The Political Trial of Don Siegelman
By Paul Craig Roberts
Don Siegelman, a popular Democratic governor of Alabama, a Republican state, was framed in a crooked trial, convicted on June 29, 2006, and sent to Federal prison by the corrupt and immoral Bush administration.
The frame-up of Siegelman and businessman Richard Scrushy is so crystal clear and blatant that 52 former state attorney generals from across America, both Republicans and Democrats, have urged the US Congress to investigate the Bush administration's use of the US Department of Justice to rid themselves of a Democratic governor who "they could not beat fair and square," according to Grant Woods, former Republican Attorney General of Arizona and co-chair of the McCain for President leadership committee. Woods says that he has never seen a case with so "many red flags pointing to injustice."
The abuse of American justice by the Bush administration in order to ruin Siegelman is so crystal clear that even the corporate media organization CBS allowed "60 Minutes" to broadcast on February 24, 2008, a damning indictment of the railroading of Siegelman. Extremely coincidental "technical difficulties" caused WHNT, the CBS station covering the populous northern third of Alabama, to go black during the broadcast. The station initially offered a lame excuse of network difficulties that CBS in New York denied. The Republican-owned print media in Alabama seemed to have the inside track on every aspect of the prosecution's case against Siegelman. You just have to look at their editorials and articles following the 60 Minutes broadcast to get a taste of what counts for "objective journalism" in their mind.
The injustice done by the US Department of Justice (sic) to Siegelman is so crystal clear that a participant in Karl Rove's plan to destroy Siegelman can't live with her conscience. Jill Simpson, a Republican lawyer who did opposition research for Rove, testified under oath to the House Judiciary Committee and went public on "60 Minutes." Simpson said she was told by Bill Canary, the most important GOP campaign advisor in Alabama, that "my girls can take care of Siegelman."
Canary's "girls" are two US Attorneys in Alabama, both appointed by President Bush. One is Bill Canary's wife, Leura Canary. The other is Alice Martin. According to Harper's Scott Horton,a law professor at Columbia University, Martin is known for abusive prosecutions.
What was the "crime" for which Siegelman and Scrushy were convicted? Scrushy made a contribution to the Alabama Education Foundation, a not-for-profit organization set up to push for a lottery to benefit secondary education in Alabama, to retire debt associated with the Alabama education lottery proposal. Scrushy was a member of Alabama's Certificate of Need board, a nonpaid group that oversaw hospital expansion. Scrushy had been a member of the board through the terms of the prior three governors, and Siegelman asked him to serve another term.
Federal prosecutors claimed that Scrushy's contribution was a bribe to Siegelman in exchange for being appointed to the Certificate of Need board. In the words of federal prosecutor Stephen Feaga, the contribution was "given in exchange for a promise for an official act."
Feaga's statement is absolute nonsense. It is well known that Scrushy had served on the board for years, felt he had done his duty, and wanted off the board. It was Siegelman who convinced Scrushy to remain on the board. Moreover, Scrushy gave no money to Siegelman. The money went to a foundation.
As a large number of attorneys have pointed out, every US president appoints his ambassadors and cabinet members from people who have donated to his campaign. Under the reasoning applied in the Siegelman case, a large number of living former presidents, cabinet members and ambassadors should be in federal prison_not to mention the present incumbents.
How in the world did a jury convict two men of a non-crime?
The answer is that the US Attorney used Governor Siegelman's indicted young assistant, Nick Bailey, to create the impression among some of the jurors that "something must have happened." Unbeknownst to Siegelman, Bailey was extorting money or accepting bribes from Alabama businessmen in exchange for state business. Bailey was caught. Presented with threats of a long sentence, Bailey agreed to testify falsely that Siegelman came out of a meeting with Scrushy and showed Bailey a $250,000 check he had accepted in exchange for appointing Scrushy to the Certificate of Need board. Prosecutors knew that Bailey's testimony was false, not only because they had Bailey rewrite his testimony many times and rehearsed him until he had it down pat, but also because they had the check. The records show that the check, written to a charitable organization, was cut days after the meeting from which Siegelman allegedly emerged with check in hand.
