By Andrew Kreig
Justice Integrity Project
A legal showdown of historic proportion unfolds Nov. 2 in an Alabama federal court. Squared off in Courtroom B4 beginning at 10 a.m. in Montgomery were the Obama Justice Department and its most important domestic defendant, former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, once the leading Democrat in his state.
Siegelman wants the government to provide documents proving that Middle District U.S. Attorney Leura Canary really withdrew from the case, as she claimed. The government contends he is not entitled to confidential government documents. After five years Siegelman has finally won a hearing on a request for documents that are central to his 2006 convictions on corruption charges. Middle District U.S. Magistrate-Judge Charles S. Coody, sitting under the authority of the district’s Chief Judge Mark E. Fuller, presides in the courthouse shown below.
Beyond that, Siegelman is in the rare position of having witnesses step forward with evidence that his prosecutors and trial judge framed him. Meanwhile, Siegelman has been tried and sentenced to a lengthy prison term in what our Justice Integrity Project, among others, has described as the nation’s most notorious political prosecution in decades. Some of us have documented this many times, with both sources and official denials in the links below.
The main and more novel focus of my column today is how this case exemplifies others around the nation whereby the Obama administration fails to protect our precious legacy of due process. Already, this disgraceful pattern has deeply damaged Obama’s reputation and re-election chances.
You don’t believe that? I can understand. I repeatedly encounter in Washington and elsewhere well-informed professionals in journalism, law or politics who have barely, if ever, heard of Siegelman and his ordeal. Many of them are immersed in mainstream political punditry, typified by the chatter on Sunday morning news talk shows. Their lack of awareness of the dark and dirty secrets in political prosecutions doesn’t surprise me. The Washington Post has never published an in-depth story on the Siegelman case despite what must be tens of thousands of citizen protests to the White House, DOJ and news organizations. The important but far-from-definitive reporting by the New York Times and CBS News in 2007-2008 has long since disappeared. Most other news organizations spend scant resources to report on Alabama. So, the mainstream media rely on skimpy wire service summaries of local news reports and official documents. Beyond that, busy professionals tend to assume that Democrats in an Obama administration along with the inherent fairness of our legal system would correct any partisan irregularities.
Sadly, that’s not true, as many bloggers document as they build up followings who are increasingly skeptical of Obama promises to reform justice, or anything else. Support for Siegelman primarily developed among progressive blogs in 2007 because of corruption allegations that tied the prosecution to Karl Rove’s political pressures on the Justice Department to advance Republican goals. That two-party drama climaxed in February 2008 in a CBS 60 Minutes exposé that brought the Siegelman story to nation’s largest TV prime-time audience. But CBS omitted sworn documentation of recusal battles and government contract deals that involve both parties. The current and more complex storyline is too much for the mainstream media.
Even so, scandal revelations about Obama DOJ malfeasance resonate with new and largely sub rosa blog and activist audiences across the political spectrum. This is because a crime case holds inherent drama when it pivots on mind-boggling legal irregularities, plus high-level political and corporate intrigue. This coincides with more pervasive discontent with jobs, savings, foreclosure, tax, student debt and war woes, plus more generalized fears — whether of Big Government or big corporations. This is becoming visible in Occupy Wall Street or Tea Party protests alike.
Illustrating this are several powerful perspectives published below for the first time. That you must go to this blog to read this kind of information represents also discredits Congress, the courts and the mainstream media. Oversight bodies could easily invite these high-profile, expert, civic-spirited voices to share their views in high-visibility hearings that the media would cover. But that doesn’t fit the format of two-party shadow-boxing that distracts the public from the real wheeler-dealers.
With that overview, here’s a way to understand what’s going on:
Political strategists at the top of the Obama administration apparently have decided to let Republicans in several of the Deep South states do pretty much what they want in the criminal justice system in major political cases, according to Bill Barnes, Alabama’s most recent Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate. He believes Obama officials have written off his and other red states in his region, and hope to wheedle concessions from powerful Republican senators on matters elsewhere.
