Friday, June 6, 2008

Justice Department investigating two US Attorneys for political prosecution

Justice Department investigating two US Attorneys for political prosecution

Mississippi US Attorney said to share tax returns of one of his targets with "unauthorized personnel"

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The US Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is investigating the conduct of at least two specific US Attorneys in the "selective prosecution" of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, sitting Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver E. Diaz Jr., and Mississippi attorney Paul Minor, according to attorneys close to the investigation.

In a May 5 letter sent to House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI), OPR Director H. Marshall Jarrett wrote that OPR "currently has pending investigations involving, among others, allegations of selective prosecution relating to the prosecutions of Don Siegelman, Georgia Thompson, Oliver Diaz and Paul Minor."

RAW STORY has confirmed that Leura Canary (above right), the US Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, and Dunnica Lampton, the US Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi , are under investigation. Their offices are also being probed.

Canary's office prosecuted Siegelman; Lampton's office prosecuted Diaz and Minor. The US Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Steven Biskupic, who prosecuted Georgia Thompson, was not mentioned by those familiar with the probe.

Neither Canary's office nor Lampton's office responded to calls for comment.

What is being investigated?

Individuals close to the investigation, who spoke under condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak about the inquiry, would not discuss which specific issues OPR is investigating in Canary's case.

Additional information about Dunnica Lampton's case, however, was provided by two attorneys close to the OPR investigation. According to both sources, Lampton is alleged have shared the confidential income tax returns of a target of one of his prosecutions with "non-authorized" individuals. Neither source would provide the name of the person whose income tax returns were shared or with whom Lampton shared the private information of his target and in what context.

The alleged misuse of private tax information would make the probe into Lampton a criminal investigation and likely under the purview of the DOJ Inspector General's office, with OPR as part of a joint investigation.

According to the two attorneys, the person in Lampton's office tasked to be the point-person in the investigation is Alfred B. Jernigan Jr., the Civil Chief for the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Mississippi.

Reached by telephone last week, Jernigan said that his office had recused itself from the investigation and he could not discuss anything relating to the case with the press.

Jernigan would not provide the name of the current point-person on the case or say whether the case is entirely related to the allegations of sharing confidential income tax information or if those allegations are part of the larger investigation by OPR into alleged political prosecutions.

Asked if the investigation into Lampton was criminal, Jernigan responded, "Oh, it's nothing like that at all."

It is unclear when the OPR investigation began. The May 5 Department of Justice letter is in response to an April 17 letter from Chairman Conyers to Mr. Jarrett and Mr. Glen A. Fine, Inspector General for the US Department of Justice, requesting that OPR investigate allegations of a series of political prosecutions and possible White House involvement in urging that these cases move forward despite protests from professional Justice Department staff.

The cases under review

Don Siegelman: Former Alabama Democratic Governor Don Siegelman was defeated in the 2002 Alabama gubernatorial race by Republican Bob Riley. A consultant to Riley's campaign, Bill Canary, is a long-time business associate of Karl Rove, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff and senior aide to the president.

Canary's wife, Leura Canary, was appointed to be the US Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama by President George W. Bush. Ms. Canary's office investigated Siegelman on charges of bribery and corruption, twice allegedly timing indictments for maximum impact on upcoming elections. Ms. Canary has stated that she recused herself from the Siegelman case, but no evidence has been furnished by the Justice Department to prove that Ms. Canary did in fact recuse herself.

Initially denied an appeal bond, Siegelman served nine months in a federal penitentiary before being released in March of this year.

(See the Raw Story ongoing investigation into Siegelman's case in Part I, II, III, and VI of our investigative series into political prosecutions.)

Oliver E. Diaz Jr.: Sitting Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver E. Diaz Jr. won re-election in 2000 to the state's highest bench against Republican-backed opponent Judge Keith Starrett. A long-time Starrett friend and colleague, Dunnica Lampton, was appointed by President George W. Bush as US Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi in 2001, taking office in 2002.

Immediately after taking office, Lampton began investigating Diaz, Judge John Whitfield, and Judge West Teel, along with attorney Paul Minor, for bribery and mail fraud. Minor had signed off as a loan guarantor for the judges' campaign, a legal act under Mississippi law. Although there was no evidence of any quid pro quo, and Diaz had recused himself from all cases involving Minor and/or his clients, Lampton secured an indictment against Diaz.

During the first trial, the jury acquitted Diaz. Within days, however, Lampton unsealed a second set of indictments against Diaz, alleging tax evasion by both Diaz and his wife. Diaz was acquitted again, while Jennifer Diaz pleaded guilty after she was allegedly threatened with losing her children.

