No Comment — September 10, 2007, 7:20 pm

There’s No News in the ‘Birmingham News’

The Russian newspaper Pravda, which laughingly means “truth,” used to have a banner under the masthead that read “Organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.” So at least there was some truth in labeling: you could see pretty quickly exactly whose “truth” it was disseminating.

But Pravda is upstaged by the Birmingham News, which offers no fair warning. It should say “Organ of the Executive Committee of the Alabama G.O.P.” This evening offers us a wonderful opportunity to see how they shovel lies, lies and more lies about the Siegelman case. Are they even conscious of the dissembling? Sometimes I wonder.

Today, the Justice Department’s decision to stonewall the request of the Judiciary Committee for documents concerning the politically tinged prosecution of Governor Don E. Siegelman was announced publicly. This came after Justice cherry-picked its way through some documents, offering a few dregs in the two others cases. Evidently, the Justice Department’s “principled opposition” to document production affects only documents which would demonstrate political shenanigans in the Siegelman case.

However, the key for the Justice Department’s decision to stonewall the Congress lies in Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski’s comment, in a letter to Chairman Conyers, that if he granted the Congress’ request and turned over the documents, it would have a chilling effect on “candid internal deliberations.”

That is certainly true. Can you imagine the chilling effect it would have if political appointees in Justice had to turn over their internal musings over which Democratic political figures Karl wanted them to target next? Perhaps that’s part of the point. Perhaps they would be shamed out of engaging in the highly abusive conduct that marked the work of the Public Integrity Section for the last five years.

Here is the lead sentence of the Associated Press’ report on the story:

The Justice Department has rebuffed a request from House Democrats for documents related to the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, saying the release of internal communications about specific cases would compromise the judicial system.

And now here’s the lead two sentences of the B’ham News account under a headline that declares ‘Justice Finds No Political Influence in Siegelman Case’:

The U.S. Justice Department did not find any documents that show outside political or White House officials tried to influence the agency’s decision to prosecute former Gov. Don Siegelman, according to a letter sent to members of Congress last week and released today. However, federal prosecutors denied the request from four members of the House Judiciary Committee to turn over records of the internal deliberations among Justice Department officials about Siegelman’s case, arguing they are confidential and it is against their policy when a case is pending.

The AP story has it just right. But almost every material statement contained in the opener of B’ham News story is false. At its core is a suggestion that some sort of independent review was conducted by the Justice Department looking for documents that show outside political or White House officials trying to influence the decision to prosecute Siegelman. That is not so. No such review occurred, nor did Justice in any way suggest that it did. What the Justice Department letter in fact says is that it did not complete a review and even on that point the scope of what they would search has been weirdly tampered with to eliminate the primary focus of concern. They have not searched for evidence of dealings with state officials, but only “state and local party officials.” The Justice Department’s description of the search is also phrased in an awkward, deceptive way: “documents relating to these cases containing communications.” So deconstructed, the Justice Department is making a cleverly worded statement that says absolutely nothing.

Of interest here is Mrs. William Canary, the woman who brought the indictment and who is the U.S. Attorney in Montgomery. Do they really expect us to believe she had no communications with her husband, G.O.P. lynchpin William Canary, or with their good friend and dinner companion, Karl Rove?

No, the Justice Department is sure that it knows what is and what is not “political influence” and you can count on it that if there were a letter from Karl Rove to Mrs. Canary telling her to bring the case, they would find find a way to miss it in their review. I doubt anyone believes there is such a document. Communications occurred, and they occurred orally for the most part. Internal documents of the sort sought will give hints of them. Telephone records and the examination of witnesses under oath would reveal them. Which is precisely why the Justice Department is completely frantic about not producing these documents for oversight. The letter is a simple message directed to the Judiciary Committee. And I can cut through the legal jargon and translate it. What it says is: “Drop dead!”

Why is the Justice Department obstructing a Congressional investigation into the Siegelman matter? With each passing week the evidence of political manipulation and abuse in this case builds higher and the denials are exposed as conscious falsehoods. You are witnessing the obstruction of justice, carried out by political officers at the Justice Department. This is evasion of oversight and accountability. This is everything we have come to expect of Alberto Gonzales’s Justice Department.

But go on and read the News article to the end. There we find more reporting worthy of Pravda. “A Rainsville lawyer who has said she overheard Alabama Republicans discuss White House knowledge of Siegelman’s case.” Simpson “overheard” “Republicans” (as if Simpson wasn’t one herself, but that another point on which the News has engaged in serial misrepresentations) discussing “White House knowledge!” This is absurd, unprofessional, propagandistic. This is the Birmingham News.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

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

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

August 2015

In the Shadow of the Storm

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Measure for Measure

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Trouble with Israel

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Camera on Every Cop

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
“The campaign music stopped. Hundreds of people, their faces now warped by the dread of a third bomb, began running for cover.”
Photograph © Guy Martin/Panos.
Article
Part Neither, Part Both·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Eight months pregnant I told an old woman sitting beside me on the bus that the egg that hatched my baby came from my wife’s ovaries. I didn’t know how the old woman would take it; one can never know. She was delighted: That’s like a fairy tale!”
Mother with Children, by Gustav Klimt © akg-images
Article
What Recovery?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Between 2007 and 2010, Albany’s poverty rate jumped 12 points, to a record high of 39.9 percent. More than two thirds of Albany’s 76,000 residents are black, and since 2010, their poverty rate has climbed even higher, to nearly 42 percent.”
Photograph by Will Steacy
Article
Rag Time·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

From a May 23 commencement address delivered at Hofstra University. Doctorow died on Tuesday. He was 84.
“We are a deeply divided nation in danger of undergoing a profound change for the worse.”
Photograph by Giuseppe Giglia
Article
The Trouble with Israel·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“We think we are the only people in the world who live with threat, but we have to work with regional leaders who will work with us. Bibi is taking the country into unprecedented international isolation.”
Photograph by Adam Golfer

Ratio of money spent by Britons on prostitution to that spent on hairdressing:

1:1

A German scientist was testing an anti-stupidity pill.

A Twitter spokesperson conceded that a “Frat House”–themed office party “was in poor taste at best.”

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today