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.

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