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“I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” remarked a nationally known print journalist in a conversation three weeks ago. “Everything I’ve been told by the convicted defendants checks out as the gospel truth. And everything I’m told by federal prosecutors who pushed the case turns out either to be an outrageous lie or at least a very serious distortion. And the local journalists who wrote the most about the case all behave like they’re accessories after the fact in a criminal investigation.”
Welcome to the Siegelman case. And this week the cover will be pulled back further on the fraudulent criminal prosecution launched by U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, wife of the state’s G.O.P. campaign kingpin, and attorneys working for her. On Thursday of next week, the House Judiciary Committee will conduct its first hearings ever dealing with politically motivated prosecutions. And center stage will be occupied by the corrupt trial and conviction of Alabama Governor Don E. Siegelman.
Today, Time Magazine delivers us a tiny appetizer for the feast which is approaching. It publishes as its cover story for the next issue the first pieces of its research project looking at the Siegelman case. Time poses the question: Was this a politically motivated prosecution? And it answers the question: Yes. And indeed, at this point those who say otherwise simply reveal that they don’t know much about the case.
On May 8, 2002, Clayton Lamar (Lanny) Young Jr., a lobbyist and landfill developer described by acquaintances as a hard-drinking “good ole boy,” was in an expansive mood. In the downtown offices of the U.S. Attorney in Montgomery, Ala., Young settled into his chair, personal lawyer at his side, and proceeded to tell a group of seasoned prosecutors and investigators that he had paid tens of thousands of dollars in apparently illegal campaign contributions to some of the biggest names in Alabama Republican politics. According to Young, among the recipients of his largesse were the state’s former attorney general Jeff Sessions, now a U.S. Senator, and William Pryor Jr., Sessions’ successor as attorney general and now a federal judge. Young, whose detailed statements are described in documents obtained by TIME, became a key witness in a major case in Alabama that brought down a high-profile politician and landed him in federal prison with an 88-month sentence. As it happened, however, that official was the top Democrat named by Young in a series of interviews, and none of the Republicans whose campaigns he fingered were investigated in the case, let alone prosecuted.
The case of Don Siegelman, the Democratic former Governor of Alabama who was convicted last year on corruption charges, has become a flash point in the debate over the politicization of the Bush Administration’s Justice Department. Forty-four former state attorneys general — Republicans and Democrats — have cited “irregularities” in the investigation and prosecution, saying they “call into question the basic fairness that is the linchpin of our system of justice.” The Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s office strongly deny that politics played any part in Siegelman’s prosecution. They say the former Governor, who recently began serving the first months of his more than seven-year sentence, got exactly what he deserved. But Justice officials have refused to turn over documentation on the case requested by the House Judiciary Committee, which scheduled a hearing on Siegelman’s prosecution for Oct. 11.
Now TIME has obtained sensitive portions of the requested materials, including FBI and state investigative records that lay out some of Young’s testimony. The information provided by the landfill developer was central to roughly half the 32 counts that Siegelman faced for allegedly accepting campaign contributions, money and gifts in exchange for official favors. (Siegelman was acquitted on 25 of those counts and convicted on seven. Young pleaded guilty to bribery-related charges and, in recognition of his cooperation with the government, received a short two-year sentence and fine.) But what Young had to say about Sessions, Pryor and other high-profile Alabama Republicans was even more remarkable for the simple fact that much of it had never before come to light.
Of course, readers of No Comment are familiar with much of the Lanny Young accusations. And indeed, some of them were put on the record in the Siegelman trial itself, causing Federal Judge Mark Fuller and the Justice Department prosecutors the equivalent of a minor coronary episode as they quickly scrambled to hush it all up.
Moreover, the Lanny Young accusations are only one of three separate cases I have already collected which reflect a consistent pattern. Those raising complaints of criminal conduct on the part of senior Alabama Republicans with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Montgomery are told in plain terms that the Justice Department is not interested in the accusations. And if they persist, they quickly become the targets of threats. In one case, it was asserted, a threat was leveled that a grand jury would be empaneled and an indictment sought: against the person raising the corruption charges.
One of the more intriguing of the accusations involves the federal judge who presided over the Siegelman trial, Mark Fuller. Earlier the Court of Appeals remanded to Fuller the motion that Governor Siegelman filed for release pending appeal and on which Fuller never ruled. Such motions are granted as a matter of routine, and Fuller’s conduct was cited by a number of independent observers, including several former attorneys general, as a reason to be very suspicious of his conduct of the case. And now more information is surfacing concerning Fuller and the case. Allegations were raised that Fuller had business dealings with Alabama Republican Senator Richard Shelby and that he benefited from Shelby’s access to highly classified and sensitive information for purposes of advancing the interests of his business, which is a contractor that thrives off of Defense Department contracts. Shelby, as the Washington Post reported, was investigated by the FBI for mishandling classified information. The investigation included concerns that he passed classified information to a contractor. It is now being suggested that the contractor in question was one of Fuller’s companies. During the Siegelman case, Fuller acted very aggressively to cover-up the evidence of selective prosecution in the Siegelman case. Was Fuller motivated by concerns about disclosures that could prove compromising to him directly? Is so, that would provide still more reason to question Fuller’s impartiality.
In addition, a prominent member of the Alabama bar recently detailed to me his efforts to present concerns about corruption involving Alabama’s G.O.P. governor, Bob Riley, to a senior career prosecutor who works for Mrs. Canary. “He didn’t want to hear a word about it. He looked extremely uncomfortable,” the lawyer stated. And of course: Mrs. Canary is the wife of William Canary, close personal friend of Karl Rove, and campaign manager to Governor Riley. Moreover, also campaign manager to William Pryor, for whom Mrs. Canary formerly worked. The reasons why the Montgomery U.S. Attorney’s office failed to pursue this matter is completely obvious. It’s called political corruption.
In any event, as Time notes, conduct which is aggressively prosecuted if it involves Democrats is simply dismissed as unimportant if it involves Republicans. And that’s the definition of politically selective prosecution.
Time also catches Leura Canary in another fairly obvious deceit. Here’s the key passage:
Canary was in charge when Young spoke about his payments to the Sessions and Pryor campaigns and to other Alabama Republicans. At the same time, her husband’s consulting firm, Capitol Group LLC, was being paid close to $40,000 to advise Pryor. A source who held a senior post in Canary’s office during the long-running investigation into Siegelman says it’s almost inconceivable that Canary would not have been informed of Young’s charges against prominent Republican officeholders and candidates. Canary denied that to TIME. The fact that those charges were never looked at will only heighten suspicions that the Siegelman prosecution was a case of selective justice and that in the Bush Administration, enforcing the law has been a partisan pursuit.
Time offers up a small part of the documents which Leura Canary is vigorously seeking to suppress. Even just this little peek makes clear why the prosecutors in Montgomery are desperately trying to slither under a rock. When all their dealings are exposed to the light of the sun, the Siegelman prosecution will make its way into the history books. After the Scottsboro Boys, posterity will know the Siegelman case as the other prosecution that stained forever the state’s reputation for justice.
More from Scott Horton:
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