This is shocking if true — and stupid as well. Someone’s due process rights in Alabama, especially the right not to be framed and unjustly imprisoned, is not a possession of the Obama strategy team to barter away — any more than it was the right of the Bush White House to purge nine U.S. attorneys in 2006 for political reasons, thereby leaving in place “loyal Bushie” prosecutors who would imprison opponents for trumped up reasons. Most notorious among those remaining was Alabama’s Canary, whom Obama retained until late last spring. Yet I’ve documented how the Obama DOJ sabotaged its own probes of Bush administration wrongdoing, and I’ve quoted a top Obama transition executive, law school dean Christopher Edley, Jr., as saying they feared GOP reprisals especially if they investigated security issues.
Let’s now go beyond the injustice factor. There’s a high probability that any deal would be corrupt on the part of Democrats if it had to be done so secretly. But even if a deal were simple wheeler-dealing, what kind of idiots (with Ivy League pedigrees or not) would think Republicans would fulfill their part of any such deal? It reminds me of the Mafia stories I used to cover or read about. The mobster takes control of the business of his greedy “partner,” and then tells the sucker to get lost if he wants to live — and forget about the business. “What are you going to do?” Boston mobster Vincent Theresa recalled telling his scam victims. “Complain to the FBI you made a crooked deal with the mob?”
At issue on Nov. 2 is whether Canary recused herself from Siegelman’s decade-long prosecution. Siegelman want the case thrown out if the government won’t produce its evidence. Canary is shown below at left early in her tenure that began in 2001 and below right more recently, Her husband, William Canary, now reportedly estranged, is a longtime Karl Rove ally and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama. Also, he was campaign manager in 2002 for a Siegelman opponent, and was fingered in sworn testimony as conspiring with fellow Republicans to frame Siegelman to keep him out of politics.
Meanwhile, the DOJ convicted Siegelman and co-defendant businessman Richard Scrushy, and won long prison terms. The main charges were because Siegelman asked Scrushy to donate to a non-profit advocating for a state lottery to create funding for a better educational system in the state. By the time the indictment was unsealed in late 2005, Scrushy had a terrible reputation because of widespread reports of financial fraud as CEO of HealthSouth and his acquittal in a federal trial where high-level staff testified against him. But the convictions in the Siegelman case purely pertained to his donations to Alabama Education Foundation.
Several prominent whistleblowers have alleged that the Canary couple were part of Bush DOJ and White House plot to target Siegelman on trumped-up charges for political reasons. The conspiracy, which took the route of linking Siegelman to Scrushy’s unpopularity, is alleged to have involved Rove and Siegelman’s trial judge, Fuller, who controlled Doss Aviation, Inc. as its largest stockholder at a time it was receiving $300 million in Bush contracts. Fuller’s 44% ownership in the closely held company declined to 32% over time, according to state filings that the company declines to amplify.
Fuller has insisted that he is fair and declined to recuse. Last summer, a wealthy Florida federal judge, Richard Hinkle, ruled in favor of Fuller and the DOJ, largely sidestepping the specific evidence of Fuller’s conflict and bias — and the underlying federal law that forbids even the appearance of impropriety. As part of its shame, the DOJ has signed its name to pleadings arguing an obvious falsehood: that not one reasonable, independent person in the United States might think Fuller might be biased.
These factors alone make this case a travesty. To be sure, the main miscreants have either denied wrongdoing or failed to respond to requests for comment. So the real infamy is the scant evidence of any meaningful oversight by either the Bush or Obama administrations, Congress or judicial authorities. They all who received a separate complaint in 2003 that Fuller should be impeached for Doss-related corruption. Authorities apparently never investigated the 39-page sworn complaint and its 140 pages of exhibits by a highly experienced lawyer, Paul B. Weeks III. Instead, authorities promptly removed the materials from the nationwide electronic database of documents filed with the federal court system so that no other litigants can see the evidence against Fuller — who, as chief federal judge, enjoys the happy position of controlling the court system in his bailiwick, including the clerk’s office.
That’s why the hearing Nov. 2 is important. Former Siegelman aide Chip Hill puts it this way:
We contend that: A) Leura Canary should never have been involved due to the fact that she had a prima facie conflict on the day she took office. At that time, her husband was working for Lt. Gov. Steve Windom, an announced opponent of Siegelman’s in the 2002 race for Governor. B) Even after her “phantom” recusal she continued to be involved in the case. Prosecutors have repeatedly misrepresented facts to the congress and the court about this fact. Their contention that she had no involvement whatsoever is disproven with their own documents.
