No Comment — November 5, 2007, 2:01 am

Javert’s Amazing Pirouettes

In the last two weeks, we’ve learned that Javert obviously missed his calling. He’s a prosecutor to outward appearances. But observe his wild gyrations. He spins first one way, and then in the opposite direction. He spins so quickly, you can hardly watch his lips move. How many different accounts can Javert spin in a single week? Can you keep count of them all? Obviously, Javert’s true calling is not the law. It’s ballet.

Louis Franklin, the lead prosecutor in the office of U.S. Attorney Leura Canary in Montgomery on the Siegelman case has defended charges that the prosecution of the former governor was politically driven with the same refrain. “Career prosecutors, not political appointees, made all the calls,” he says.

Unfortunately for Franklin, it now appears that the most senior career prosecutors didn’t adopt the views he took as a proxy for his political superiors–they didn’t think there was a case to be brought against Siegelman. In the last ten days, the Birmingham News grudgingly acknowledged that the two senior career prosecutors on the case, John W. Scott and Charles Niven, had concluded there was no case against Siegelman.

And on Friday, in an interview with the Associated Press, Franklin gave up another critical defect in his tale.

The chief prosecutor in the corruption case against former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman says Justice Department attorneys were reluctant to call a special grand jury to investigate the Siegelman administration, as urged by local federal prosecutors.

The new Franklin spin is that all this points to a split between Montgomery and Washington, that Montgomery was pushing for an indictment and Washington was against it.

That’s nonsense. The dynamics of this case have consistently pitted political appointees against career DOJ professionals, and whether the professions were in Washington, Montgomery, or any other office never had much to do with it. No one questions that there were a few career employees eager to advance their careers by doing their bosses’ bidding. That’s the way bureaucracies work, and the Department of Justice is no exception. And Franklin has now conceded that the political appointees, from his boss Leura Canary, to the Public Integrity Section chief, now Judge, Noel Hillman, and to other senior political appointees at Justice, were pushing the case forward. He has conceded that he worked closely and directly with one senior political appointee in particular—Hillman. All of this matches perfectly with the testimony (sworn, unlike Franklin’s hastily offered and contradictory remarks) of former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones that Franklin told him that the Montgomery team viewed the case as at an end, before word came down from Washington to look it over again. Here’s how the AP piece summarizes those allegations:

Jones said Friday he still believes the case was moved back to the fast burner in Washington in 2004 after there was a change in leadership in the Justice Department’s public integrity section, which had been sending attorneys to Montgomery to help with the investigation. “All of a sudden it got kicked into high gear with all new allegations. I don’t know what happened,” Jones said. “I do know there are documents in the Justice Department that would show one way or the other. Why not just turn over those documents.”

Moreover, Jones’s testimony matches perfectly with the sworn testimony of G.O.P. operative Jill Simpson, who describes Karl Rove asking Noel Hillman to insure “resources” were provided to the case at just this time. We’re far past the tipping point. Jones’s and Simpson’s accounts are extremely credible. And Franklin’s is preposterous. Which brings us back to the dead giveaway: the decision to stonewall the Judiciary Committee’s request for the documents. A retired senior Justice Department attorney told me just a few days ago, that those documents would show that senior career lawyers at Justice were extremely skeptical about the very unseemly push to prosecute Siegelman. And Franklin just gave up the ghost on that point, too: my source was right.

That leaves Franklin’s untenable claim that he alone called the shots, a claim at this point which no one believes, including Franklin himself. It is contradicted not only by his own sworn statements to the district court, but also the official reports filed by Noel Hillman with Congress in 2005 and 2006, in which Hillman asserted that he was exercising control over the Siegelman case. Those reports can be visited at the Department of Justice’s website. They make for very interesting reading, particularly the statements describing the need for Main Justice to run the case. Hillman tells Congress:

At times, however, it may be inappropriate for the local U.S. Attorney’s office to handle a particular corruption case. A successful public corruption prosecution requires both the appearance and the reality of fairness and impartiality.

Quite true. And at this point the public view is crystallizing, with the benefit of Congressional inquiries and journalistic research. We’re far from having all the facts, thanks mostly to the steady obstruction coming from the Montgomery U.S. Attorney’s office. But the bottom line is plain enough. The Siegelman case involved neither the appearance nor the reality of impartiality. The best case for what happened would be to say it was a dazzling display of bad judgment in which professional standards collapsed in front of political pressure. But it may ultimately prove to be something far worse than that.

Franklin obviously thinks that the best qualities of a civil servant consist of covering up for his political bosses and protecting them from the storm which has already erupted. That certainly is a short-sighted–but often enough effective–approach to advancing on a bureaucratic ladder. But maybe the best qualities of a prosecutor are those outlined by Robert H. Jackson—demonstrating independence, dedication to justice, and avoiding any political efforts to taint the prosecutorial process. There’s barely a trace of those qualities here.

