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In the last two weeks, we’ve learned that Javert obviously missed his calling. He’s a prosecutor to outward appearances. But observe his wild gyrations. He spins first one way, and then in the opposite direction. He spins so quickly, you can hardly watch his lips move. How many different accounts can Javert spin in a single week? Can you keep count of them all? Obviously, Javert’s true calling is not the law. It’s ballet.
Louis Franklin, the lead prosecutor in the office of U.S. Attorney Leura Canary in Montgomery on the Siegelman case has defended charges that the prosecution of the former governor was politically driven with the same refrain. “Career prosecutors, not political appointees, made all the calls,” he says.
Unfortunately for Franklin, it now appears that the most senior career prosecutors didn’t adopt the views he took as a proxy for his political superiors–they didn’t think there was a case to be brought against Siegelman. In the last ten days, the Birmingham News grudgingly acknowledged that the two senior career prosecutors on the case, John W. Scott and Charles Niven, had concluded there was no case against Siegelman.
And on Friday, in an interview with the Associated Press, Franklin gave up another critical defect in his tale.
The chief prosecutor in the corruption case against former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman says Justice Department attorneys were reluctant to call a special grand jury to investigate the Siegelman administration, as urged by local federal prosecutors.
The new Franklin spin is that all this points to a split between Montgomery and Washington, that Montgomery was pushing for an indictment and Washington was against it.
That’s nonsense. The dynamics of this case have consistently pitted political appointees against career DOJ professionals, and whether the professions were in Washington, Montgomery, or any other office never had much to do with it. No one questions that there were a few career employees eager to advance their careers by doing their bosses’ bidding. That’s the way bureaucracies work, and the Department of Justice is no exception. And Franklin has now conceded that the political appointees, from his boss Leura Canary, to the Public Integrity Section chief, now Judge, Noel Hillman, and to other senior political appointees at Justice, were pushing the case forward. He has conceded that he worked closely and directly with one senior political appointee in particular—Hillman. All of this matches perfectly with the testimony (sworn, unlike Franklin’s hastily offered and contradictory remarks) of former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones that Franklin told him that the Montgomery team viewed the case as at an end, before word came down from Washington to look it over again. Here’s how the AP piece summarizes those allegations:
Jones said Friday he still believes the case was moved back to the fast burner in Washington in 2004 after there was a change in leadership in the Justice Department’s public integrity section, which had been sending attorneys to Montgomery to help with the investigation. “All of a sudden it got kicked into high gear with all new allegations. I don’t know what happened,” Jones said. “I do know there are documents in the Justice Department that would show one way or the other. Why not just turn over those documents.”
Moreover, Jones’s testimony matches perfectly with the sworn testimony of G.O.P. operative Jill Simpson, who describes Karl Rove asking Noel Hillman to insure “resources” were provided to the case at just this time. We’re far past the tipping point. Jones’s and Simpson’s accounts are extremely credible. And Franklin’s is preposterous. Which brings us back to the dead giveaway: the decision to stonewall the Judiciary Committee’s request for the documents. A retired senior Justice Department attorney told me just a few days ago, that those documents would show that senior career lawyers at Justice were extremely skeptical about the very unseemly push to prosecute Siegelman. And Franklin just gave up the ghost on that point, too: my source was right.
That leaves Franklin’s untenable claim that he alone called the shots, a claim at this point which no one believes, including Franklin himself. It is contradicted not only by his own sworn statements to the district court, but also the official reports filed by Noel Hillman with Congress in 2005 and 2006, in which Hillman asserted that he was exercising control over the Siegelman case. Those reports can be visited at the Department of Justice’s website. They make for very interesting reading, particularly the statements describing the need for Main Justice to run the case. Hillman tells Congress:
At times, however, it may be inappropriate for the local U.S. Attorney’s office to handle a particular corruption case. A successful public corruption prosecution requires both the appearance and the reality of fairness and impartiality.
Quite true. And at this point the public view is crystallizing, with the benefit of Congressional inquiries and journalistic research. We’re far from having all the facts, thanks mostly to the steady obstruction coming from the Montgomery U.S. Attorney’s office. But the bottom line is plain enough. The Siegelman case involved neither the appearance nor the reality of impartiality. The best case for what happened would be to say it was a dazzling display of bad judgment in which professional standards collapsed in front of political pressure. But it may ultimately prove to be something far worse than that.
Franklin obviously thinks that the best qualities of a civil servant consist of covering up for his political bosses and protecting them from the storm which has already erupted. That certainly is a short-sighted–but often enough effective–approach to advancing on a bureaucratic ladder. But maybe the best qualities of a prosecutor are those outlined by Robert H. Jackson—demonstrating independence, dedication to justice, and avoiding any political efforts to taint the prosecutorial process. There’s barely a trace of those qualities here.
In any event, a man of Javert’s age and dimensions looks pretty ridiculous dancing pirouettes. The issues at hand are deadly serious. They call for candor, not spin.
More from Scott Horton:
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Notes on South Africa’s failed revolution
“I will never know what goes on in your mind, or what that shield of a smile behind which we try to advance should tell us.”