No Comment — October 12, 2007, 12:59 am

More Siegelman Updates

Anniston Star
The Anniston Star also calls Javert on his latest sleazy press release:

Louis Franklin has the worst legal job this side of defending Britney Spears. He is the career prosecutor tapped to stand in for U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, the Bush appointee whose husband Billy Canary is a top Alabama Republican. Mrs. Canary recused herself and handed the reins to Franklin.

Lately Franklin has taken to defending himself and his office via press release. Mrs. Canary recused herself from the prosecution, but one wonders if she’s had a hand in the press releases that have followed. Franklin’s release uses an old saw in Alabama politics, blame the outsiders. “Recently, a number of articles, editorials, and postings on blogs have been authored by out-of-state reporters, columnists, and bloggers about the investigation and prosecution of Don Siegelman and Richard Scrushy,” Franklin says, adding that the “media reports appear to be part of an orchestrated disinformation campaign about the case.”

Gasp! Outside agitators? This in-state editorial board has questions that deserve answers, Mr. Franklin. So do all Alabamians and Americans, who care that the law is applied fairly and without consideration of political party. The most serious charges are far removed from Franklin’s conduct or that of his team. They go to the heart of a presidential administration that demonstrated a willingness to use every angle, ethical or unethical, to go after political enemies, including firing U.S. attorneys who would not do its bidding.

American Enterprise Institute
The leading Republican think tank in Washington is the American Enterprise Institute, and its great voice on public integrity questions is Norm Ornstein. Ornstein and AEI have now joined an increasing list of honest-government Republicans in calling the Siegelman prosecution a corrupt and squalid mess. Here’s what Ornstein had to say in yesterday’s issue of Roll Call:

The relentless and politically timed prosecution of Siegelman has raised eyebrows since it was undertaken, but the story in Time shows another, more disturbing side–that politically connected officials from the U.S. attorney’s office and the Justice Department, many with direct ties to Pryor and Sessions, ignored direct evidence of wrongdoing connected to those two and never followed up on the allegations. If they did not do so because of the lack of Lanny Young’s credibility as a witness, why did he have great credibility with his allegations against Siegelman?

The scandal cries out for an independent investigation from someone with the strongest reputation and integrity. The idea that prosecutors will prosecute or fail to prosecute selectively based on partisan or personal considerations is absolute anathema in a fair system of justice with the rule of law. It appears that the prosecutors in this case who had worked with or for Sessions or Pryor, or had family and business dealings with them, did not recuse themselves from these cases and did not pursue them. On the face of it, this raises huge questions and makes it clear yet again that the core of the U.S. attorney scandal is not just the federal prosecutors who were fired or targeted for dismissal, but those who were not targeted because they did the bidding of their political superiors at the Justice Department.

This rancid mess needs to be investigated thoroughly, starting with Alabama. I understand that the House and Senate Judiciary committees have their plates full with many priorities and also pressure to look ahead, not just back to a prior scandal under a now- departed attorney general. But the committees have to get to the bottom of this one. The Senate has another duty–confirming a new attorney general–that it can use to help the cause. The scandal cries out for an independent investigation from someone with the strongest reputation and integrity. An ironclad commitment to do so from Michael Mukasey should be a prerequisite for his confirmation.

Ornstein is absolutely correct about this. Alberto Gonzales has just lawyered-up, hiring highly qualified criminal defense counsel to represent him in the coming investigations. Isn’t it time for Javert and his boss, Leura Canary, to do the same? They have horrendously abused the power of the prosecutor’s office. That much is plain. The main question at this point is whether they crossed the line into criminal conduct in the process. In any event, we’ve reached the point at which we shouldn’t be listening to any statement from Javert and his conspirators that is not under oath and made after having taken advice from counsel.

