[No Comment ]U.S. Attorneys Scandal–Birmingham and Montgomery | Harper's Magazine

Sign in to access Harper’s Magazine

Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?

  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.

Locked out of your account? Get help here.

Subscribers can find additional help here.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!

Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
Subscribe for Full Access
Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
[No Comment]

U.S. Attorneys Scandal–Birmingham and Montgomery


There is a case south of the Mason-Dixon line that resembles the Thompson case in some respects, except that the prosecutorial misconduct appears if anything more serious and more pervasive. In fact, the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman looks like the material for a novel by Dickens’s friend Wilkie Collins, something on the order of The Lady in White: it involves dark, carefully contrived conspiracies which knit together a number of state’s Republican political bigwigs, Karl Rove (who of course achieved a political rebirth of sorts by managing elections in Alabama in which he worked with just the crew involved in the Siegelman conspiracy), and various Department of Justice officials.

Added to all this the unmistakable signs of judicial forum shopping. The case was first brought before a judge in Northern Alabama, who threw it out, raising a number of issues yet unanswered. The prosecutors responded to this rebuff by fishing for a judge more to their liking, and on their next try they landed a federal judge with deep roots in Alabama Republican politics, a relatively shallow judicial résumé and a more-than-indulgent attitude towards the prosecutors.

And a still unrebutted sworn declaration by a Republican attorney firmly links Karl Rove to the whole grand design – as its ringmaster.

As in the Thompson case, this one went to trial on bizarrely thin evidence and “come-again” accusations, and it produced a conviction. The core allegation is that HealthSouth Corp. executive Richard Scrushy was appointed to the Alabama Certificate of Need Board, which governs hospital expansions, and that in exchange for this appointment he gave a donation to the Alabama Education Foundation, an organization then promoting the use of the lottery to raise money for educational expenses in the Heart of Dixie. There is no allegation that the appointment was anything other than a public service position, and in fact HealthSouth Corp. had no interests before it. Moreover, Scrushy, a fixture in the state’s healthcare system, had previously been appointed to the same board by three governors. Similarly, there was no benefit to Siegelman or to his election efforts. You might say that Scrushy was supporting Siegelman’s favorite charity, of course. Still, you’d be right to demand to know just exactly how this is “corrupt.” It’s the same sort of hysterical overreaching that marked the Thompson case, not the sort of calm assessment that would be made by a balanced, fair federal prosecutor.

There was also essentially unrefuted evidence of serious misconduct by the jury involving the circulation of improper emails reflecting predeliberation and contamination of the case with outside manipulation. For another federal judge, this evidence might well have resulted in a decision to throw the verdict out. But not the judge sitting in the Siegelman case. These and other remarkable issues with the Siegelman case are spread out in an op-ed published yesterday in the Montgomery Advertiser by Julian McPhillips, a former Scrushy lawyer. I’ve taken some time to look at them and found that every one of Mr. McPhillips’s allegations is accurate. Taken together, they convert this case into a three-alarm fire.

Moreover, let’s compare the allegations against Siegelman with Abramoff’s funneling of millions in campaign contributions from Native American tribes in Mississippi into the political coffers of Siegelman’s opponent – Alabama Governor Bob Riley – going on at just this time. In exchange, Riley was expected to intervene to shut down the gambling aspirations of some of his own Alabama constituents. And Riley did just as he was bade to do. Now that’s corruption. And what did the U.S. Attorney in Montgomery, who brought the case against Siegelman, do about that? Well, she seems to have actually been a potential actor in connection with the corruption, having secured appointment to a licensing board which would control the question. And her tight links to Siegelman’s political nemesis, Riley, are uncontested. She is in fact the wife of one of Karl Rove’s bosom buddies, a leading mover in the Alabama GOP, William Canary.

Prosecutors handling the Siegelman case sought a thirty-year sentence for Siegelman, arguing that it was “part of a systematic and pervasive corruption” of public office. As things stand right now, Siegelman has been convicted, but the far more potent evidence of systematic and pervasive corruption points to the conduct of the justice officials handling this case. It’s about time to start a serious investigation of this whole prosecution, from the beginning.

And no, there isn’t a person in the country who would have any confidence in the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility to do that job. It requires a special prosecutor of unquestioned integrity and independence with no attachments to Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzales or Alabama Republican politics. I have two trustworthy Republicans in mind for the job: David Iglesias of New Mexico and John McKay of Seattle.

More from