No Comment — November 1, 2007, 12:09 am

Siegelman Updates

Another Career Prosecutor Says No Basis to Go After Siegelman
Just a few days after reporting that the senior most career prosecutor on the Siegelman case had concluded there was insufficient basis to proceed on the matter, the Birmingham News now reports that a second senior prosecutor had reached the same conclusion. In both cases, the career prosecutors involved had their responsibilities for the case terminated, the first being reassigned and the second going into retirement. In an interview with Charles Niven, who served as acting U.S. Attorney in charge of the Siegelman matter immediately after Leura Canary was forced to recuse herself, Niven stated:

“When I retired in January 2003, it was my judgment there wasn’t sufficient evidence to seek an indictment against Governor Siegelman.”

Typically for the Birmingham News, the disclosure appears only at the end of a lengthy article in which the News’s prize-winning Attack Chihuahua editorializes against claims about the politicization of the U.S. Attorney’s office in Montgomery, without repeating any of the charges that support the claims. You have to read to the bottom of the second page to find the actual news reported in the piece, and it’s clear that our favorite Attack Chihuahua is angry to have to report it.

Further evidence of how the process was politicized: when Niven departed, responsibility for the matter was passed to Julia Jordan Weller. As reported here previously, Weller had a close friendship with U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, is a politically engaged and loyal Republican, and is the wife of Chris Weller, a Montgomery attorney described as the attorney for then-Attorney General William Pryor and a close associate of Alabama Republican Senator Jefferson Sessions.

Weller then also retired to “spend more time with her family.” But before leaving, she concluded plea bargain agreements with the prosecution’s two key witnesses against Siegelman, Nick Bailey and Lanny Young. As Time magazine disclosed earlier this fall, Young’s evidence was principally directed not against Siegelman, but against Pryor and Sessions—two figures tightly linked to Weller’s husband. Yet Weller made a decision not to examine the claims against Pryor and Sessions.

The Birmingham News characteristically has failed to report on any of this, which is perfect evidence of the political manipulation that their current article says “didn’t happen” in the Montgomery U.S. Attorney’s office, but that staff attorneys there say was an everyday occurrence under U.S. Attorney Leura Canary.

This leaves me wondering how the Birmingham News would have covered the court-martial of Capt. Dreyfus? I imagine long reports interviewing the military prosecutors and insisting that any suggestions that the case was politically motivated are ridiculous, and an aspersion on the nation’s dignity. This is a very peculiar species of journalism, if it’s journalism at all.

The Man in the Iron Mask
A prominent former Republican attorney general who has just completed a network television interview on the Siegelman case points to innumerable small things that give away the hand of political oppression behind the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Siegelman. Consider the harsh, aggressively and unmistakably partisan tones sounded by the lead prosecutor in the case from the start. A responsible, professional prosecutor keeps a moderate and quiet voice and remembers that serving justice, not racking up another kill is his function. But not Javert. Consider the long pattern of leaks of grand jury materials to the partisan attack press, all designed to wound Siegelman in general, and the Alabama Democrats in particular, during the election cycle. Or the decision of the hand-picked “loyal Bushie” judge, Mark Fuller, who swept aside the governor’s application for a bond pending appeal and ordered him dragged in front of TV camera in manacles—not even allowing him to take farewell from his wife and family. Or the bizarre trek on which Siegelman was sent, around the country, destination unknown, to find a prison for him that was unreachable for his family, attorneys and friends—while his attorney’s office was being broken into and her Siegelman-related files rifled.

Of course, the best known facility for minimum security prisoners in the United States is at Maxwell Air Force Base, right in Montgomery. But the Justice Department had another objective: silencing the man, assuring that he had no communication with the outside world and that his message went unheard. It was something from a novel.

For weeks now a major television network has sought to tape an interview with Siegelman. The Justice Department’s answer? Denied. Not just this. When one of Siegelman’s former press aides sent him a memorandum with a note covering points he might want to raise in an interview, the letter was intercepted by the Department of Justice and its contents seized. Governor Siegelman received only an empty envelope. This was no doubt designed to send a message: your voice and visage will never been seen in the world again. You are forgotten.

Or as the great Dumas put it:

“It has always been against the policy of despotic governments to suffer the victims of their policy to appear.” (Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, ch. xiv) Ergo: no interview.

