No Comment — September 13, 2007, 8:29 am

The Benczkowski-Siegelman Letter

On September 4, the Justice Department responded to the request of House Judiciary Chair John Conyers and three other members requesting information surrounding three cases—in Alabama, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—in which substantial evidence has been presented to the effect that the prosecution was politically motivated. The core of the response by Brian A. Benczkowski, who is the Justice Department’s principal Congressional liaison, is that the Department will not furnish the documents sought because to do so would “chill the candid internal deliberations” that go into a decision to prosecute. In sum, Justice is claiming prosecutorial immunity.

This claim is outrageous for two reasons: first, the prosecutions in these cases are concluded; and second, because this rule is conceived not—as Benczkowski suggests—to let prosecutors act in the shadows, but rather to protect innocent citizens who become the subject of Justice Department considerations and whose reputations would be ruined by disclosure. And that consideration actually supports disclosure of the documents here: they may lead to the exoneration of an innocent man now sitting in prison who was the victim of a political vendetta.

But, as TPM Muckraker has already noted, the Benczkowski letter is already raising eyebrows across Washington because it is replete with clearly false statements—not matters on which there is a difference of opinion, but on which things are presented as facts which are simply, and demonstrably, untrue. In an important editorial appropriately labeled “The Smell of Arrogance,” the Anniston Star has said that “skepticism is warranted” in looking at the claims of the Benczkowski letter. However, I believe the correct word is not “skepticism” but “disbelief.” When they issue a letter that is so heavily larded with conscious lies, the response deserves to be disregarded entirely. This letter provides another demonstration of why an investigation is urgently needed and why Congress must continue its press deep into the center of the cabal that produced this travesty.

The letter racks up an amazing tally of rank falsehoods. I’ll look at just two paragraphs:

The focus of recent controversy has been a May 2007 affidavit signed by Alabama attorney Jill Simpson. . . In the affidavit, Ms. Simpson claims to have overheard statements she attributes to U.S. Attorney Leura Canary’s husband.

Falsehood: there was no allegation of “overhearing.” Simpson was a participant in the conversation, which was a conference call involving people at several locations—though it is unclear whether those on the phone knew all the participants, as often happens. This fact also explains why, when participants say they don’t recollect being on a call with Ms. Simpson, this means nothing. It’s certainly not a denial that the conference took place.

The national media has interpreted the alleged statements as linking the prosecution of former Governor Siegelman to Karl Rove.

In fact, Jill Simpson made clear this was her understanding. In fact, William Canary and Karl Rove have a long-running and well-documented personal friendship. The attempt to suggest that it might be something else is a desperate ploy.

At the time Ms. Simpson alleges the purported statements were made, Mr. Siegelman was already under federal investigation…

Ms. Simpson states this in fact; the statements attributed to Rove by Canary occurred in the past. The purpose of this statement is to mislead and distort.

The alleged conversation described by Ms. Simpson has been denied by all of the alleged participants except Ms. Simpson.

This is false. In fact, Bob Martin of the South Alabamian, who specifically researched this issue, concluded correctly that “none of the participants have actually said they absolutely did not participate in the call.” I have kept track of all these statements, which are numerous, and all of them essentially amount to a claim “not to remember” the conversation—which is very different from the statement in the Justice letter. If you say you don’t remember you can change your mind later with no worries. Two of the participants have now contradicted themselves repeatedly as to what happened, and one responded to the allegations by immediately lawyering up and halting communications with the media. This is a key point, yet the Justice Department has not investigated it, and instead it has repeatedly made false statements about what has happened.

Indeed, even Mr. Siegelman states that Ms. Simpson’s affidavit is false as it relates to him.

This statement is false. When it was first made, by the U.S. Attorney in Montgomery, I put the question to Siegelman—and he confirmed that he believed the affidavit to be accurate. He said only that he personally could not recall an incident in it relating to some alleged KKK activity, but that was because this involved his staff, not him personally. This is a typical example of disregard for the truth and the gross and conscious distortions put out by the Justice Department in this case. The Justice Department also challenged the underlying claim as to KKK activities. I have since obtained and viewed videotape footage of the event described by Simpson from a local police department. Her account is completely accurate. I also learned that the Justice Department had never made inquiries or looked into the matter.

Moreover, according to Ms. Simpson, she met with Mr. Siegelman…for several months before signing the statement at their urging.

This statement is false. Ms. Simpson has never met with Governor Siegelman nor has she ever said she did.

She also claims to have provided legal advice to them.

This statement is false.

This hardly exhausts the demonstrably false statements in the letter—it’s just a beginning. For instance, it also falsely reports what happened with respect to jury-tampering allegations, and it twists and distorts the document production request itself so as to elide request for documents from Alabama officials (by reducing the request to party officials).

These false statements line up, item for item, with false statements made by Leura Canary’s office in Montgomery. These paragraphs make it painfully obvious that main Justice conducted no independent review whatsoever of the allegations concerning the events in Montgomery. Instead it simply regurgitated the false statements it was fed by the Montgomery office.

Moreover, the manipulations combined with the false statements suggests that there is much here that the Justice Department desperately wants to obscure. This conduct is consistent with a wide-ranging cover-up. The Benczkowski letter thus provides more evidence that the internal rot at Justice lies in the head and reaches down, in this case, to the U.S. Attorney in Montgomery who is the wife of an Alabama G.O.P. kingpin.

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