The Noel Hillman Connection
As noted in the past, all available evidence so far had already pointed to Noel Hillman as the principal vehicle through which Karl Rove tasked and pursued the Siegelman case. And now we have a Republican attorney testifying under oath about the Rove-Hillman links in relation to the Siegelman case. Here is the key passage, correctly flagged by The Next Hurrah:

A: And so, anyway, he was telling me all of the things that Alice [Martin, U.S. Attorney in Birmingham, now under investigation for perjury] had done as far as having messed up the deal. And then I — and that since she had messed it up, he was definitely running, you know what — I mean — and then he proceeds to tell me that Bill Canary and Bob Riley had had a conversation with Karl Rove again and that they had this time gone over and seen whoever was the head of the department of — he called it PIS, which I don’t think that is the correct acronym, but that’s what he called it. And I had to say what is that and he said that is the Public Integrity Section. . .

Q: Okay. And who — when you say they had made a decision, who are you thinking of?

A: Whoever that head of that Public Integrity — the PIS was as Rob referred to it. And then whoever — and Karl Rove.

Q: And what — well, from talking to Rob, this conversation you’re describing for me was in late January, early February 2005?

A: That is correct. . .

Q: Okay. And did Rob give you the name of the person at — I’m just going to call it Public Integrity — that he thought he understood Karl Rove had spoken to?

A: No, he said it was the head guy there and he said that that guy had agreed to allocate whatever resources, so evidently the guy had the power to allocate resources, you know.

Q: To the Siegelman prosecution?

A: Yes. And that he’d allocate all resources necessary.

Let’s plug in a bit more information. The head of Public Integrity during this period is named Noel Hillman. He’s a New Jersey politico, and came to Justice as Michael Chertoff’s sidekick. You can get more detail on his background here.

At key points in the Siegelman investigation, Hillman was having contacts and visiting the White House—including at least one interview with President Bush. Hillman had applied to get a judicial appointment from Bush, and Chertoff was backing him in this process, including helping him line up support from New Jersey’s two Democratic senators. Hillman’s communications with the White House may have had some relationship with his candidacy for the judgeship. But you can count on it: Karl Rove and his crew had a big say on who got judgeships, and they had a specific agenda. It therefore appears likely that Rove’s requests, which were grossly improper if not in fact criminal, occurred against the backdrop of Hillman’s campaign to land a judicial appointment.

Attorney Martin Garbus noted the 2005 dealings between the Hillman and the White House and instantly connected them to the Abramoff prosecution. Here’s how he viewed it:

At some point, it all becomes unbelievable. President George W. Bush has not made many moves more unethical than offering Noel L. Hillman, the Abramoff prosecutor, a federal judgeship. Hillman has apparently been talking with Bush’s representatives since last year, and on last Thursday, he publicly announced he was accepting the appointment.

Of course, when the Hillman nomination was pushed through, he was praised as “the Abramoff prosecutor.” But the more I learn about it, the more it appears that Hillman worked hard to stem the spread of the Abramoff probe and to protect a number of figures who would ultimately have figured in the cross-hairs of any competent investigation. Hillman’s true role in the Abramoff case was damage control.

A number of the logical Abramoff targets are in Alabama. In fact, they are lined up as Siegelman’s political opposition, which was funded with very shady money that came from Scanlon and Abramoff. But rather than going after the Abramoff tentacles in Alabama, Hillman poured his resources into concocting a case against Siegelman. He even traveled to Montgomery to stand by Leura Canary’s side as the indictment was unveiled.

In fact, while Javert and his sidekick have issued statements saying that they made all key decisions on the Siegelman case, they recently insisted in a conversation with a prominent Montgomery lawyer I have interviewed that the key shots were called in Washington by Public Integrity, and that they had little say. Funny how those accounts just keep changing whenever it suits them.

Also, after Hillman left Public Integrity, his successor told one of the lawyers handling the case that the Siegelman case was extremely hot and that key decisions relating to it were being taken way over his head, among the senior most level of political appointees at the Department. So even as Hillman was a principal conduit for Rove’s manipulation of the case, he was certainly not the only Justice politico who had a hand in the Siegelman case.

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