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I was recently told that U.S. Attorney Leura Canary and her husband, G.O.P. campaign kingpin William Canary, have been pursuing a PR campaign to burnish Leura’s reputation, using the resources of the Business Council of Alabama. If that’s true, then their efforts have had a massive payoff in the Montgomery Advertiser on October 14 under the caption “Lady Law,” in which Leura’s family is profiled in the most glowing terms—from a grandmother described as “Aunt Bee” from “Mayberry, RFD,” to her father and grandfather, who are profiled as bigwigs in state government and law enforcement. And amidst all the detailed chronology of the Garrett family, from which Leura hails, there is not even a second to mention her one truly famous relation, uncle Si Garrett, the most notorious Attorney General in Alabama’s history.
I didn’t know, until reading the Advertiser’s hymn to Leura, that she was related to Si. I grew up hearing the tale of Si Garrett, so it’s worth taking a second to recount. Si Garrett was deeply enmeshed in the murder of Alabama’s attorney general-elect Albert J. Patterson and in the massive scandal that subsequently unfolded surrounding organized crime and government in Phenix City, Alabama. Si had supported Patterson’s opponent, and he worked hard to swing the election by reworking some tally sheets in populous Jefferson County. Garrett had tried to convince the Democratic leadership that Patterson was linked to gambling interests; but in fact it was Si Garrett who had tight connections to the Phenix City organized crime nest. Patterson was a clean government candidate, and the organized crime interests were afraid of him. Still, the vote rigging scheme failed, and after some curious phone calls placed to Garrett out of Phenix City, Albert J. Patterson was mysteriously murdered. After he became the prime target of the murder investigation, Si checked into an insane asylum in Texas to avoid prosecution. (All of that story is brilliantly chronicled in Margaret Anne Barnes’s The Tragedy and the Triumph of Phenix City, Alabama, published by Mercer University Press in 1998; alternately, for a less academic and more lurid account, turn to Gene Wortsman and Edwin Strickland’s Phenix City, The Wickedest City in America. The lazier among you can just go and pull out the classic 1955 film noir “The Phenix City Story,” directed by Phil Karlson.)
So when Leura tells the Advertiser that “My genetic makeup is chock-full of lawyer and law enforcement genes, so I never had a chance of doing anything else in life,” it’s interesting to think of the whole story. Of course, bloodline aside, the focus really needs to be on how Canary conducts herself as U.S. Attorney. Aside from the Siegelman prosecution, which was essentially an elaborate exercise designed to install Bob Riley in the statehouse and then keep him there, we have the disclosures that Adam Zagorin recently made concerning the Lanny Young testimony. Young, it turns out, provided whopping evidence against two leading Alabama Republicans, Senator Jeff Sessions and then-Attorney General and now Judge William Pryor. Both of these gentlemen were Canary clients. And the U.S. Attorney’s office in Montgomery instantly concluded that the charges against Sessions and Pryor were going nowhere. It reached these conclusions without undertaking any follow-up investigation or interviewing any of the key corroborating witnesses. (Doing that would, of course, have been counterproductive: it could have produced more evidence establishing a crime).
Now further evidence of how Leura wields her powers appears, in the pages of the Montgomery Advertiser. In an article today entitled “Critic Sues Riley for Testimony,” we learn more about the Goff litigation, in which deep and well documented allegations of official corruption have been raised against Alabama Governor Bob Riley, former Lieutenant Governor Steve Windom, Insurance Commissioner Walter A. Bell, and a host of other officials. The most striking allegations, however, have Rob Riley using Goff’s private jet plane to pick up bails of cash from Jack Abramoff and former Riley Congressional aide, now convicted felon, Michael Scanlon, in Washington, for use in the Riley gubernatorial campaign. These allegations stack up with the report issued by Senator John McCain in his examination of the Abramoff fraud perpetrated on Indian gaming interests, and suggest that much of this cash came down to Alabama and played a role in state electoral politics. They also point to Rob Riley as the key interface with Abramoff and Scanlon in the money-laundering process. The allegations are absolutely not “wild” or “unsubstantiated.” Most observers who have looked at them think they’re right on the money and explosive. So now, Goff’s attorney has sought the deposition of Rob Riley, the Governor’s son.
Rob Riley has been out making statements all over the place for the last two weeks. Mostly his statements relate to the Jill Simpson testimony. And he’s contradicted himself a number of times (contradictions which go curiously unnoted in G.O.P. mouthpiece publications like the Birmingham News). None of these statements have been made under oath. So how does Riley react to the prospect of answering questions under oath? Once more, we see Louis Franklin and Steve Feaga, the Siegelman shock troops–the Advertiser reports they’re working hard: to indict Goff.
Goff lawyer Thomas T. Gallion III of Montgomery said he has discussed the investigation with federal prosecutor Stephen P. Feaga. “They’re going to indict him,” Gallion said.
Louis Franklin, criminal division chief in U.S. Attorney Leura G. Canary’s office in Montgomery, said he cannot confirm or deny that Goff is under investigation. But Franklin noted that the congressionial inquiry has made it easy for those who think they are under investigation to go to the media with claims of political persecution. . .
“It’s inexplicable that you don’t investigate something for three or four years,” Gallion said. “Then, a couple of months after a lawsuit is filed by Goff–that mentions Bill Canary–they all of a sudden launch an investigation.”
In Franklin’s view, all these problems have arisen as a result of the Congressional probe into the way Leura Canary and her deputies handled the Siegelman affair. Would anybody be stupid enough to believe that? But attorney Gallion draws the conclusions that any thinking person would draw: the powers of the office of U.S. attorney are being used for a political retaliation. Not for the first time, either.
And what is Canary’s office doing about the allegations targeting Riley, Windom and others? As far as I can tell, nothing. In the meantime, it sure looks like the Montgomery U.S. Attorney’s office has relocated to Phenix City, and moved back the clock to 1954.
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“American politics has often been an arena for angry minds.”