No Comment — June 1, 2007, 5:23 pm

U.S. Attorneys Scandal—Birmingham

Some months ago one of my Alabama relations mentioned that she had been tracking the prosecution of Governor Don Siegelman, a Democrat. “There’s something awfully fishy about this whole prosecution. It just doesn’t smell right. It smells like politics.” Don Siegelman is scheduled to be sentenced on June 26, and as his hearing approaches, the stench surrounding the whole case is beginning to rise and engulf the U.S. attorney’s office.

Today, The New York Times’s Edmund Andrews takes an in-depth look at the Siegelman prosecution, and it reveals that the suspicions targeting the U.S. attorney fit a familiar pattern. At the center is an affidavit which exposes a Republican political cabal aimed at using the machinery of prosecution to bring down the Democratic governor as the first step in an effort to retake the Statehouse in Montgomery for the GOP.

Now they have an affidavit from a lawyer who says she heard a top Republican operative in Alabama boast in 2002 that the United States attorneys in Alabama would “take care” of Mr. Siegelman. The operative, William Canary, is married to the United States attorney in Montgomery, Leura G. Canary. Mr. Canary, who heads the Business Council of Alabama, was an informal adviser to Bob Riley, a Republican, who defeated Mr. Siegelman in 2002. Earlier, Mr. Canary worked in the White House under President Bush’s father and has close ties to Karl Rove, Mr. Bush’s top political strategist.

In the affidavit, the lawyer, Jill Simpson, said Mr. Canary’s remark was made in a conference call with her and Rob Riley, Governor Riley’s son and campaign manager. Ms. Simpson said Mr. Canary assured the younger Mr. Riley that “his girls would take care of” Mr. Siegelman before he had a chance to run for the governor’s seat in 2006 and identified “his girls” as Leura Canary and Alice Martin, the United States attorney in Birmingham.

Neither Ms. Martin nor her office have offered much by way of retort to these explosive accusations, and, of course, they stack up perfectly against a pattern which has now been demonstrated all across the country – the prosecution by Steven Biskupic in Milwaukee of a key Wisconsin civil servant, which also had the subtext of attempting to bring down a Democratic governor, for instance. That case also produced a conviction, but was unanimously reversed by the Seventh Circuit, with its prominent Reaganite chief judge calling the whole case “preposterous.” And as the facts of the case were spelled out, any reader wonders not just how a jury could convict, but how and why a prosecutor would bring such a charge.

Ms. Martin’s handling of the case was a cakewalk no doubt, because in these days just about anyone is prepared to accept the suggestion that a politician is corrupt. Indeed, it’s the conventional wisdom. The presumption of innocence is a quaint notion which has never, practically speaking, had much effect in our courts. To the contrary, it is quite overwhelmed by confidence in the impartiality and integrity of the federal prosecutor. Or at least it was.

The other really troubling aspect of the Siegelman case is the nature of the corruption that Ms. Martin claims the governor committed. He’s not accused of pocketing a single penny. Instead, the accusation against him is that he steered donors to pay down the debts of an organization that lobbied for a state lottery. If this is corruption, then it’s exactly the sort of corruption that Karl Rove is engaged in virtually every day, with total impunity from the Department of Justice. But Ms. Martin is seeking thirty years as a prison term for Siegelman – a sentencing request which only serves to confirm suspicions that she has used the case for partisan political purposes. As Joshua Micah Marshall points out, Siegelman’s offense (if it is an offense) is a bare peccadillo in comparison with what Duke Cunningham did (which was essentially to sell his vote and power as a senior member of Congress for fixed cash payments), but Cunningham got eight years. Ah, but we forget. There is a clear distinction to be drawn between these two public servants – Siegelman is a Democrat, and Cunningham is a Republican. Obviously the sentencing guidelines used by the Department of Justice now sport two columns: the first headed “R,” and the second “D and other.”

In the end, however, it’s completely clear that the Siegelman case is about corruption. It’s just unclear that Siegelman is the corrupt party. That charge may come better to rest ultimately in the U.S. attorney’s office.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

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.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

July 2016

American Idle

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

My Holy Land Vacation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The City That Bleeds

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

El Bloqueo

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Vladivostok Station

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Ideology of Isolation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
"We all know in France that as soon as a politician starts saying that some problem will be solved at the European level, that means no one is going to do anything."
Photograph (detail) by Stefan Boness
Post
Tom Bissell on touring Israel with Christian Zionists, Joy Gordon on the Cuban embargo, Lawrence Jackson on Freddie Gray and the makings of an American uprising, a story by Paul Yoon, and more

Freddie Gray’s relatives arrived for the trial in the afternoon, after the prep-school kids had left. By their dress, they seemed to have just gotten off work in the medical and clerical fields. The family did not appear at ease in the courtroom. They winced and dropped their heads as William Porter and his fellow officer Zachary Novak testified to opening the doors of their police van last April and finding Freddie paralyzed, unresponsive, with mucus pooling at his mouth and nose. Four women and one man mournfully listened as the officers described needing to get gloves before they could touch him.

The first of six Baltimore police officers to be brought before the court for their treatment of Freddie Gray, a black twenty-five-year-old whose death in their custody was the immediate cause of the city’s uprising last spring, William Porter is young, black, and on trial. Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing.

Artwork: Camels, Jerusalem (detail) copyright Martin Parr/Magnum Photos
[Report]
How to Make Your Own AR-15·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Even if federal gun-control advocates got everything they wanted, they couldn’t prevent America’s most popular rifle from being made, sold, and used. Understanding why this is true requires an examination of how the firearm is made.
Illustration by Jeremy Traum
Article
My Holy Land Vacation·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"I wanted to more fully understand why conservative politics had become synonymous with no-questions-asked support of Israel."
Illustration (detail) by Matthew Richardson
Article
The City That Bleeds·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing."
Photograph (detail) © Wil Sands/Fractures Collective

Average speed of Heinz ketchup, from the mouth of an upended bottle, in miles per year:

25

After studying the fall of 64,000 individual raindrops, scientists found that some small raindrops fall faster than they ought to.

The Playboy mansion in California was bought by the heir to the Twinkie fortune, and a New Mexico man set fire to his apartment to protest his neighbors’ loud lovemaking.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today