It is a crime for prosecutors to withhold exculpatory evidence. The Washington Post reported on February 26 that Siegelman's attorneys have called for a special prosecutor after CBS quoted prosecution witness Bailey "as saying prosecutors met with him about 70 times. He said they had him regularly write out his testimony because they were frustrated with his recollection of events. The written notes, if they existed, could have damaged the credibility of Bailey's story, but no such notes were turned over to the defense, as would have been required by law."
In video documentaries available online, Bailey's friend, Amy Methvin, says that Bailey told her that he was going to parrot the prosecutors' line, "pay for play," "quid pro quo." Methvin says Bailey went into a speech about money exchanged for favors. "You sound like a robot," Methvin told him. "You would have it memorized, too, if you had heard the answers as many times as I have heard the answers," Bailey replied.
The prosecutors also had help from some jurors. On a WOTM Special Report hosted by former US Attorney Raymond Johnson, Alabama lawyer Julian McPhillips produced emails from two jurors about influencing other jurors in order to achieve a conviction. Jurors are not supposed to discuss a case outside the court or to consider information other than what is presented in court and allowed by the judge. The outside communication among the jurors is sufficient to declare a mistrial.
However, Federal District Judge, Mark Fuller, a George W. Bush appointee, ignored the tainted jury. Fuller's handling of the case suspiciously favored the prosecution. He bore a strong grudge against Siegelman. Fuller had been an Alabama district attorney before Bush made him a federal judge. Fuller's successor as district attorney was appointed by Siegelman and produced evidence that suggested that Fuller had connived with his former senior assistant in a "pension spiking" scheme, which some viewed as a fraud or attempted fraud against the state retirement system.
Despite his known animosity toward Siegelman, Fuller refused to recuse himself from Siegelman's trial. According to the WOTM Special Report, Fuller owns a company that was receiving federal money during Siegelman's trial. Fuller did not disclose this conflict of interest. The charges raised by 60 Minutes cast the trial as Karl Rove's effort to rid the Republicans of the candidate they could not beat. The strange conduct of the presiding Republican judge, who had recently become a rich man as the company he owned was awarded a mass of discretionary federal contracts, only raises more very troubling questions.
The Justice Department's answer to the accusation that it framed Siegelman is that Siegelman was indicted by career prosecutors and convicted in a fair trial by a jury of his peers. These claims are no more truthful than anything else the DOJ says. Horton reports that career prosecutors advised against the case, concluded it was a political vendetta and walked away from it. Canary's "girls" were "flailing about trying to find loyal troopers who would shut up and do what is expected of them," a category into which Scott Horton says Louis Franklin and his deputy Stephen Feaga fell. The jurors were presented with what Bailey's and Methvin's testimony indicates to be Bailey's perjury suborned by the US Attorney's office and misled about what the testimony actually meant.
Horton says the case was "pressed forward with brute political force." According to Horton, Leura Canary refused to recuse herself despite her obvious conflict of interest. After she was forced to recuse herself, she continued to control the case from her office. In Horton's words: "Her husband was managing the campaign against Siegelman and leaks from the investigation were emanating from someone at his address. But beyond this, her husband, Bill Canary, had a long, well established, close working relationship with Karl Rove covering work he did in Washington and Alabama over a period of more than 17 years. Leura and Billy Canary were close friends of, and socialized with, Karl Rove."
On his Bush League Justice program, MSNBC's Dan Abrams reported that a Republican attorney said under oath that "key Republicans on [Republican candidate for governor Bob] Riley's team discussed talking to Karl Rove about the case, quoting one of them who said, "Not to worry, that he had already gotten it worked out with Karl, and Karl had spoken to the Department of Justice.'"
The Bush Justice Department first went after Siegelman during his 2002 reelection campaign. When Siegelman was first elected in 1998, the Republican Alabama Attorney General, William Pryor, began investigating Siegelman. There was nothing to investigate, but his "investigation" was the entry for Leura Canary, who federalized the "investigation." Politically motivated leaks from the "investigation" were used in an effort to defeat Siegelman's reelection.
It almost worked, but Siegelman narrowly won.
