No Comment — March 9, 2008, 7:07 am

Alice Martin’s War

Imagine this scene. A wannabe autocrat faces a legislature dominated by his political opposition. He fixes elections with gusto, throws his opponents in the jail with regularity, and an opposition leader is even viciously assaulted on the floor of the senate. All to no avail. It seems the people like the idea of divided government. So then tyrannus rex decides to get still more ruthless—the opposition is all enmeshed in some criminal conspiracy, his sock puppet press starts to announce. And one day, law officers charge onto the floor of the legislature as it is in session to serve warrants on a large block of members, and as it turns out just the members he’s most eager to get rid of. Lukashenko’s Belarus, perhaps? Or some forgotten banana republic?

Well, no, actually. This all really happened in George W. Bush’s America. In one of the fifty states. Indeed, in the first state by roll call: Alabama.

In “Vote Machine,” my feature in the current issue of Harper’s, I discuss the steps by which the Justice Department lost sight of its principal mission of law enforcement and was converted over a six year period into a gleaming machine for the purpose of manipulating elections. Some of this has been discussed previously—for instance, the decision to gut the Civil Rights Division so that an operation which once existed to protect minority voters was now actually turned against them, bolstering and helping to drive through redistricting plans that helped net a series of additional seats in the House of Representatives in the 2004 elections; actively suppressing minority voter turnout through an aggressively mounted, and ultimately fraudulent “voter fraud” scheme. To this is added the process of stuffing the ranks of the department with political hacks hired into career positions; a series of high-profile selective prosecutions of political opponents, and the careful suppression of criminal investigations which could be damaging to the G.O.P.

But the single most spectacular political perversion of the mechanics of the Department of Justice started in Alabama and is still running strong this very week. In the Heart of Dixie, one of the reddest of the Red states, the G.O.P. decided that the Justice Department furnished all the tools it needed to achieve its long-cherished plan of taking over the state legislature. The Alabama G.O.P.’s march for a political lock on Alabama politics began in the early nineties with a playbook authored by Karl Rove. As Joshua Green detailed in a masterful piece in The Atlantic, Rove saw a clear path for political victory in Alabama, and it ran straight through the chamber of commerce and judicial elections. The Clintons still held sway in Washington, but Rove was laying the groundwork for a permanent Republican majority in Alabama. The second stage involved taking the governorship, which was achieved in 2002 and repeated in 2006, on both occasions with vital support from Washington. At the core of this effort was the Justice Department’s highly dubious prosecution of Don E. Siegelman, pursued with the involvement of Karl Rove and aggressively championed by William Canary’s “girls,” namely, his wife Leura Canary, and client Alice Martin, the state’s two U.S. attorneys.

Now the third phase of this campaign is moving into high gear. The third phase is being pursued with the backing of the three essential pillars of the Alabama Republican establishment. First, the party machinery proper, with the support of Governor Riley and one of the key prospects to succeed him, state Senator Bradley Byrne. Second, Alice Martin, the U.S. Attorney in Birmingham. And third, the Birmingham News, the Republicans’ principal media mouthpiece. The essential theme of this campaign is “those corrupt Democrats.” The essence of Democratic corruption is simple: they teach at junior colleges! This means that they “double-dip,” taking a second salary. Now, virtually every member of the legislature takes a second salary. But in the brain-dead Koolaid-dispensing rhetoric of the G.O.P./Birmingham News, there is something inherently corrupt about taking a salary for teaching at a junior college. And note that it’s fine if the other paycheck comes from a four-year college, for instance.

What’s so special about the junior colleges? You just have to look at the numbers. The legislators who work in the junior college system are almost entirely Democrats. And a good many of them are African-American. So there you have it: two groups targeted for elimination. The theme is spun through a campaign to “clean up” the state’s junior college system. The targets consist essentially of a group of Alabama state representatives who work in junior colleges. They will be tarred as “corrupt double-dippers” and a special effort will be made to take each of these seats.

Of course, in the old days, the Justice Department would raise a fit about a scheme that aims to disenfranchise state legislators, and particularly those from a racial minority. However, in the Bush Administration, the Voting Rights Section will never step in the way of a plan likely to elect more Republicans to office. Consequently, the Voting Rights Division advised Alabama last Friday that it had no problem with a rule that would preclude those who draw a salary from teaching at a junior college from serving in the state legislature. This move should be good for a solid half-dozen G.O.P. seats in the next election.

Indeed, the modern Alabama G.O.P. doesn’t believe in going into the field the old-fashioned way–by identifying a strong candidate to stand in the district, raising money for a campaign, and contesting the seat on the issues. This approach is entirely too expensive and speculative. The new strategy involves using tax-payer resources to trash political opponents. The U.S. Department of Justice is to conduct criminal investigations, the essence of which is meticulously leaked to the cooperating press in an effort to smear Democratic political figures. A couple of Republicans are being thrown in for good measure, as an imagined defense against the obvious charge of political manipulation. Alice Martin has prepared a dozen or more grand jury subpoenas to sitting legislators.