At every juncture in this case, the government has failed to fully disclose as prescribed by law. When confronted, they are always handy with an explanation in attempt to qualify their malfeasance. Don’t lose sight of this core issue: We are having to go to court to get the information they are required by law to provide Governor Siegelman.
Let that sink in for a minute. If [Former Alaska Sen.] Ted Steven’s case was dropped due to failures to disclose on the part of the government, then this case should have been tossed years ago.
Barnes, the 2010 Democratic Senate nominee, shared his opinion with me on-the-record last July. I’ve been saving it for an appropriate occasion. As further background, I got to know him in covering his 2010 race against incumbent Republican Dick Shelby. I saw first-hand that Barnes — a moderate Democrat, lawyer and former Army officer — was willing to tackle not simply his opponent but powers-that-be in both parties, in his state and nationally. Thus, he used the last dollars of his campaign funding to travel to a news conference at the National Press Club I organized to tell the public about his concerns with the Obama Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency and White House on major civic issues. The issues included federal responses to the Siegelman case and BP Gulf oil disaster and clean-up.
My information from him is that no one at the White House, EPA, DOJ or even Democratic National Committee ever responded to his letters, much less met with him. To be sure, his trip was on relatively short notice and he faced long odds in challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Dick Shelby, at right, who had a $17 million campaign war chest. Even so, Barnes was his party’s primary election winner. Beyond that, his top campaign aide told me that neither the DNC nor state Democratic party contributed anything to his campaign, not even a $1 check. Barnes undertook the race as what he considered a civic duty to provide a choice, and has never complained to me about the financing or similar issues. I mention it only as context for his view of why the Obama administration has not overseen Alabama’s federal prosecutions more aggressively, aside from the current immigration law dispute that has caught the attention of the DOJ as well as important pro-immigration and civil rights groups.
Now is the time to share another of my political interviews from July. This was with Luther “Stan” Pate IV, a construction tycoon based in Tuscaloosa who is regarded as one of the founders of the modern Republican Party that is now in ascendancy in the bulk of the state’s major offices. We spoke for an hour on-the-record. Pate provided a perspective that is complementary in several important respects to that of Barnes. He believes that Siegelman was framed on the main charges against him, and that his two-term opponent Bob Riley and his cronies received some $27 million in highly questionable and largely secret donations and investments, much of it from gambling interests (as I have repeatedly reported).
Further, Pate says the Obama administration was cowardly in appointing as Canary’s successor George Beck, left, who represented the main witness against Siegelman, a former aide named Nick Bailey. Bailey, a former chauffeur for Siegelman, was a small-time, junior politico with no resources. Bailey — according to a Pate affidavit in 2009 that prompted me to call him for the interview — was frightened of prosecution threats of a 10-year sentence for other crimes.
“You’re just about the most worthless lawyer I’ve ever seen in my life,” Pate recalled telling Beck on one occasion. Pate was furious that Beck had let his client Bailey be brow-beaten by federal prosecutors in up to 70 pre-trial interrogation sessions, almost none reported to the defense as required by law. Pate felt sorry for Bailey, and says he paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Bailey. Thus, Pate was funding Beck’s legal work and is an obvious source for anyone wanting to know Beck’s qualifications to assume control of the office laboring under the most controversial record in the country.
Pate’s comments were particularly striking to me since our Justice Integrity Project had undertaken a campaign against Beck’s nomination, including a four-part series last spring. The gist was that Beck’s role in the Siegelman case disqualified him for serious consideration for such a powerful office unless authorities wanted him to preside over a cover-up.
Nonetheless, Beck’s support by both of Alabama’s Republican senators, the Alabama Democratic Party and the Obama White House prompted the Senate to confirm him without even asking him to answer questions at a confirmation hearing. Beck, the state and national Democratic Party and other relevant figures have never responded to my requests for comment on any of this. An aide to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT), right, wrote back, but largely to dispute that there was any reason to question Beck. That’s the way they do business.
Pate’s own motives and views deserve a much longer treatment than I can provide now, except for these highlights: He, like many of the important voices on Siegelman’s behalf, is a Republican who didn’t support him during his political career but is now offended by a corrupt legal and political system operated by both parties.
