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Did DOJ Retaliate Against Siegelman Whistleblower?

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In a nine-page June 1, 2009 letter to her boss, Attorney General Eric Holder, Tamarah Grimes, a member of the Justice Department team that prosecuted former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, itemized an astonishing list of acts of misconduct by her colleagues as they developed what they called “the Big Case.”

  • Two key witnesses were cajoled, coached, and pressured to change their testimony to better support the charges. This specifically included the key evidence given by one witness on which Siegelman was convicted. But, as Grimes notes, the witness in fact had no recollection of the events–he was pressured to recount them in a way that suited the prosecutors.

  • Documents were purloined from a Waste Management site.

  • Members of the prosecution team communicated directly with a pro-prosecution juror while the case was pending and afterwards.

  • Every aspect of the case was overseen by U.S. Attorney Canary. She had nominally recused herself from the case because her husband, a friend of Karl Rove and the most prominent G.O.P. elections advisor in Alabama, was advising a campaign against Siegelman for which the prosecution provided essential grist.

Eight days after submitting these meticulously documented complaints, many of which echo concerns stated by others in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Montgomery, Grimes received a reply of sorts. She was fired. Grimes notes in a press release that she was informed of her dismissal in a letter from Terry Derden of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys. Derden formally denies that Grimes’s dismissal is related to her status as a whistleblower. On the other hand, his denial is pretty thin gruel. According to the Grimes press release, the decision to fire “arose from a management decision made [in an] after-hours meeting in the lobby bar at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Montgomery, Alabama.” That meeting occurred on November 1, 2007, and it was an all-in-the-family affair, involving U.S. Attorney Leura Canary and her then first deputy Patricia Watson. Watson is married to Leura Canary’s first cousin, and both Canary and Watson were the direct targets of Grimes’s whistleblower complaints. The appearance of an act of retaliation could not be stronger.

According to the Justice Department, Grimes was terminated because she presented “an unreasonable risk to operational security.” The Justice Department apparently reached that conclusion because of her denunciation of the “victory at all costs” tactics adopted by the Public Integrity Section, and her objection to juror tampering, witness cajoling, and similar criminal capers also provided justification for termination of her security clearance. The Justice Department’s conduct looks increasingly like a Sicilian mob group: you commit the crimes the bosses order and you keep quiet about it, or the consequences will be fearsome. The No Fear Act purports to shield whistleblowers from acts of retaliation against employees who disclose misconduct. However, the clever consigliere of the Bush Justice Department, who amazingly continue to control all aspects of the case involving Siegelman five months into a new Democratic administration (including Leura Canary, who is still on the job in Montgomery), are not about to be stopped by legislation that protects whistleblowers. They detected the chink in the armor: the decision to terminate security clearance is not reviewable in a whistleblower setting. And once security clearance is lifted, it becomes very easy to fire the person involved.

In response to an inquiry about the Grimes termination, Justice Department spokesman Tracy Schmaler states, “The Department takes seriously its obligation under the whistleblower law and did not violate it with regards to the termination of this employee. For privacy reasons, it would be inappropriate to comment any further on this personnel matter at this time.”

I provide more background on Tamarah Grimes’s disclosures of misconduct in the Siegelman prosecution in One of the Siegelman Prosecution Team Comes in From the Cold and What the Justice Department is Hiding.

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