No Comment — February 26, 2008, 8:38 am

B’ham News Dispenses More Koolaid

The unofficial voice of the Alabama G.O.P. throughout the entire Siegelman affair has been the Birmingham News, which posts the party’s propaganda as if it were newscopy, mixed in with a bit of material that looks like reporting. And it took only a few hours after the broadcast of the 60 Minutes segment for the paper to return to its proven pattern. In a piece by Kim Chandler, the news item is that Louis Franklin, the head of the criminal division for U.S. Attorney Leura Canary and the lead trial prosecutor against Siegelman, appeared and spoke.

He does so just as Siegelman’s attorneys and many other voices raise the call for a special prosecutor to be appointed to investigate. . . Louis Franklin, among other things.

Now let’s just stop and focus on this for a minute. Franklin won’t speak or answer questions on camera for CBS. He routinely brushes aside requests for interviews from national media. But he has no problem talking to his mouthpiece of choice, the Birmingham News. This is very noteworthy. And indeed, I believe that if a special prosecutor is appointed, a major focus of the inquiry will be the “special relationship” that developed between Franklin and his investigating team and the two Advance newspapers in Birmingham and Mobile. These papers consistently had all the inside story on the Siegelman case and they used it to demolish Siegelman’s reputation and to make a fair trial for him impossible. This explains why their attitude is now panicked and highly defensive.

Of course, papers are free to print what they like and if they develop inside sources within a prosecution team, that’s all to their credit. The wrongdoing here is inside of the prosecution team, and its record of misdeeds just keeps growing.

And today, we see Franklin calling the CBS documentary an “assassination.” Remember, this is the man who carried out the biggest political hit job in the state’s history. Was that a very wise term for him to use? And if it was an “assassination,” why did Louis Franklin refuse to speak on camera? He goes one step further and denies the charge CBS levels, namely that he suppressed a notebook that prosecutors had Nick Bailey keep with written accounts. Now isn’t it curious that Franklin offers up this extremely unconvincing denial, but the Justice Department refuses to repeat it to CBS? That would, at a minimum, suggest that Franklin’s bosses in Washington are not so confident about the truthfulness of the matter he’s shoveling up to his friends at the Birmingham News.

Lawyers for Siegelman advise me that they detected Bailey’s references to these written materials during his testimony and asked why it had not been offered up. Judge Fuller convened a chamber’s conference. To the judge’s credit, he told Franklin and his deputy, Steve Feaga, that if they had something, they needed to turn it over. They denied the existence of the notebook and the handwritten accounts. My bet is that Franklin and Feaga made the decision then and there to stonewall about the existence of the notebook because of its potential devastating effect for their case, and for their own reputations. And now they feel locked in to that posture, unwilling to come clean.

Franklin’s style throughout the trial was bullying, aggressive and hyperventilating. Here’s a taste of it from the still incomplete transcript (now approaching two years after the trial!):

MR. BUTTS: What? What did you say, Mr. Franklin? Say that to the Judge, what you just said. Did you just say, I was a sleaze?

THE COURT: Counsel.

MR. BUTTS: Is that what you just said?

THE COURT: Counsel.

MR. FRANKLIN: Yes, I did. That’s what I said to you. Are you deaf? Are you deaf?

So what kind of federal prosecutor calls defense counsel, a former judge of the Alabama Supreme Court, a “sleaze” openly in the court room in the face of the jury?

Now a conscientious federal prosecutor, hit with the accusations that Simpson made, would have assigned a couple of FBI agents to investigate them. But what does Louis Franklin do? He starts aggressively slandering Ms. Simpson. This is the conduct of a prosecutor who has done something seriously wrong and is concerned about getting caught.

As Attorney General Grant Woods said, there are no shortage of red flags about this case–more than I have ever seen. It has only stayed afloat for so long because of the Koolaid dispensing operation of two Alabama newspapers, operating in tandem. And this is why a special prosecutor is urgently needed to look into the Montgomery U.S. Attorney’s office and its extremely seedy dealings associated with the Siegelman prosecution. Indeed there are many reasons. Here are some others:

  • The fact that Leura Canary, wife of Republican political strategist and campaign advisor Billy Canary, supervised this matter even as her husband was engaged in the Republican campaign against Siegelman, a shocking and impermissible conflict. Canary purports to have recused herself but only after complaints over her unethical conflict were lodged with Washington.

  • These charges stemmed from a witness named Lanny Young, who brought the U.S. Attorney’s office charges against Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, William Pryor and Siegelman. His accusations against Sessions and Pryor were far stronger than those against Siegelman. Yet they were dropped and only the charges against Siegelman were pursued. And who concluded the plea agreement with Young? Julia Weller. Her husband was Pryor’s attorney and was close to Sessions. Again, an impermissible ethical conflict of a shocking magnitude, though standard operating procedure in that office.

  • The facts that the two senior-most career prosecutors on the case did not recommend prosecuting.

  • The extremely disturbing process of forum shopping, taking the case to Montgomery, after a judge in Birmingham threw the prosecutor’s case out on its first day. Again, this reflects highly unethical prosecutorial conduct.

  • The allegations in a sworn affidavit that a Republican County Commissioner, Gary White, was pressured into giving false evidence to sustain the false testimony at the core of the prosecution’s case. A federal judge two weeks ago concluded that this stated a “prima facie case of impermissible conduct” by the Siegelman prosecutors and called the allegations “extremely disturbing.” Oh, by the way, the Birmingham News which lavished coverage on the case involving the county commissioner, decided not to report a word about any of this to its readers. Interesting, don’t you think?

This is just a tasting. There is much more. Actually, there isn’t a single thing about this case which is “normal.”

Kim Chandler’s piece also includes this now-stock piece of rubbish which is regurgitated over and again in Birmingham News pieces, and now forms the staple of denials put out by the Alabama G.O.P. and Fox News:

Simpson raised claims she has not made in previous interviews, in an affidavit or in sworn testimony before Congress.

I am now aware of five reporters who had this account, in several cases from the beginning of her public appearance. I am one of them. Simpson said she was looking to go with her story through a broadcast exclusive, and asked that I not use it without her further permission. I abided by that request. (Unlike the Birmingham News’s Brett Blackledge, who recorded a conversation with Simpson in which he can be heard promising her confidentiality. Blackledge violated that by publishing the tape in a lame effort to undermine her statement. Blackledge’s meme is also that she didn’t mention the affair in his hour-long interview. But Blackledge limited his entire interview to questions about a couple of lines in an affidavit. His interview does not support the conclusions he drew from it. And his failure to ask the obvious questions in it is quite noteworthy. A clear reason for that: Blackledge did not want to hear her answers.) The other reporters who had the story will be discussing that in their own time. So look at the absurd argument that Chandler is putting down. Simpson gives CBS an exclusive. CBS takes over four months to put together their account and do fact-checking. Then the delay in getting the story out is used as a basis to undermine its honesty. Is that line of argument even remotely rational?

Only in the minds of the editors of the Birmingham News, apparently.

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