In any event, a man of Javert’s age and dimensions looks pretty ridiculous dancing pirouettes. The issues at hand are deadly serious. They call for candor, not spin.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 167 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

December 2017

The Year of The Frog

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Dead Ball Situation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Document of Barbarism

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Destroyer of Worlds

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Crossing Guards

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I am Here Only for Working”

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Destroyer of Worlds·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In February 1947, Harper’s Magazine published Henry L. Stimson’s “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb.” As secretary of war, Stimson had served as the chief military adviser to President Truman, and recommended the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The terms of his unrepentant apologia, an excerpt of which appears on page 35, are now familiar to us: the risk of a dud made a demonstration too risky; the human cost of a land invasion would be too high; nothing short of the bomb’s awesome lethality would compel Japan to surrender. The bomb was the only option. Seventy years later, we find his reasoning unconvincing. Entirely aside from the destruction of the blasts themselves, the decision thrust the world irrevocably into a high-stakes arms race — in which, as Stimson took care to warn, the technology would proliferate, evolve, and quite possibly lead to the end of modern civilization. The first half of that forecast has long since come to pass, and the second feels as plausible as ever. Increasingly, the atmosphere seems to reflect the anxious days of the Cold War, albeit with more juvenile insults and more colorful threats. Terms once consigned to the history books — “madman theory,” “brinkmanship” — have returned to the news cycle with frightening regularity. In the pages that follow, seven writers and experts survey the current nuclear landscape. Our hope is to call attention to the bomb’s ever-present menace and point our way toward a world in which it finally ceases to exist.

Illustration by Darrel Rees. Source photographs: Kim Jong-un © ITAR-TASS Photo Agency/Alamy Stock Photo; Donald Trump © Yuri Gripas/Reuters/Newscom
Article
Crossing Guards·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Ambassador Bridge arcs over the Detroit River, connecting Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, the southernmost city in Canada. Driving in from the Canadian side, where I grew up, is like viewing a panorama of the Motor City’s rise and fall, visible on either side of the bridge’s turquoise steel stanchions. On the right are the tubular glass towers of the Renaissance Center, headquarters of General Motors, and Michigan Central Station, the rail terminal that closed in 1988. On the left is a rusted industrial corridor — fuel tanks, docks, abandoned warehouses. I have taken this route all my life, but one morning this spring, I crossed for the first time in a truck.

Illustration by Richard Mia
Article
“I am Here Only for Working”·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

But the exercise of labor is the worker’s own life-activity, the manifestation of his own life. . . . He works in order to live. He does not even reckon labor as part of his life, it is rather a sacrifice of his life.

— Karl Marx

Photograph from the United Arab Emirates by the author. This page: Ruwais Mall
Article
The Year of The Frog·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

To look at him, Sweet Macho was a beautiful horse, lean and strong with muscles that twitched beneath his shining black coat. A former racehorse, he carried himself with ceremony, prancing the field behind our house as though it were the winner’s circle. When he approached us that day at the edge of the yard, his eyes shone with what might’ve looked like intelligence but was actually a form of insanity. Not that there was any telling our mother’s boyfriend this — he fancied himself a cowboy.

“Horse 1,” by Nine Francois. Courtesy the artist and AgavePrint, Austin, Texas
Article
Dead Ball Situation·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

What We Think About When We Think About Soccer, by Simon Critchley. Penguin Books. 224 pages. $20.

Begin, as Wallace Stevens didn’t quite say, with the idea of it. I so like the idea of Simon Critchley, whose books offer philosophical takes on a variety of subjects: Stevens, David Bowie, suicide, humor, and now football — or soccer, as the US edition has it. (As a matter of principle I shall refer to this sport throughout as football.) “All of us are mysteriously affected by our names,” decides one of Milan Kundera’s characters in Immortality, and I like Critchley because his name would seem to have put him at a vocational disadvantage compared with Martin Heidegger, Søren Kierkegaard, or even, in the Anglophone world, A. J. Ayer or Richard Rorty. (How different philosophy might look today if someone called Nobby Stiles had been appointed as the Wykeham Professor of Logic.)

Tostão, No. 9, and Pelé, No. 10, celebrate Carlos Alberto’s final goal for Brazil in the World Cup final against Italy on June 21, 1970, Mexico City © Heidtmann/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Factor by which single Americans who use emoji are more likely than other single Americans to be sexually active:

1.85

Brontosaurus was restored as a genus, and cannibalism was reported in tyrannosaurine dinosaurs.

Moore said he did not “generally” date teenage girls, and it was reported that in the 1970s Moore had been banned from his local mall and YMCA for bothering teenage girls.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Report — From the June 2013 issue

How to Make Your Own AR-15

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"Gun owners have long been the hypochondriacs of American politics. Over the past twenty years, the gun-rights movement has won just about every battle it has fought; states have passed at least a hundred laws loosening gun restrictions since President Obama took office. Yet the National Rifle Association has continued to insist that government confiscation of privately owned firearms is nigh. The NRA’s alarmism helped maintain an active membership, but the strategy was risky: sooner or later, gun guys might have realized that they’d been had. Then came the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, followed swiftly by the nightmare the NRA had been promising for decades: a dedicated push at every level of government for new gun laws. The gun-rights movement was now that most insufferable of species: a hypochondriac taken suddenly, seriously ill."

Subscribe Today