As this was getting underway, Martin conferred with her staff about a media spectacular. She described a plan to send a platoon of federal marshals, backed up by television media crews, into the Statehouse to serve subpoenas on law-makers on the floor of the legislature. This would be carefully timed just to make the evening news.

And on Thursday the appointed day arrived. Martin directed that her action plan go into effect. She dispatched a group of federal marshals to Montgomery, accompanied by a television crew, with instructions to go serve grand jury subpoenas on a large group of mostly Democratic legislators. Then the plan went amiss. The Speaker of the state house, instructed the chamber’s own law enforcement personnel to bar the way, and Martin’s grandstanding was blocked. It didn’t make the evening news. Martin’s media hopes were crushed.

The Tuscaloosa News has more on the story, and a list of those subpoenaed.

Martin’s effort is fully and continuously coordinated with senior figures in the Republican Party, and no effort is made to disguise this fact. Martin’s key political control in the process continues to be Bradley Byrne, a senior G.O.P. political figure likely to seek the Governor’s mansion, and the man “hand-picked” by Governor Bob Riley to “deal with” the junior colleges. Martin appears to coordinate every step in her schemes with Byrne. According to an account by the Associated Press, Byrne actually “arranges the service” of subpoenas for Martin, and most recently facilitated her raid on a state legislator’s office inside a local junior college. These measures dispense even with a pretense that the Martin campaign is divorced from a partisan political calculus.

The Birmingham News continues to play media management for Martin and Byrne and works strenuously to furnish an air of plausibility to what is in fact a political scheme of exceptional crudeness. And it’s curious that the News, reporting on the issuance of subpoenas on Thursday, decided that in the end its readers didn’t need to know all the sordid little details of Martin’s hare-brained plot. So the whole little escapade in which marshals were dispatched to the statehouse to deliver up Martin’s subpoenas went down one of those little memory sinkholes for which the Birmingham News is now so famous.

But indeed, it was an essential fact. Nothing else that Martin has done in the last several months has betrayed quite so comprehensively her partisan political motivations. And now, it’s time for Congress to take up this issue.

My former partner, Michael Mukasey, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee with a promise that the tools of the Justice Department would not be used for partisan political games while he was installed as Attorney General. But Alice Martin has made a cuckold of her boss the Attorney General. And now it’s time for Congressional oversight to shine a very bright light on Ms. Martin, her still-uninvestigated perjury problems (Update, April 22, 2008: Harper’s was informed on April 17, 2008 that the perjury investigation against Alice Martin was concluded on November 28, 2007, with a finding by the Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility that Alice Martin “did not commit professional misconduct or exercise poor judgment.” More information on the OPR’s findings is available on this site.) and the various political schemes that dot her political landscape–from a Democratic governor to a small army of Democratic legislators. Martin has concluded that the tools of justice exist to enable her to do the dirty work of a political party and to make good her own escape into party politics when her term as U.S. attorney lapses, as it will in only a few months. Her betrayal of the public trust is breath-taking, and it should not go without a challenge.

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 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

February 2020

Trumpism After Trump

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“My Gang Is Jesus”

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Cancer Chair

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Birds

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Skinning Tree

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Interpretation of Dreams

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Dearest Lizzie

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Trumpism After Trump·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The city was not beautiful; no one made that claim for it. At the height of summer, people in suits, shellacked by the sun, moved like harassed insects to avoid the concentrated light. There was a civil war–like fracture in America—the president had said so—but little of it showed in the capital. Everyone was polite and smooth in their exchanges. The corridor between Dupont Circle and Georgetown was like the dream of Yugoslav planners: long blocks of uniform earth-toned buildings that made the classical edifices of the Hill seem the residue of ancestors straining for pedigree. Bunting, starched and perfectly ruffled in red-white-and-blue fans, hung everywhere—from air conditioners, from gutters, from statues of dead revolutionaries. Coming from Berlin, where the manual laborers are white, I felt as though I was entering the heart of a caste civilization. Untouchables in hard hats drilled into sidewalks, carried pylons, and ate lunch from metal boxes, while waiters in restaurants complimented old respectable bobbing heads on how well they were progressing with their rib eyes and iceberg wedges.

I had come to Washington to witness either the birth of an ideology or what may turn out to be the passing of a kidney stone through the Republican Party. There was a new movement afoot: National Conservatives, they called themselves, and they were gathering here, at the Ritz-Carlton, at 22nd Street and M. Disparate tribes had posted up for the potlatch: reformacons, blood-and-soilers, curious liberal nationalists, “Austrians,” repentant neocons, evangelical Christians, corporate raiders, cattle ranchers, Silicon Valley dissidents, Buckleyites, Straussians, Orthodox Jews, Catholics, Mormons, Tories, dark-web spiders, tradcons, Lone Conservatives, Fed-Socs, Young Republicans, Reaganites in amber. Most straddled more than one category.

Article
The Cancer Chair·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The second-worst thing about cancer chairs is that they are attached to televisions. Someone somewhere is always at war with silence. It’s impossible to read, so I answer email, or watch some cop drama on my computer, or, if it seems unavoidable, explore the lives of my nurses. A trip to Cozumel with old girlfriends, a costume party with political overtones, an advanced degree on the internet: they’re all the same, these lives, which is to say that the nurses tell me nothing, perhaps because amid the din and pain it’s impossible to say anything of substance, or perhaps because they know that nothing is precisely what we both expect. It’s the very currency of the place. Perhaps they are being excruciatingly candid.

