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The nation’s highest profile political prosecution just got a little smellier–as if that were possible. U.S. Attorney Leura Canary and her chief prosecutor, Louis Franklin, built their case against Siegelman largely off the testimony of businessman Lanny Young. As Time magazine’s Adam Zagorin recounts, Young came in to the discussions with the Justice Department telling them he had dynamite information linking Alabama Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions and then-Alabama Attorney General William Pryor to corruption. He also had something quite trivial relating to Governor Siegelman.
But it turns out that the prosecutors didn’t want to hear a word about the big-name Republicans. They only cared about Siegelman. In retrospect, of course, this turns out not to be remotely surprising. Leura Canary’s husband, Bill Canary, was advising both Pryor and Sessions. Indeed, Karl Rove was also involved in the Pryor campaigns. But to eliminate any possibility of things going off the tracks, Ms. Canary assigned her First Assistant U.S. Attorney to handle the plea bargain negotiations. That was Julia Weller, the wife of Christopher Weller, Pryor’s attorney, and a figure close to Senator Sessions as well. Weller signed the plea bargain agreement.
In fact the whole story surrounding Lanny Young provides a clear demonstration of the art of political persecution and how it’s pursued in the Middle District of Alabama.
The facts which came out at Siegelman’s trial failed to link Siegelman himself to any unambiguous criminality, a conviction was achieved largely through bluster and having a judge who insured something far short of a level playing field. Young was by his own admission very deep into efforts to corruptly influence politicians. Nevertheless, Canary and her team decided to reward Young by seeking no further jail time for him, and were reportedly shocked when Judge Mark Fuller—whom Republican operative lawyer Jill Simpson fingers in sworn testimony to Congress as a loyal Republican activist hand-picked to run the Siegelman show trial—handed out a 2-year sentence.
A figure close to the prosecution told me at the time that “this is purely for show. They’re very upset about all the media interest in this. If they just let Lanny go, it would look terrible. But Lanny Young will be let out before the year’s end. It’s already understood. He’s being rewarded for helping to take down Siegelman.” Though I was never quite sure who “they” were, I was somewhat skeptical about the claim that Young would be sentenced and then promptly set free by the judge who sentenced him. After all, federal judges and prosecutors are not in the habit of doing wink-and-nod deals and then conducting hearings designed to mislead a troubled public. But then, this is Montgomery, where a pecularily partisan form of “justice” is dispensed. And indeed, the forecast I was given has proven right on the money.
If you’re interested in this case, take the time to read the surreal account published by the G.O.P.-loyal Birmingham News, which played the key role in furnishing credibility to the whole effort to get Siegelman. News writer Kim Chandler tells her readers that Young had to be let out early because he was being threatened by other prisoners. Evidently they read Time magazine, according to the News and learned that Young was cooperating with prosecutors. (Just think about how absurd this is. Of course, they could have read the Birmingham News, the Mobile Press-Register or any other paper to learn this. But no, according to the News, drawing on the statements of Louis Franklin to which, as usual, only it is privy, Young’s “harassment”
peaked after an article in a national magazine appeared detailing Young’s cooperation with the government.
The other excuses trotted out are equally ridiculous. Evidently Young couldn’t complete a drug rehabilitation program, but he could explain this—there was a chicken pox outbreak in the prison. I’m sure this makes sense to the readers of the News, somehow.
Normally, prosecutors scorn statements like this. Here they were advanced by the prosecutors at a secret hearing with Judge Fuller at which Young got his reward, a bit delayed.
According to my sources, Young was warned on release not to speak with reporters. He is under a cooperation agreement with the prosecutors designed to buy his silence, particularly with respect to his dealings with prosecutors. He is now released in a home confinement program in Madison County, Alabama.
As the Tuscaloosa News reports,
To date, none of the Republicans who Young claimed to have wooed with his money has been targeted for investigation. And they aren’t likely to be.
That’s understating things. So, we can all take comfort knowing that Leura Canary’s principal collaborator is out in time to spend Christmas with his wife in Huntsville.
Let’s just recap quickly the improprieties and suspicious dealings of the U.S. Attorney and the Court in this case after Siegelman was convicted:
Governor Siegelman is cleaning latrines in Oakdale, Louisiana, where he was dispatched after being sentence. He has been in prison for six months now, convicted and sentenced for taking a bribe from Richard Scrushy, even though the undisputed evidence shows unequivocally that he never received anything from Scrushy. The prosecution moved on the theory that Scrushy’s donation to a campaign fund was a personal benefit to Siegelman. By this same theory, there should be 146 open criminal investigations of President Bush and Karl Rove, because there are 146 individuals who made or procured donations of $100,000 or more to the Bush-Cheney campaign with a clear expectation that they would be given appointments in the Bush Administration, and then received those appointments. Some cabinet members in that group, by the way.
The Court of Appeals instructed Judge Mark Fuller to explain why Siegelman was manacled and taken immediately to prison at the end of trial without granting him the leave on appeal that is customarily granted. Fuller – in a written order – refused to do so.
The Court of Appeals instructed Judge Fuller a second time to explain why Siegelman was denied his freedom pending appeal. They asked him to do so in an expedited manner. It has now been over 35 days and he has yet to respond. In the meantime however Fuller found the time to conduct a secret hearing in order to release Lanny Young–a fact that only became knowledge because of the alert observations of an AP reporter.
Lanny Young, is the key witness for the prosecutors. He changed his account of the facts repeatedly after being offered a plea bargain arrangement by prosecutors who were keen to fabricate a case against Siegelman. Young was released on December 11, more than a year before his scheduled release. All the dealings between the prosecutors and Judge Fuller surrounding this matter were conducted in secret.
Young’s principal accusations in his interview with prosecutors went to two clients or associates of the husband of U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, Republicans Jefferson Sessions and William Pryor. No investigation was conducted on these accusations. No action was taken on them. Thus all the prosecution’s dealings with Young take on the unmistakable appearance of a political vendetta.
Under the Code of Judicial Ethics, the trial judge, Mark Fuller, has the responsibility to insure that a transcript of the proceedings was prepared on a timely basis. Today–seventeen months after the conclusion of the highest profile trial conducted in modern Alabama history–there is still no official trial transcript. Judge Fuller has offered a series of different excuses for this failure, all of which are completely unconvincing. The inescapable conclusion is that Fuller, motivated by a partisan desire for retribution, is doing everything within his power to delay or block an appeal in order to leave a man he knows was wrongfully convicted languishing in prison.
Siegelman cannot file a formal appeal without a completed transcript. Because of the trial judge’s obstruction, Siegelman’s formal appeal will not be filed until the summer of 2008 at the earliest — so he will be required to spend two years in prison before a court gets an opportunity to overturn a wrongful and corrupt conviction.
The judge who is responsible for these gross irregularities was up until his appointment to the bench a partisan Republican activist who worked on campaigns adverse to Siegelman and who served as a member of the Executive Committee of the Alabama Republican Party. He is also the subject of criminal corruption allegations which dwarf those brought against Siegelman, which were pending with the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section when it brought its case against Siegelman in Fuller’s court. Yet Fuller rejected a motion to recuse himself, and the Justice Department likewise opposed it. All of this suggests serious misconduct on the part of both the prosecutors and the judge.
In America, the accused is entitled to a judge and prosecutors who are impartial and who appear to be impartial to the typical citizen. However, Siegelman faced a partisan hit job directed by political hacks and appeared before a hand-selected Republican activist hanging judge. This is Bush-league justice at its most outrageous.
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm
Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
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