SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
In Alabama, as we have noted, the public has been told that it faces a grave menace. No, it’s not crack dealers, organized crime, a drought, or even the failure of the Crimson Tide to find a coach worthy of the legacy of Paul Bear Bryant. In the now-top-this absurdity of Alabama’s Koolaid-dispensing media, the menace that imperils the very existence of the state consists of corrupt school teachers and junior college personnel. Of course what this is all really about is something different. It’s all about the Republican Party’s campaign to take control of the Alabama state legislature, in which 11 Democrats hold significant positions in junior colleges and a still greater number hold a minor relationship. The zeal and simple number of moving parts in this juggernaut are fascinating to watch. As is the ability of the Alabama press to report the absurdities it produces, without even cracking a smile.
Byrne the Bodies Now, Sort Out the Survivors Later
High on the list of the many amazing coincidences that link the Republican campaign strategy and the tireless efforts of U.S. Attorney Alice Martin is the role played by Bradley Byrne. Up to a year ago, Byrne was a state senator for district 32, Baldwin County—which is arguably the most Republican district in all of Alabama. He comes from Fairhope, which is a flower-laden artists colony across the bay from Mobile.
Byrne was “hand picked” to head the two-year college board by Governor Bob Riley and given a mission to “clean things up.” Just how he went about that is described in fascinating detail in a column by Dr. Joe Reed in the current Alabama Education Journal:(PDF)
Presidents of two year and technical colleges are being forced to resign amid threats of having their good name and reputation ruined all for the solace of one, who himself received his position as a result of political patronage.
When fear and intimidation are not enough to get a targeted president to step aside… the chancellor will send in the “hatchet committee” of his cronies and “yes men” to do what they will call an investigation. The reality is that this hatchet committee goes to nitpick and find anything and everything that they can to discredit the president, then draft a report that puts the president in the worst light possible. After the chancellor receives this “report,” he commands the president to appear before him for a “sit down” conference. He tells the president that either he or she can resign, or the “report” will be released and the president’s reputation dragged through the mud in the media. With an anti-public education press corps at his beck and call, the chancellor can and has made life miserable for those and their families who oppose him. What is actually a personal and political termination of a college employee is spun by Byrne and his media allies into “swift, decisive action” to correct problems that they have exaggerated and/or made up. Then, if a president has the courage and moral conviction to stand up to this blackmail, the chancellor carries through with his threat to fire him or her. He did exactly that on January 10 with President Susan Salatto at Southern Union State Community College…
My own experience is simple. I’m always skeptical when I hear a career political figure talk about “corruption” by the other party. Sometimes there really is corruption. Far more often, the cry of “corruption” is being wielded as a battle ax by Party A to remove figures from Party B, so that Party A’s own hacks can be installed. Now ordinarily one can turn to the press to get a read on who’s telling the truth. But in Alabama, the Newhouse papers are the last source to turn to for a fair account about what’s going on. They are full participants in the scam. And so is the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Still, isn’t it amazing that Senator Byrne seems to know about every detail of Alice Martin’s investigations and the charges she’s bringing. Here are just a few quotes pulled from an interview he gave the editors of the Opelika-Auburn News, filling them in on the grand design, which appeared on their website, oanow.com. The piece was mysteriously pulled shortly after I wrote a column pointing to the coordination between the Martin investigation and Republican political figures. Not to worry: thanks to some friends down at Auburn, here is a pdf of the webpage.
Bradley Byrne, the current two-year chancellor, made his comments during a meeting with the editorial board of the Opelika-Auburn News. “I think you will see other people in public life who are caught up in this,” Byrne said…
“The truth in Alabama is we’re just bringing the scoundrels to justice finally,” he said… The chancellor’s visit to Opelika came on a day when U.S. Attorney Alice Martin announced that Joanne Jordan, the former interim president of Southern Union State Community College, had agreed to plead guilty to federal obstruction of justice charges in connection with the Johnson probe.
At least 10 other people have been charged, pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty to federal charges in connection with the Johnson case.
But there’s another interesting feature: Byrne’s own political aspirations. Governor Riley cannot succeed himself as governor. Byrne is widely described as a leading Republican candidate to succeed Riley; his appointment to head the two-year colleges was seen from the beginning as an effort to give him and his campaign effort a leg up in the race. He would work hand-in-glove with the prosecutors and would emerge as the Great Reformer who swept the junior colleges clean of corruption. Call it a political two-fer.
Byrne is not the only Republican officeholder who seems intimately familiar with the U.S. Attorney’s prosecutorial plans. In fact, they seem to be common knowledge among senior figures in the Republican Party of Alabama. Witness these words of wisdom penned by G.O.P. senator Steve French in the Mobile Bay Times:
The looming and much-discussed/anticipated indictments and the resulting corruption trials will have more of an impact on the 2010 legislative races than anything in recent history. I say that presuming (as I do) that the indictments will be as numerous as I have always heard and that 90-plus percent of the indictees will be Dems and will include several in the Dem leadership.
Isn’t that convenient! Alice Martin will be the Republican Party’s deus ex machina, turning back the surging Democrats, and insuring that the G.O.P. finally takes control of the legislature, for the first time since Reconstruction. How ever will Martin be repaid? I’m sure Alice has some ideas.
