No Comment — February 24, 2008, 9:18 pm

CBS: More Prosecutorial Misconduct in Siegelman Case

CBS aired its long-awaited feature on the prosecution and imprisonment of former Alabama Governor Don E. Siegelman this evening at 7:00. In a stunning move of censorship, the transmission was blocked across the northern third of Alabama by CBS affiliate WHNT, which is owned by interests of the Bass Family. Those who were in the zone of censorship or who missed it, can catch the whole segment here:

The CBS piece, for which I was repeatedly interviewed, came through on its promise to deliver several additional bombshells. The most significant of these was the disclosure that prosecutors pushed the case forward and secured a conviction relying on evidence that they knew or should have known was false, and that they failed to turnover potentially exculpatory evidence to defense counsel. The accusation was dramatically reinforced by the Justice Department’s failure to offer a denial. It delivered a fairly elaborate version of a “no comment,” and even that came a full twenty-four hours after it had conferred with the prosecutors in question. The gravity of the accusations made and the prosecutors’ failure to deny them further escalates concerns about the treatment of the former Alabama governor.

Republicans Lead the Attack
But the show was dominated by one of 52 former attorneys general from 40 of the 50 states who have called for a Congressional probe of the conduct of the Siegelman case, former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods. He leveled a series of blistering accusations at the Bush Administration’s Justice Department. With the Alabama G.O.P. this evening issuing a near-hysterical statement in which it characterizes the CBS broadcast – before its transmission – as an anti-Republican attack piece, it was notable that Woods, like the piece’s other star witness, is a Republican. Not just any Republican, either. Grant Woods is co-chair of the McCain for President leadership committee, and a lifelong friend and advisor to the presumptive 2008 G.O.P. presidential candidate. Woods is also godfather to one of the McCain children.

Attorney General Woods has this to say about the Bush Justice Department’s prosecution of Siegelman: “I personally believe that what happened here is that they targeted Don Siegelman because they could not beat him fair and square. This was a Republican state and he was the one Democrat they could never get rid of.”

In other words, not being able to beat Siegelman at the polls, Woods believes that his own party corruptly used the criminal justice process to take out an adversary. This is an extraordinary, heavy accusation. Not something that a senior Republican would raise easily about his own party. And the facts back the accusation up, beginning to end.

Crimes for Democrats, Fundraising as Usual for the G.O.P.
Start with the notion that the conduct that figures in the accusations is actually a crime. The basic charge is that businessman Richard Scrushy gave $500,000 to the Alabama Education Foundation, a vehicle Siegelman created to run a campaign for a state education lottery, and Siegelman in exchange appointed him to the state’s hospital oversight board.

WOODS: You do a bribery when someone has a real personal benefit. It’s that you’re exchanging an official public act for a personal benefit. Not, “Hey, I would like for you to help out on this project which I think is good for my state.” If you’re gonna start indicting people and putting them in prison for that, then you might as well just– build nine or ten new federal prisons because that happens everyday in every statehouse, in every city council, and in the Congress of the United States.

PELLEY: What you seem to be saying here is that this is analogous to giving a great deal of money to a presidential campaign. And as a result, you become Ambassador to Paris.

WOODS: Exactly. That’s exactly right.

Indeed, Karl Rove pursued financing for the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2000 and again in 2004 by organizing a special elite status—called “Pioneers” and “Rangers”—for persons who donated or raised $100,000 or more for the campaign. These donors understood that if they wanted to be appointed to a government office, like an ambassadorship, they only had to ask for it.

So how many Bush-Cheney donors in amounts of one hundred thousand and more were appointed to government offices or to positions in the Bush-Cheney transition team? The answer is one hundred and forty-six (146). And in how many of those cases did the Justice Department initiate investigations of corruption? The answer is zero (0). The Justice Department’s rationale is that this crime is one that can be committed by Democrats alone. When a Republican does it, it’s normal campaign fundraising.

