Javert's Wailings | 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]

Javert’s Wailings


Anyone wanting to know why nearly fifty state attorneys general from around the United States have petitioned the Congress demanding an investigation into the outrageous, politically motivated prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman need look no further than a press release issued today by the U.S. Attorney in the Middle District of Alabama.

The document needs to be studied carefully and in its entirety. It is an astonishing series of false statements, delusional half-truths and internal contradictions, all rolled out on the letterhead of the Department of Justice, and delivered in the tone of a hysterical rant. None of this would surprise close followers of this case. After all, this is the prosecutor who slammed down the receiver when several of my journalist colleagues attempted to interview him and ask questions about some of his previous evasions. And the prosecutor whose personal taste for courtroom theatrics included having the governor taken from the courtroom in chains and manacles before the assembled press.

Some of the more notable falsehoods are his repeated and repeatedly contradicted claims to have made all the decisions himself (when previously he admitted the critical involvement, guidance and oversight of the Public Integrity Section at the Gonzales Justice Department), his screwy time tables which pass into convenient oblivion all the dealings of Alice Martin in the Northern District, and the deep involvement of Leura Canary in the case which he—allegedly—has managed (which hasn’t of course stopped Mrs. William Canary from giving press interviews about it, engaging in social chatter about it at GOP functions, nor indeed of being present and smiling at the press conferences which this fine autonomous prosecutor so frequently convened to hype his case). The fact that a prominent and highly respected federal judge openly questioned the political charade that was going on in this case likewise gets no mention. Even Governor Siegelman, he says, questioned the affidavit of Republican lawyer Jill Simpson, the whistleblower on this whole farce. Another lie.

A responsible prosecutor has a duty to the public and the truth first. He has a duty to subordinate his personal vanity to the interests of justice.
A responsible prosecutor with integrity would have been disturbed by the allegations in the Simpson affidavit, and would have investigated them. The statement issued today reflects no effort to do that. It reflects a particularly unbecoming mixture of arrogance and ignorance; a casual willingness to wield the vast power invested in the office of United States Attorney in the interests of personal pique. Which is why this press release can be taken as still another exhibit in the now commanding case that the prosecution was abusive. But there is much, much more still to emerge in this matter.

And then we come to the crux of it: the federal prosecutor’s beef with the press. The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Time Magazine–need we mention Harper’s–are all rotten publications, because they ask questions that the prosecutor can’t answer, and that he finds it insulting to be asked. “The lack of journalistic integrity on the part of national news outlets in reporting this story could subvert justice and undermine valid convictions,” he says.

On the other hand, all media isn’t bad in the view of this prosecutor. The Alabama GOP’s mouthpiece media, consisting particularly of the Birmingham News and the Mobile Press-Register and two specific reporters, are singled out for praise and reinforcement. Funny–isn’t it?–how this prosecutor worked hand-in-glove with two reporters on a partisan vendetta at two Republican newspapers throughout this supposedly “independent” prosecution—and how these newspapers steadily published and prominently flogged the results of his “independent” investigation and prosecution. In fact, the more-than-curious relationship between this prosecutor and the partisan press in Alabama is one of strongest signs of irregularity from the outset. Together, these reporters and the prosecutor built a case of smoke and mirrors, and the reporters then peddled it to the public as something serious. And this was coupled with oh-so-pious editorials urging the public to express outrage over this horrible and unfaithful governor, and embrace all the more readily the wonderful, upright and moral Republican governor who replaced him. The Republican governor, that is, who arrived in office on the shoulders of Jack Abramoff.

The lovefest is returned. The Birmingham News has promptly posted the entire statement. They even posted all the PDF attachments that the prosecutor put up. This is what we call “fair” and “balanced” reporting.

More from