Martin Bags Another College Figure
On Valentine’s Day, Birmingham U.S. Attorney Alice Martin issued a warm gushy G.O.P. Valentine in the form of a press release announcing she had indicted Joanne Jordan, the former president of one of Alabama’s community colleges, Southern Union Community College in Opelika and secured a plea agreement under which Jordan also agreed to plead guilty to a state-law ethics violation. The offense? Martin alleges that Jordan facilitated the early retirement of the dean of the college’s nursing program. In connection with her early retirement, a contractor is said to have over invoiced. Jordan is said to have testified falsely that Johnson, the former chancellor, and the major target in Martin’s campaign, did not tell her to pay the invoice. Got that? It’s a spectacular crime. It overwhelms the issue of the $12 million that Jack Abramoff pumped into Alabama elections campaigns that somehow Alice Martin’s U.S. Attorney’s office could never quite get around to investigating. Or the allegations of money laundering that Lanny Young leveled at Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions and then Attorney General William Pryor, which likewise never actually managed to get investigated. All of that was, of course, absolutely trivial, compared with a twenty-thousand dollar overbilling by a junior college contractor, which certainly fully merited every penny of the $2 million in taxpayer dollars that was devoted to investigating it. A very wise investment of the taxpayer’s money. After all, it may contribute to a turnover of the state legislature, which would serve the ultimate public good. And that, after all, is what this investigation is all about.
But the real attention grabber comes in this graph:
“Lesson for the day – do not lie to a federal grand jury,” stated U.S. Attorney Alice H. Martin.
Now you’d think that the PR office for the U.S. Attorney, which must be working overtime these days, would have a little more common sense than to put those words into the mouth of Alice Martin. Don’t they know that Martin is under internal investigation for perjury? (Update, April 22, 2008: Harper’s was informed on April 17, 2008 that the perjury investigation against Alice Martin was concluded on November 28, 2007, with a finding by the Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility that Alice Martin “did not commit professional misconduct or exercise poor judgment.” More information on the OPR’s findings is available on this site.)
But readers are likely to draw some of their own conclusions. When Scooter Libby, a senior advisor to President Bush, was prosecuted and convicted of perjury in connection with his outing of a covert CIA agent, Vice President Cheney and his friends lectured all of us patiently that prosecutors only charge perjury when they’ve explored every possible option and have no case. And when they do, it’s obvious that the whole affair is just a political vendetta. (Let’s call that “Cheney’s Rule.”) So if we apply Cheney’s Rule, Martin obviously wasn’t able to come up with any serious dirt on Jordan, since she’s only charged her with a crime that Martin may very well herself have committed under even more serious circumstances. And let’s not forget that President Bush decided to let his man Scooter go right home, brushing off the whole affair as nothing.
I’d say a more astute student of Bush Administration Justice would draw an entirely different conclusion from the one that Alice Martin proposes. That would be that a clever and politically motivated prosecutor can always cook up something to take down a political adversary, but the same rules most decidedly will never be applied to the “home team,” starting, of course, with Alice Martin herself.
The Sacrificial Republican
As I noted earlier, U.S. Attorney Martin has been very diligently trying to identify a Republican to indict. What drives this latest quest is plain enough: the political game she’s playing is, after all, a little too obvious. People are asking questions about it, even in Washington. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if Alice Martin got an invitation to come answer some questions in the Justice Department soon, or perhaps even in front of one or more Judiciary Committees, under oath. But that heightens the pressure: she needs to indict a Republican so she can credibly claim that her campaign is not a partisan political plot. There are two Republicans in prospect, i.e., Republicans who have contracts with the junior college system. Today it seems likely which way she’s decided to go. Here’s a report from Doc’s Political Parlor, which is one of the state’s top political blogs:
In the latest chapter of the 2-year college saga, federal agents raided Rep. Todd Greeson’s office at Northeast Alabama Community College this week while he was in Montgomery, according to legislative insiders. According to the circulating story, his hard drive was taken, and co-workers were served with subpoenas.
He has not been arrested which leads to the speculation that he has not been indicted.
So, between the two Republicans, why did Alice Martin go with Greeson? Another very strong Alabama political blog, The Legal Schnauzer, offers an answer to that question:
How did Greeson get on the wrong side of the Republican power structure in Alabama? The following Associated Press story from 2005 provides plenty of insight:
Republican lawmakers threaten to censure GOP member
By BOB JOHNSON, Associated Press Writer
MONTGOMERY, Ala.–Leaders of the House Republican Caucus have threatened to censure a Republican lawmaker who had said he planned to vote with Democrats on a procedural vote that GOP members had hoped to use to block consideration of a funding bill.
Rep. Todd Greeson, R-Ider, said he’d told Republican Caucus leaders that it’s important to the people in his working-class northeast Alabama district for the Legislature to pass spending plans for state government during the current session. “There are 16 public schools in my district. It’s important to get the budgets passed for them,” Greeson said.
So there you have it, a Republican who refuses to march in lock-step with his caucus. The obvious target. Once more, Alice Martin comes through in a way that will leave the G.O.P. rank-and-file cheering. It’s a shame for poor Mr. Greeson, of course, but he needs to understand that his sacrifice is all to the greater glory of the Party.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
Chance that a U.S. criminologist thinks abolishing the death penalty would increase the murder rate:
Villagers in Bangladesh found a missing woman halfway down a python’s throat.
The FAA announced it would investigate an 18-year-old Connecticut man who posted a YouTube video showing a homemade drone firing a handgun.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”