False Evidence
But even if we accept that it’s possible for the Bush Department to create a new category of “Democrats Only” Crimes, we still have the basic fact that the evidence on which the Siegelman conviction was secured was false, and was known by the prosecutors to be false from the beginning. Indeed, the evidence of this is now so overpowering that the Justice Department refused to answer charges on camera, just as it has resisted Congressional demands to turn over documents and wrongfully failed to comply with FOIA requests. The key testimony at trial came from a man named Nick Bailey, who, unbeknownst to Siegelman, was a crook. He never contested that fact. And he’s now in prison, where CBS interviewed him – notwithstanding the Justice Department refusal to authorize an interview. The prosecutors nabbed him and then told him he could get a light sentence if he worked with them to nail Siegelman, their real target. This very process is a perversion of the justice system, which as former U.S. Attorney Jones very properly says, requires that prosecutors investigate crimes and not people. But it gets still worse. Bailey testifies that he saw a check change hands at a meeting at which Scrushy’s appointment to the oversight board was decided. This is the evidence that landed Siegelman in prison. And it was false. And the prosecutors knew that it was false.

JONES: They got a copy of the check. And the check was cut days after that meeting. There was no– there was no way possible for Siegelman to have walked out of that meeting with a check in his hand.

PELLEY: So, Siegelman could not have had that check–

JONES: No.

PELLEY: –in his hand that Bailey–

JONES: It was–

PELLEY: –testified to seeing?

JONES: Absolutely impossible and they knew that, absolutely impossible.

PELLEY: That would seem like a problem with the prosecution’s case…

JONES: It was a huge problem especially when you’ve got a guy whose credibility was going to be the linchpin of that case. It was a huge problem.

So the Justice Department’s silence in response to the charges was masked with a platitudinous statement. They stated that Siegelman’s case was pursued and developed by career prosecutors, that it was based on the law, and justified by fair evidence.

Each of the statements is about as honest as Attorney General Gonzales’s statement, under oath, before Congress, that he just couldn’t remember any details concerning any decisions to fire eight U.S. Attorneys on December 7, 2006. Which is to say, they are false.

First, we know that the first two career prosecutors assigned to the case, including the most experienced prosecutors who worked on it, came to the same conclusion that Grant Woods did: no reasonable prosecutor would ever have charged this case. The Justice Department has consistently made false statements about the roles of the two earlier prosecutors, and their role only emerged in the last few months. It’s extremely noteworthy that throughout the history of this case, whenever a career prosecutor concluded that charges should not be brought, that career prosecutor ran into a bump in his career and was off the case. The message to the remaining career prosecutors was plenty clear. In fact it is clear that the career prosecutors’ views were overridden by political appointees driven by a strong partisan political agenda.

Second, they claim that the case was brought on a fair reading of the law. It was not, and indeed reasonable career prosecutors never would have acted on the basis of the reading they advanced, and a fair detached judge never would have allowed the case to go forward. This case offered neither.

Third, they claim that evidence was produced to sustain the charges. But the key evidence that the prosecutors brought forward was false, and they knew it was false. In this case proceeding on the basis of that false evidence was a corrupt wielding of prosecutorial power, pursued for a corrupt partisan political end—the elimination of a political adversary. They withheld the Bailey notes which would have demonstrated that his memory on this was conflicted or wrong and would therefore have devastated his testimony. There is mounting evidence that one or more witnesses were unethically pressured to give false evidence or face retaliation. This suspicion surrounds not only Nick Bailey, but also Jefferson County Republican Commissioner Gary White. Note the affidavit of his wife, which a federal judge in Birmingham stated only two weeks ago he found “established a prima facie case of impermissible conduct” by the prosecutors. The claim put forward there goes precisely to these facts. White was pressured to give false evidence supporting Bailey on his false claims about the meeting. It is suggested that he would be prosecuted if he failed to do so. He refused, saying the testimony would be false. And he was prosecuted. This seems to summarize the crooked criminal justice system that Karl Rove and his friends have promoted in Alabama.

This is Only an Introduction
CBS conducted dozens of interviews and has much more that it hasn’t shown. The additional footage concerns the Canary team—husband Billy who advised the campaign of Republican gubernatorial candidates against Siegelman, and wife Leura Canary, whose prosecution of Siegelman was essential to the G.O.P.’s efforts to secure the Montgomery statehouse. And they have much more on the inexplicable conduct of federal Judge Mark Fuller, appointed by George W. Bush, a former member of the Alabama G.O.P.’s Executive Committee, and a man who publicly stated that Siegelman had a grudge against him—but who refused to recuse himself from the case.