And now we should focus on the role played by the courts in this on-going and increasingly obvious farce. As you will recall, Judge Fuller sent him off to prison in manacles without even ruling on his application for release. When this was appealed to the Eleventh Circuit, the court found that Fuller acted wrongly and directed him to enter and justify his opinion. Fuller has refused to do that. And so Siegelman, the man now at the center of a national storm and widely believed to be the most clear-cut victim of political persecution in the country, continues to clean toilets in a prison in Louisiana. No action has been taken on his application for release pending appeal. And thus we have another exhibit to add to the large stack showing the incompetence or corruption of the courts.

A Whistleblower’s Story
The Nation profiles the story of Jill Simpson and her exposure of the Republican plot to take out Alabama’s most popular progressive politician in a piece by Glynn Wilson.

Siegelman was indicted by US Attorney Leura Canary, whose husband is a close friend of Karl Rove, and his seven-year sentence–the second-longest ever given to a politician convicted of bribery in this country–was doled out by Mark Fuller, a Republican judge who owes his lifetime appointment on the federal bench to the President. The bribery charges have nothing to do with personal enrichment but rather with donations Siegelman helped secure for a campaign to pass a lottery bill that would have increased funds for Alabama’s ailing public schools.

Yet his case would probably never have been investigated by Congress if it weren’t for the sworn statements of a lawyer and Republican Party operative from Alabama–statements, introduced into the public record at Tuesday morning’s hearing, that have been the subject of much contentious debate among members of the committee.

Wilson also looks at the Riley administration’s attempted push back on some of the emerging story:

Several Alabama newspapers have quoted Rob Riley disputing Simpson’s version of events and attempting to discredit her. Not long after the story broke on June 1, Riley told a Birmingham News reporter that he had not seen her in years and never tried cases with her. But she has boxes of records proving they tried many cases together over the years, some of which she provided to the House Judiciary Committee. It became evident at Tuesday’s hearing that Riley filed an affidavit with the House Judiciary Committee denying that the 2002 conference call ever took place, but Representative Davis said it should be discounted by the committee, since Simpson’s phone records clearly corroborate the call.

One thing struck me most about Rob Riley. He issued sweeping denials to his friend at the Birmingham News, but when it came down to swearing an oath and issuing an affidavit most of these denials simply disappeared. Indeed, he suddenly developed an acute economy with words.

Wilson’s piece is a good read and an impressive further development of the facts.

Carlson: Siegelman and the Loyal Bushies
Bloomberg’s Margaret Carlson takes a look at the Siegelman case in her current column for Bloomberg News.

A popular Democrat in a red state, Siegelman narrowly lost his job in 2002 when a couple of thousand votes suspiciously changed overnight. It looked like he would recapture the governorship in 2004. A judge threw out a case against him for bid rigging for insufficient evidence.
But as he was getting ready to run in the Democratic primary, another investigation was opened.

Former Alabama U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, who once represented the former governor, testified that the new probe came after orders from Washington to undertake a “top to bottom” review of the Siegelman case. The subsequent indictment and trial of Siegelman meant he couldn’t run. Republican Bob Riley sailed to re-election.

At the heart of the case was a donation from former HealthSouth Corp. head Richard Scrushy of $500,000 to Siegelman’s campaign to start a lottery, a debt on which Siegelman was unlikely to be held personally liable. The alleged quo for the quid was Scrushy’s appointment to a state hospital board, a board on which he had served for many years. Lanny Young, the main witness against Siegelman, also accused Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions and former Alabama Attorney General William Pryor Jr. of accepting gifts from him, according to FBI records obtained by Time magazine. Prosecutors took Young’s word on Siegelman but ignored him with regard to Sessions and Pryor, who are Republicans. Neither was investigated, much less prosecuted. They denied Young’s charges.

Alabama officials defend themselves by pointing out that the case was handled by career prosecutors. The case was further undermined by a Republican lawyer, Jill Simpson. She gave the committee a sworn affidavit that the local U.S. attorney’s husband, Bill Canary, a top consultant to Alabama Republicans, said his “girls” — his wife and a colleague — would take care of Siegelman, all with the OK of his good friend and Bush adviser, Karl Rove.

Carlson fails to mention it, but Canary’s “girls” are the two scorched-earth political U.S. Attorneys who brought charges against Siegelman. And Carlson wrote, of course, before the two most senior career prosecutors on the case admitted that they had concluded that there was no basis to bring a case against Siegelman.

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