There is a cancer camaraderie I’ve never felt. That I find inimical, in fact. Along with the official optimism that percolates out of pamphlets, the milestone celebrations that seem aimed at children, the lemonade people squeeze out of their tumors. My stoniness has not always served me well. Among the cancer staff, there is special affection for the jocular sufferer, the one who makes light of lousy bowel movements and extols the spiritual tonic of neuropathy. And why not? Spend your waking life in hell, and you too might cherish the soul who’d learned to praise the flames. I can’t do it. I’m not chipper by nature, and just hearing the word cancer makes me feel like I’m wearing a welder’s mask.

Article
“My Gang Is Jesus”·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

When Demétrio Martins was ready to preach, he pushed a joystick that angled the seat of his wheelchair forward, slowly lifting him to a standing position. Restraints held his body upright. His atrophied right arm lay on an armrest, and with his left hand, he put a microphone to his lips. “Proverbs, chapter fourteen, verse twelve,” he said. “ ‘There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is . . .’ ”

The congregation finished: “ ‘Death.’ ”

The Assembly of God True Grapevine was little more than a fluorescent-lit room wedged between a bar and an empty lot in Jacaré, a poor neighborhood on Rio de Janeiro’s north side. A few dozen people sat in the rows of plastic lawn chairs that served as pews, while shuddering wall fans circulated hot air. The congregation was largely female; of the few men in attendance, most wore collared shirts and old leather shoes. Now and then, Martins veered from Portuguese into celestial tongues. People rose from their seats, thrust their hands into the air, and shouted, “Hallelujah!”

Article
The Birds·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On December 7, 2016, a drone departed from an Amazon warehouse in the United Kingdom, ascended to an altitude of four hundred feet, and flew to a nearby farm. There it glided down to the front lawn and released from its clutches a small box containing an Amazon streaming device and a bag of popcorn. This was the first successful flight of Prime Air, Amazon’s drone delivery program. If instituted as a regular service, it would slash the costs of “last-mile delivery,” the shortest and most expensive leg of a package’s journey from warehouse to doorstep. Drones don’t get into fender benders, don’t hit rush-hour traffic, and don’t need humans to accompany them, all of which, Amazon says, could enable it to offer thirty-minute delivery for up to 90 percent of domestic shipments while also reducing carbon emissions. After years of testing, Amazon wrote to the Federal Aviation Administration last summer to ask for permission to conduct limited commercial deliveries with its drones, attaching this diagram to show how the system would work. (Amazon insisted that we note that the diagram is not to scale.) Amazon is not the only company working toward such an automated future—­UPS, FedEx, Uber, and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, have similar programs—­but its plans offer the most detailed vision of what seems to be an impending reality, one in which parce­l-toting drones are a constant presence in the sky, doing much more than just delivering popcorn.

Article
The Skinning Tree·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Every year in Lusk, Wyoming, during the second week of July, locals gather to reenact a day in 1849 when members of a nearby band of Sioux are said to have skinned a white man alive. None of the actors are Native American. The white participants dress up like Indians and redden their skin with body paint made from iron ore.

The town prepares all year, and the performance, The Legend of Rawhide, has a cast and crew of hundreds, almost all local volunteers, including elementary school children. There are six generations of Rawhide actors in one family; three or four generations seems to be the average. The show is performed twice, on Friday and Saturday night.

The plot is based on an event that, as local legend has it, occurred fifteen miles south of Lusk, in Rawhide Buttes. It goes like this: Clyde Pickett is traveling with a wagon train to California. He tells the other Pioneers: “The only good Injun’s a dead Injun.” Clyde loves Kate Farley, and to impress her, he shoots the first Indian he sees, who happens to be an Indian Princess. The Indians approach the Pioneers and ask that the murderer give himself up. Clyde won’t admit he did it. The Indians attack the wagon train and, eventually, Clyde surrenders. The Indians tie Clyde to the Skinning Tree and flay him alive. Later, Kate retrieves her dead lover’s body and the wagon train continues west.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

$1,500

A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

A decorated veteran of the American wars in Vietnam and Iraq had his prosthetic limbs repossessed from his home in Mississippi when the VA declined to pay for them.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Jesus Plus Nothing

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

At Ivanwald, men learn to be leaders by loving their leaders. “They’re so busy loving us,” a brother once explained to me, “but who’s loving them?” We were. The brothers each paid $400 per month for room and board, but we were also the caretakers of The Cedars, cleaning its gutters, mowing its lawns, whacking weeds and blowing leaves and sanding. And we were called to serve on Tuesday mornings, when The Cedars hosted a regular prayer breakfast typically presided over by Ed Meese, the former attorney general. Each week the breakfast brought together a rotating group of ambassadors, businessmen, and American politicians. Three of Ivanwald’s brothers also attended, wearing crisp shirts starched just for the occasion; one would sit at the table while the other two poured coffee. 

Subscribe Today