SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
On a hill above Birmingham, Alabama stands a statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of the forge, a symbol of the city’s debt to the steel industry around which it grew. Today, however, little steel is forged in Birmingham, but scandals are coming aplenty. What continues to emerge from the former Pittsburgh of the south are more details in the unfolding allegations surrounding the politically driven prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, today in the form of an article in the Birmingham News. Or rather, perhaps the Birmingham News piece is itself the story. Under a headline stating “Two Siegelman Advocates Missed Out on State Contract,” the News reports:
The two people alleging that former Gov. Don Siegelman’s prosecution was tainted by politics are tied to a company that did not win a state contract from Gov. Bob Riley’s administration last year. Former Riley Chief of Staff Toby Roth said he believed the lost contract was a factor when the two people signed statements accusing Riley’s advocates of engineering the case against Siegelman, a Democratic rival. “I think it certainly raises suspicions about their accusations,” Roth said. “This has got a sour grapes aspect to it.”
Now as my readers know, I am an attorney and an opinion-journalist, I teach law and journalism students at Columbia University, and as an attorney, I spend a good part of my practice representing and working for the media. My instincts tell me that this story was been peddled by Toby Roth – he may well have called a “marker” to get it run – and it aims to discredit the evidence for Karl Rove’s involvement by linking the sources to a failed contract bid. This is mighty thin gruel. But it all goes downhill from there. And you really have to read the story to its end. As in the Sherlock Holmes tale of “Silver Blaze” the really fascinating thing about the Birmingham News story consists of the facts which are strangely missing. For instance:
Considering the fact that the Siegelman prosecution springs out of allegations of Siegelman’s involvement supporting a gambling initiative, that’s a very curious fact, especially when juxtaposed with Jack Abramoff and what we know about Mr. Abramoff’s practice of trying to suppress one gambling interest supposedly to benefit another and stirring up the “yahoos” (I am quoting Mr. Abramoff-related emails) to vote against casino gambling. Another of the Abramoff fortes was using his lobbyist position with the casinos to stampede money into the coffers of Republican candidates for office. Indeed, looking at this list of names, it suddenly occurred to me: I’ve seen them many times before: they’re all names that have appeared in connection with the Abramoff investigation – widely considered the “mother lode” of modern political scandals. Indeed, it dawns on me suddenly that this story and the Abramoff story intersect, and the point of intersection is Toby Roth.
The News story also contained a remarkably lame account of the allegations:
“Simpson said in her affidavit that, in a 2002 conference call, she heard Republican Bill Canary tell the governor’s son and lawyer that White House adviser Karl Rove had told him the Department of Justice was investigating Siegelman. Canary and other participants say they don’t remember such a conversation.”
In fact the Simpson affidavit, which is readily available, but which the News reporters evidently couldn’t be bothered to actually read, provides a detailed specific account of what transpired, starting with Canary’s statement “not to worry about Don Siegelman that ‘his girls would take care of him.’” Then Riley’s son asked Canary if he was sure that Siegelman would be “taken care of,” and Canary told him not to worry that he had already gotten it worked out with Karl and Karl had spoken with the Department of Justice and the Department of Justice was already pursuing Don Siegelman.” “His girls” were Canary’s wife Leura Canary, who as U.S. Attorney in the Middle District of Alabama, did in fact start the investigation, only dropping off when objections were raised by Governor Siegelman’s counsel due to her obvious political bias and the U.S. Attorney in Birmingham Alice Martin. Ms. Simpson, who gave the affidavit, is a lifelong Republican and was a worker in the Riley campaign against Siegelman, and her account has been contemporaneously corroborated – all facts the News reporters have also suppressed. The statements denying the affidavit are extremely vague “non-recollections,” are unsworn, and in a law court would count for absolutely nothing.
Now going back through the Abramoff database and looking at the names lined up against Siegelman in this affair is a curious exercise indeed. There’s a hit every few seconds.
So what emerges from this Birmingham News article? We have two remarkably incurious and lazy reporters. I supervise J-School students up at Columbia from time to time, and this product would not get a passing grade. Which is a shame, because this is exactly the sort of story that any journalist worth his salt should dream of being assigned to write on. On the other hand, doing a quick fact-check on their story revealed a lot.
The real story is that the deeper one delves into this, the more convincing the Simpson affidavit becomes. We’re looking at one hell of a scandalous miscarriage of justice, the object of which is corrupt and patently partisan and political. Very powerful forces have been engaged to cover it all up. There are also unmistakable signs of corruption surrounding the Montgomery statehouse – it’s not Siegelman’s corruption, but rather that of his successor and opponent. Indeed, it seems very closely tied to the people who claimed to have launched an effort to “get” Siegelman, using the authority of Karl Rove and his reach deep into the Department of Justice. And at this point it’s simply impossible to dismiss these claims as hollow boasts – we have the sworn testimony of eight former U.S. attorneys saying just the opposite. And just think about it – while one tentacle of the Abramoff scandal, which is the subject of press coverage all around the world, was flailing about wildly in the Alabama political scene, the U.S. Attorneys in Alabama ignore it and instead pour massive resources into its victim. If you made this stuff up, no one would accept it as plausible fiction.
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm
Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
Minutes after a tornado hit Shiloh, Illinois, in April that the town’s warning siren sounded:
A bowl of 4,000-year-old noodles was found in northwestern China; and a spokesman for the Chinese Academy of Sciences said that “this is the earliest empirical evidence of noodles ever found.”
Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, announced that he has ordered the country’s navy and coast guard to bomb the ships of kidnappers even if civilian hostages are on board.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."