Unable to defeat Siegelman even with leaks from a phony investigation designed to smear him, the Republicans decided to steal the election. After all districts had reported the vote count, Siegelman thanked the voters for reelecting him and went to bed. During the night the Republicans, with no Democratic voting officials present, "recounted" the ballots in Baldwin County. Six thousand Siegelman votes that had been reported disappeared in the recount. The next morning Republican Bob Riley declared himself the winner.
The theft was so hastily arranged that the thieves forgot to change any of the other vote outcomes on the ballots. All other races had the same totals as originally reported, a statistical impossibility had there actually been a computer glitch as the election thieves claimed.
The Republican attorney general Pryor refused a recount. The Bush Justice Department and Republican federal judges looked the other way, as did the Republican propaganda sheets that masquerade as news media in Alabama.
President Bush rewarded William Pryor for his service by making him a federal judge in a recess appointment as he could not be confirmed by the US Senate.
According to MSNBC and other reports, a prosecution witness against Siegelman also made charges against Pryor and US Senator Jeff Sessions (R, AL), but neither of the Republicans were investigated.
The case against Siegelman was drawn out in the media for two more years in the hopes of smearing him forever. When Leura Canary's false case was finally brought to court, Federal District Judge U.W. Clemon threw it out of court. Clemon cited an assistant US Attorney and an assistant state attorney general for contempt of court. All charges against Siegelman and his co-defendants were dropped on October 5, 2004.
Vindicated, Siegelman began his campaign for recovering the governorship in 2006. The word came from Washington to "take another look at the case," a phrase that could well be understood as "get Siegelman at all costs." Siegelman was indicted a second time on October 26, 2005, costing him the Democratic primary. The jury twice deadlocked and was twice sent back by Siegelman's adversary, Judge Fuller. With charges of jury-tampering in the air, Siegelman was acquitted of 25 counts and found guilty of "pay for play." Judge Fuller had Siegelman handcuffed and manacled and immediately whisked off to prison for a seven-year sentence. Normally a non-dangerous person is left at liberty while the case is being appealed.
The Siegelman case makes it clear exactly what Bush, Rove, and the disgraced Bush flunky Alberto Gonzales intended by firing the eight Republican US Attorneys. These eight refused to politicize their office by falsely prosecuting Democrats in order to achieve a Rovian political agenda. Apparently, there were only eight honest persons among the 1,200 Republican US Attorneys. Bush, Rove, and Gonzales had no problem with the other 1,192. Professors Donald Shields and John Cragan report that the Bush Justice Department has investigated seven times more Democratic than Republican officials.
Former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Terry Butts said that justice in America today is about political agendas, "not about convicting real criminals." Butts said that Siegelman's attorneys and allies expect reprisals from the US Attorney's office and Alabama's Republican establishment.
Siegelman has been in prison for over a year. His appeal cannot move forward, because Judge Fuller's court has not produced a transcript of the trial needed for appeal. In other words, Republicans are preventing Siegelman from being released on appeal by a higher court.
Karl Rove refused to testify about the case before Congress.
On February 25, 2008, Fox "News" gave Karl Rove airtime in which to deny the accusations and evidence against him, which he did.
The Department of Justice refuses to release Siegelman trial documents to Congress. It won't even let Congress see what Leura Canary had to say to her bosses about the ethics challenges brought against her, which they swept under the carpet.
Siegelman's family home was broken into.
Siegelman's attorney's office was broken into and ransacked.
Jill Simpson's house had a mysterious "electrical fire" and her car was run off the road.
Is a justice system that functions in this way worthy of respect? Can we believe any convictions obtained by federal prosecutors?
Author's note: Scott Horton, Harper's Online, has reported extensively and courageously on the frame-up of Don Siegelman. Raw Story has a multi-part report by Larisa Alexandrovna and Muriel Kane. The 60 Minutes broadcast is available from YouTube as is the WOTM Special Report. YouTube also has a multi-part documentary on Richard Scrushy. Brad Blog provides good coverage including a MSNBC broadcast on the Siegelman prosecution which traces it back to Karl Rove. Ernest Partridge's Online Journal account provides additional information including the study by Professors Donald Shields and John Cragan. See also Glynn Wilson at The Nation.