Some friends down in Alabama chide me justifiably for failing to note what may be the single most striking editorial run today in the Heart of Dixie. It comes from the pages of what I’ve long considered the best independent paper in Alabama, The Anniston Star, and it addresses our topic head-on.
The editorial starts with a recounting of the October 1999 referendum on a state lottery to support education, which was at the heart of Governor Don Siegelman’s political agenda. It went down to defeat. But that entire controversy was a considerably darker and more twisted tale than Alabama’s major papers let on. In fact, it was in connection with that referendum that I first heard of the efforts to ensnare Don Siegelman – hatched in Washington. Several years later, I was doing some work to support Senator John McCain, and he and his staff were deeply enmeshed in a study of Jack Abramoff and his manipulation of Indian casino gambling interests for political purposes. Siegelman and his education lottery initiative were very bitter adversaries for Abramoff and his team.
And the federal prosecutors who were going after Abramoff? Well, let’s just say for the moment that there’s a very strange tale to be unfolded. And at its core is the fact that these federal prosecutors were obsessed – not with the pursuit of justice though the heavens may fall – but with stemming the political hemorrhaging coming out of the Abramoff investigation. They were concerned about the damage it was doing to the Republican Party, and they were particularly concerned about Don Siegelman, a Democrat who seemed to work magic down in territory they had taken for their new heartland. The solution was therefore to cook up something to take down Siegelman. And that’s exactly what they did.
That’s springing several chapters ahead in a story which needs to unfold, in its sordidness, very steadily over the coming months.
However, the Anniston Star piece is prescient, because it’s pointing exactly where I believe this entire scandal is headed: deep into the Department of Justice, an institution whose deeds no longer bear much relationship to its name, and its very improper relationship with the unholy redeemer of the Alabama GOP, Karl Rove.
But now for the Star and its analysis:
Tarnishing political foes is a job for politicians, not for partisan prosecutors. The pursuit of Siegelman by the offices of Bush-appointed U.S. attorneys, aggressive as it might be, cannot be dismissed as pure politics. Siegelman and Scrushy might be guilty, as a jury found them. However, evidence is growing that the partisan politics that has infected the Justice Department during President Bush’s time in office might play a role here. According to one survey examining the prosecution of politicians during the Bush years, seven Democrats have been charged by the feds for every Republican prosecuted.
Add to that the firings of U.S. attorneys who declined GOP demands to pursue bogus charges against Democrats.
Add to that the close relationship with Karl Rove to the nastier side of Alabama politics.
Add to that accusations from a north Alabama Republican lawyer, who claims a big-time Republican player in the state hinted in 2002 that Siegelman would be taken care of by federal prosecutors.
Add to that the non-pursuit of campaign cash money-launderers on the other side of the 1999 lottery vote.
Putting all this together doesn’t clear Siegelman or Scrushy. It does raise questions, tons of them. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, ought to follow the advice of a former Arizona attorney general. Grant Woods, a Republican, told the Los Angeles Times, “From start to finish, this case has been riddled with irregularities. It does not pass the smell test.” His counsel: “Congressional committees ought to investigate what in the world went on in this case.”
This page agrees, and so does the concept of equal justice under the law.