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U.S. Attorneys Scandal—Birmingham and Montgomery

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There’s something dark and unseemly in the Heart of Dixie. The Assistant U.S. Attorney who handled the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman–a matter which has now moved to the front burner of the U.S. Attorneys corruption scandal–has issued a remarkably limp and unconvincing statement in reply to the articles published by the New York Times and Time Magazine at the end of last week and over the weekend. It’s a curious exercise in halfhearted negatives. He starts by quoting himself, and noting that he’s not read the attorney’s affidavit that started the whole affair–a rather amazing confession of lack of diligence, considering that the document is internet ubiquitous–and he therefore declines to respond to it. That, of course, is just where the document should have stopped. Instead it goes on to insist that “I have never spoken with or even met with Karl Rove.” And on that point–which is emerging as the “I did not have sex with that woman” of the current scandal–his statement bears the unmistakable echoes of Monica Goodling, who also had no meetings or discussions with Mr. Rove, even as she served as his principal implementer in the affair. Count me decidedly unconvinced, or rather persuaded that a careful wall of unsworn evasions and halftruths is being constructed around something very unseemly.

Another fact suggests why this unsworn statement deserves to be met with complete skepticism: in response to a FOIA request for documents focusing on the interaction of the White House with the Alabama federal prosecutors, the Department of Justice responded by a blanket refusal. Not a denial that any documents existed. A refusal to turn them over. There is a cover-up underway here, and a genuinely detached prosecutor needs to be appointed to get to the bottom of it. Starting with a careful examination of the email and other written communications concerning the matter and interviews of the two U.S. Attorneys involved, Mr. Canary and Mr. Rove.

I don’t rule out the possibility that the Assistant U.S. Attorney here is stating the truth. But even if he is, I don’t accept–particularly not in light of the gravity of the sworn accusations, presented by a Republican attorney and not yet meaningfully contradicted by any sworn denials–that this means the prosecution was not tainted by politically oriented misconduct. Mr. Rove and his team are nothing if not supremely competent bureaucratic manipulators. They know how to accomplish their mission without leaving easily gleaned evidence at the scene of the crime. Which is why skepticism and careful scrutiny are the order of the day, and simple brush-off statements like this one should be–simply bushed-off.

Time was when we could trust a federal prosecutor to act with professional detachment and avoid even the appearance of political gamesmanship. That time has clearly passed.

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