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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.
More from Scott Horton:
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Notes on South Africa’s failed revolution
“I will never know what goes on in your mind, or what that shield of a smile behind which we try to advance should tell us.”