Take a minute and write or phone CBS News and demand that they follow up on the open issues they raised and didn’t bring to fruition. Use the message function located under “Contact Us” at the bottom of this page.

Off the Air in Alabama
I am now hearing from readers all across Northern Alabama – from Decatur to Huntsville and considerably on down – that a mysterious “service interruption” blocked the broadcast of only the Siegelman segment of 60 Minutes this evening. The broadcaster is Channel 19 WHNT, which serves Northern Alabama and Southern Tennessee. This station was noteworthy for its hostility to Siegelman and support for his Republican adversary. The station ran a trailer stating “We apologize that you missed the first segment of 60 Minutes tonight featuring ‘The Prosecution of Don Siegelman.’ It was a techincal problem with CBS out of New York.” I contacted CBS News in New York and was told that “There were no transmission difficulties. The problems were peculiar to Channel 19, which had the signal and had functioning transmitters.” Channel 19 is owned by Oak Hill Capital Partners, who can be contacted through Rhonda Barnat, 212-371-5999 or rb@abmac.com. Oak Hill Partners represents interests of the Bass family, which contribute heavily to the Republican Party. Viewers displeased about the channel’s decision to censor the broadcast should express their views directly to the station management or to the owners.

Misleading AP Report Filed
Hopefully the Associated Press editors will start paying close attention to the reporting that is moving over the AP wires with a Washington dateline about the Siegelman case. We now have the second straight AP story filled with highly tendentious and misleading statements which are carefully set out to mirror the attack line put out by the Alabama G.O.P., but using the wireservice’s own voice. Here are some examples contained in the story filed by Ben Evans:

In the program, Simpson made claims that she had not previously raised publicly, either in an affidavit that drew wide attention last summer or later in sworn congressional testimony. [But Simpson made the claims during the summer to four reporters I have identified so far, requesting that they not be used, apparently because CBS was promised an exclusive on the story. She also discussed them with a Congressional investigator. All facts suppressed by the writer.]

She said then-White House political strategist Karl Rove asked her in 2001 to find evidence that Siegelman was cheating on his wife. Simpson said it wasn’t the first time that Rove — who was active in Alabama politics before going to the White House — had asked her to find damaging information about opposing campaigns.

She had not mentioned Rove directly speaking to her previously [this statement is untrue]. In her earlier sworn statements, she said she heard party operatives running Republican Bob Riley’s campaign for governor discuss political influence behind Siegelman’s prosecution on corruption charges. She described conversations in 2002 and 2005 in which she claims Riley campaign officials suggested that Rove was pushing the Justice Department to pursue charges against the former governor to keep him off the ballot. . .

Rob Riley has not denied that Simpson had some volunteer involvement in the 2002 campaign but he and others at the top of the organization have disputed her accounts, beginning with the affidavit and later when her sworn account changed last fall in congressional testimony. She said then that Siegelman dropped his challenge to the 2002 vote count after being told the investigation of him would end if he did, a claim ridiculed by Riley campaign officials. . . [This sentence seriously mischaracterizes the facts. Simpson reported statements made by other Republican operatives, not any dialogue with Siegelman.]

The Justice Department — as well as the career prosecutors who handled the case — have insisted that politics played no role in the case, emphasizing that Siegelman was convicted by a jury. [This statement suppresses the facts that the two senior most career prosecutors did not support a prosecution, and wound up being taken off the case.] Congressional Democrats, however, have been looking into the case as part of a broader investigation into possible political meddling by the White House at the Justice Department. [This is tendentious and misleading, falsely suggesting that the investigations, which are bi-partisan and include internal inquiries within the Justice Department, are partisan in nature, all consistent with Alabama G.O.P. press releases.]

Also, about 50 former attorneys general — most of them Democrats, but including some Republicans — have asked for a congressional investigation into the case. [Highly tendentious formulation designed to avoid bringing attention to the fact that the effort is led by Republicans.]

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