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Support Don Siegelman

Posted by Charles II on September 11, 2012

Andrew Gumbel, The Guardian:

The magazine of the American Trial Lawyers Association has described him as “America’s No 1 political prisoner”, and his well-connected friends and supporters include more than 100 former state attorneys general and former Democratic presidential candidates Al Gore and John Kerry.

The basic story is that a healthcare executive, who had served on a (non-paying) state hospital regulatory board for three administrations, was appointed to the board a fourth time by Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. That healthcare executive had donated to the non-profit Alabama Education Foundation which was seeking to promote a lottery initiative (to support education) that Siegelman supported (and was opposed by powerful interests represented by Jack Abramoff). Despite the fact that appointing contributors to positions is a normal political practice (and Siegelman had not received a dime), the courts–in the person of Dubya appointee Judge Mark Fuller— called this bribery.

You can sign a petition supporting Don Siegelman’s search for justice here. This is the message I included in my signature:

If someone as senior as Don Siegelman can be jailed on such flimsy charges and with the assent of figures including the Attorney General and the Supreme Court, then I can have no faith in the American justice system. Why should any of us serve on juries or otherwise support the system when it has become simply a tool of political power?

Our courts are deeply corrupt. Until they are reformed, until all of the political appointees are shaken out of the system and replaced by people with a passion to see justice done, this nation will continue to decline. And shame on Barack Obama for refusing to take a stand on this case and Eric Holder for standing on the wrong side.

The full megillah follows below the fold.

Scott Horton interviews Craig Unger on the case:

Scott Horton: Why would Rove have targeted Siegelman, and why do you believe the allegations that the case was a politically motivated prosecution have merit?

Craig Unger: As a popular Democratic governor in Alabama, Siegelman represented a potential threat to the G.O.P. on a national level. It is difficult to overstate the importance of the Solid South to the Republican Party. In the past fifty years, the only Democrats to win the White House other than Barack Obama—Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton—have come from the South.

There are three reasons to believe the case was politically motivated. One is that Bill Canary, a Rove colleague, had run or was linked to campaigns of leading G.O.P. candidates in Alabama, and Leura Canary, his wife, just happened to have been appointed a U.S. attorney in Alabama by the Bush Administration. This meant that while Bill Canary was boosting the campaign of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Riley, come election time his wife Leura could indict Riley’s opponent Don Siegelman—which is exactly what happened.

Secondly, there is the testimony before the House Judiciary Committee of Alabama attorney Dana Jill Simpson, who said while under oath that she’d had a conversation with Rob Riley, son of Bob Riley, the G.O.P. candidate, and that Riley said that his father and Bill Canary “had had a conversation with Karl Rove again and that they had this time gone over and seen whoever was the head of” the Public Integrity Section of the Justice Department. Simpson further testified that Rob Riley said that Karl Rove had spoken to “the head guy there,” a New Jersey lawyer active in G.O.P. politics named Noel Hillman, who agreed “that he’d allocate all resources necessary” to prosecute Siegelman. Soon thereafter, the White House nominated Hillman to the federal judgeship he had been seeking.

Finally, the data supports allegations of widespread selective prosecution of Democrats. During the period between Bush’s inauguration and Ashcroft’s recusal at the end of 2003, federal prosecutors in the Bush Administration initiated investigations of no fewer than 200 public officials on charges including bribery, bid rigging, influence peddling, mail fraud, tax evasion, extortion, and more.

The targets of these investigations included mayors of at least twelve major cities, governors and lieutenant governors from five states, several congressional candidates, senators and senatorial candidates, and key figures in state legislatures. The targets were overwhelmingly Democrats. Astoundingly, according to a study of the Bush Justice Department by professors Donald C. Shields and John F. Cragan, out of 200 officials under investigation at that time, only thirty were Republicans—15 percent—a disparity the authors compared to racial profiling of African-Americans.

Horton: The scandal surrounding the Siegelman case erupted in earnest when Jill Simpson gave the testimony to which you just alluded. Rove responded to these accusations by refusing to testify under oath and then issuing statements in which he aggressively denied things that were never alleged and failed to respond to the key allegations. He has also repeatedly and sharply attacked Simpson, often totally out of the blue. Who do you consider to be more credible on the story—Rove or Simpson? And why does Simpson’s testimony have Rove so rattled?

Unger: Simpson is more credible. First, there’s no question that Rove has lied about Simpson’s testimony. In an interview he gave in 2008 to GQ Magazine, Rove, referring to Simpson, said, “She’s a complete lunatic. . . . No one has read the 143-page deposition that she gave congressional investigators—143 pages. When she shows up to give her explanation of all this, do you know how many times my name appears? Zero times. Nobody checked!”

This is a brazen lie. Simpson’s testimony is readily available online and in fact it cites Karl Rove at least fifty times. Rove is renowned as a highly disciplined operative, so it is all the more striking that he has repeatedly lost his cool about Simpson. When Greta Van Susteren interviewed him on Fox News earlier this summer, he erupted into a tirade against Simpson. Likewise, during the week of the Republican convention in Tampa, I asked Rove a question about his working relationship with Fox News boss Roger Ailes—a subject that has zero to do with Simpson—and he blasted her again.

As for Simpson, she did tell her story under oath, at considerable risk and for no apparent gain. Documents, including emails and phone records, show she was clearly working with Rob Riley. Some aspects of her testimony have proven difficult to corroborate, but, unlike with Rove, I have no reason to think that she lied.

Ultimately, I don’t know why Rove is so rattled, but I’d be surprised if there were not much more to the story.

Horton: If you’re right about the origins of the Siegelman case, why do you think the Justice Department under Eric Holder has failed to investigate it and take corrective action, as it did in the similar case of former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens?

Unger: One of the most disappointing things about the Obama Administration has been its failure to roll back Rove’s Justice Department. Giving political appointments to campaign contributors is not the prettiest part of our electoral system, but it’s standard operating procedure. George W. Bush did it with more than 100 of his donors. But when Siegelman did it with a campaign contributor named Richard Scrushy, it was characterized as bribery—even though Siegelman did not personally take a dime.

On September 11, Siegelman is scheduled to go to prison for more than six years—a travesty of justice. Obama should pardon him. I can only speculate that he has not done so because he fears the political consequences.

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