Pate is famous in Alabama for renting an airplane during the 2010 Rose Bowl during the University of Alabama appearance so that then-Governor Bob Riley, present with friends and family at the national championship game, could see the seven-foot banner, “Impeach Corrupt Alabama Governor Bob Riley.” For a news article, Stan Pate says he’s behind banner ad urging Gov. Bob Riley’s impeachment, Pate explained, “This guy has been in office almost eight years and he’s one of the most corrupt governors in my life. I hope he sees that banner and takes every word of it to heart because I mean every word in it.”
As a telling point, Pate believes that Siegelman was guilty in back-dating a check to hide receipt of a motorcycle from a lobbyist. But that was a very minor charge compared to the massive indictments that authorities brought against Siegelman. Prosecutors succeeded otherwise only on the deeply flawed theory that Siegelman corruptly induced businessman Richard Scrushy to donate to a non-profit advocating for a state lottery to help fund better schools. Ninety-one former state attorney generals from more than 40 states have argued that those latter convictions aren’t even a crime. But both the Bush and Obama administrations have wanted Siegelman to spend much of the rest of his life in prison for it. Siegelman, now 66, is free on bail.
As well known to readers here, courageous Republican whistleblowers who have spoken up on Siegelman’s behalf include Dana Jill Simpson, a lawyer. She swore she heard William Canary tell her and other Republican insiders on a 2002 conference call that he was working with “my girls” [who presumably included his wife and fellow Republican Northern District U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, who unsuccessfully prosecuted Siegelman in 2004] to take care of Siegelman. Simpson swore also that she heard that Fuller “hated” Siegelman and would “hang” him at a time in early 2005 when Siegelman thought he was out of legal jeopardy because the first Bush prosecution under Martin collapsed. Behind the scenes, Simpson also documented how Fuller controlled Doss Aviation Inc. as its largest shareholder while the company greatly ramped up its earnings with $300 million in Bush contracts from 2006 to 2009.
“It’s amazing to me that Obama can claim he’s protecting human rights around the world,” Simpson told me this week in an exclusive interview, “and he’s ignoring the plight of Democrats railroaded to prison right in his own country. I think I know why in this case.” Simpson continued:
Fuller and his company are part of the military-industrial complex. As we’ve seen with many documents, Doss is training Air Force pilots and refueling Air Force planes, including the President’s Air Force One. The government ought to be releasing not simply the records about Leura Canary — but all the records on Doss Aviation and Fuller. If you look at the Doss Aviation website, you’ll see that the company bragged last spring about advancing towards $5 billion in new government business over the next five years. I guess President Obama likes Fuller’s company pretty well.
Also, the Obama Justice Department in June 2009 fired its top in-house paralegal for the Siegelman trial, Tamarah Grimes, left, after she complained to Bush and then Obama authorities about trial and office procedures, including Leura Canary’s supervisory role after supposed recusal. Grimes is a Republican whom I interviewed extensively in 2009 following here extensively letter to Obama Attorney Gen. Eric Holder, below right. Alabama blogger Roger Shuler alone has written hundreds of columns about the case. One was a thorough treatment of the recusal issue last April in The Siegelman Case: Ten Years of Injustice — and Counting. That column included the full text of Siegelman’s February 2006 request under the Freedom of Information Act for relevant DOJ documents so he could prepare for trial later, with hopes he could be acquitted that year before Alabama’s 2006 gubernatorial re-election.
In a 2007 sentencing, Fuller ordered Siegelman and Scrushy to be hauled from his court in chains to begin seven-year terms that began immediately, with solitary confinement for Siegelman, and without the customary bonds that courts give white-collar defendants during appeals. Siegelman has been free on bond since 2008 following national outrage over CBS 60 Minutes revelations that year describing part of the unfairness of his prosecution.
As I wrote last wrote in September on this case, the bipartisan disgrace continues unabated in what appears to be a court-enabled kleptocracy in Alabama and Washington. But what will happen Nov. 2?
Beyond that, what will happen next November? Most people still don’t know about the Siegelman case and most never will. But my own observation is that important opinion leaders are aware of it, as are many involved in what OpEd News publisher Rob Kall calls “The “Occupied Territories” across the country stemming from the Occupy Wall Street movement.
This movement spreading to Occupied Territories is not an appendage of the Democratic Party. The Obama DOJ’s conduct in the Siegelman case helps explain why.
Reprinted with the author’s permission.