24, agents executed four search warrants on Gibson facilities in the two cities [Nashville and Memphis]. They seized several pallets of wood, electronic files and guitars.

But Gibson’s CEO says his company has not been told what it did wrong and that he assumes the allegation is that some of the wood being used to manufacture the company’s guitars is illegal.

“Everything is sealed. They won’t tell us anything,” Juszkiewicz said, never raising his voice but pulling no punches in his defense of the storied guitar maker.

He valued the equipment and raw materials seized from Gibson at almost $1 million. At one point, the chief executive said he’s letting the U.S. Justice Department know he’s telling his employees to keep making the instruments. …

“We feel totally abused,” he continued. “We believe the arrogance of federal power is impacting me personally, our company personally and the employees here in Tennessee, and it’s just plain wrong.”

The company stated it assumes the raid stems from an alleged violation of the U.S. Lacey Act, legislation that requires anyone coming into the U.S. to declare with unambiguous specificity the nature of materials being brought into the country.

According to Gibson: “The U.S. Lacey Act does not directly address conservation issues but is about obeying all laws of the countries from which wood products are procured. This law reads that you are guilty if you did not observe a law even though you had no knowledge of that law in a foreign country. The U.S. Lacey Act is only applicable when a foreign law has been violated.”

For more, listen to this interview of Henry Juszkiewicz by Dana Loesch:

Mr. Juszkiewicz says that the government of the country where the rosewood comes from certified it for export, and Gibson jumps through rather elaborate hoops before it buys the wood after it is imported to the U.S. The Lacey Act, which puts American importers of exotic woods at risk, is discussed here. One of the ironies, as you might expect, is that America is a trivial importer of rosewood from Madagascar and India. Ninety-five percent of it goes to China, where it is used to make luxury items like $800,000 beds. So putting Gibson out of business isn’t going to do a whole lot for the forests of Madagascar.

It has come out that Juszkiewicz is a Republican donor, while the CEO of one of his principal competitors, C.F. Martin & Company, is a Democratic donor. Martin reportedly uses the same wood, but DOJ hasn’t raided them, leading to speculation that the Obama administration is sending a warning to Republican businessmen that they had better not oppose his re-election, lest they face criminal investigations. Normally such speculation would not be credible, but Eric Holder has politicized the Department of Justice to a point where such questions must be taken seriously.

Oh, one more thing: if Gibson has violated the Lacey Act, so, perhaps, has Michelle Obama, who gave French First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy a Gibson Hummingbird acoustic guitar with a rosewood fret. Maybe, when the time comes, she can share a cell with Mr. Juszkiewicz.

If nothing else, this incident illustrates the misguided priorities of the Obama administration. Harassing American businesses on frivolous grounds is not exactly what our economy needs at the moment. But the anti-business Obama administration just can’t help itself.

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