Lampton has said that he recused himself from the case, but no evidence of his recusal has been made public. Moreover, Lampton appeared with members of the prosecutorial team during the trial and as a part of press conferences.

(See the Raw Story ongoing investigation into Diaz's case in Parts IV, V, and VI of our investigative series into political prosecutions.)

Paul Minor: Famed plaintiff's attorney Paul Minor - who made his name taking on big tobacco in the 1990s – was indicted under the RICO statue for signing off on a loan guarantee for Judges Wes Teel, John Whitfield, and Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz. Although no proof of a quid pro quo was offered by the prosecution, Lampton brought charges of bribery and mail fraud against Minor and the judges.

Minor, Teel, and Whitfield were acquitted of most charges. Diaz was acquitted of all charges. Shortly after their acquittal, Minor, Teel, and Whitfield were indicted on fresh charges, on which all three were ultimately convicted after the jury had deadlocked several times.

(See the Raw Story ongoing investigation into Diaz's case in Parts IV, V, and VI.)

Georgia Thompson: Georgia Thompson was a purchasing supervisor for the state of Wisconsin, originally hired in 2001 during the administration of a Republican governor. She was indicted in 2006 on charges of having steered a state travel contract to a firm whose executives had contributed to the 2004 campaign of Democratic Governor Jim Doyle. Thompson was convicted on two felony counts and sentenced to 18 months in prison, and her case became an issue in Doyle's 2006 campaign. Her conviction was reversed on appeal in 2007, with one of the judges calling the evidence "beyond thin."

Democrats have questioned whether US Attorney Steve Biskupic – who argued during the trial that even though there was no "pay to play deal" the campaign donations had been part of an "overall picture" – might have been under pressure from the White House or Justice Department to bring charges against an innocent state employee in hopes of getting to Governor Doyle.

(See articles in the New York Times and The Daily Page.)

Allegations of White House involvement and DOJ corruption

The cases of Don Siegelman in Alabama, Oliver Diaz and Paul Minor in Mississippi, and Georgia Thompson in Wisconsin stand at the center of what appears to be growing evidence of the politicization of the Department of Justice during the administration of George W. Bush.

The US Attorney scandal that came to light early in 2007 involved the firing of eight attorneys who had failed to prove themselves as loyal supporters of Bush Administration causes. One US Attorney appears to have been removed for her interest in probing Republican corruption, another for his failure to bring trumped-up charges against Democrats, and a third for lack of interest in pursuing specious claims of "voter fraud" ultimately designed to disenfranchise minorities.

RAW STORY's Permanent Republican Majority series, however, has revealed a new scandal behind the US Attorney firings by concentrating on the US Attorneys who were not fired – and attempting to offer a possible explanation as to why.

The charges against Governor Siegelman were used as a campaign issue to ensure his defeat by Republican challenger Bob Riley in 2002 and to forestall his re-election campaign in 2006. Siegelman has repeatedly stated that he believes former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove was issuing the orders for his prosecution – a claim based both on Siegelman's long experience with Rove, through Rove's involvement in Alabama elections, and on a claim by whistleblower Dana Jill Simpson that she heard Rove mentioned during a Riley campaign conference call.

RAW STORY's investigation has found evidence to corroborate the allegations. In Part III of our series, we found that Rove had been allegedly conducting meetings with operatives from Riley's campaign in Washington DC. In Mississippi, the main target appears to have been Paul Minor, a wealthy trial lawyer and the largest Democratic donor in the state. The charges there were brought by US Attorney Dunnica Lampton, who was on an early list of those who might be fired but was ultimately spared the ax. Judge Diaz has suggested, more tentatively, that Rove might have been involved in his case as well.

One striking connection between the Alabama and Mississippi prosecutions is the role played in both by Noel Hillman, then the head of the Public Integrity Section at the Department of Justice. Hillman was particularly active in the Siegelman prosecution, even traveling to Alabama for the press conference announcing the indictments, and was closely involved in the management of the Mississippi case. Hillman was later appointed to a federal judgeship by President Bush.

The situation in Wisconsin is less clear, but there too it appears that a Democratic governor's re-election campaign may have been what prompted the bringing of charges against an employee.

Muriel Kane contributed to the research for this article.

Larisa Alexandrovna is the Managing Editor of Investigative News for Raw Story and regularly reports on intelligence and national security matters. She has been covering the US Attorney Scandal for over six months. Her essay on the Siegelman case appears in a newly published anthology, Loser Taker All: Election Fraud and The Subversion of Democracy, 2000-2008, edited by New York University professor Mark Crispin Miller, which features a collection of essays from prominent journalists, activists, and scholars. Contact her at larisa@rawstory.com.

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