From The Raw Story, November 26, 2007:
For most Americans, the very concept of political prisoners is remote and exotic, a practice that is associated with third-world dictatorships but is foreign to the American tradition. The idea that a prominent politician — a former state governor — could be tried on charges that many observers consider to be trumped-up, convicted in a trial that involved numerous questionable procedures, and then hauled off to prison in shackles immediately upon sentencing would be almost unbelievable.
But there is such a politician: Don Siegelman, Democratic governor of Alabama from 1999 to 2003. Starting just a few weeks after he took office, Siegelman was targeted by an investigation launched by his political opponents and escalated from the state to the federal level by Bush Administration appointees in 2001.
Original DVD cover.
I hope that all of you watched the 60 Minutes piece that aired this past Sunday. If you didn’t (or even if you did), I hope you will read the entire article over at The Raw Story. Here are some tidbits:
Siegelman was ultimately charged with 32 counts of bribery and other crimes in 2005, just as he began to attempt a political comeback. He was convicted the following year on seven of those charges. Last summer, Siegelman was sentenced to seven years in prison and immediately whisked off to a series of out-of-state jails, not even being allowed to remain free on bond while his appeal was under way.
Shortly before the sentencing, however, suspicions expressed by Alabama observers that there was something “fishy” about the case […] with allegations that Karl Rove and the Bush Justice Department had been operating behind the scenes.
Governor Don Siegelman was a popular Democratic politician in a largely Republican state and was the only person in Alabama history to hold all of the state’s highest posts. He served as Attorney General, Secretary of State, Lieutenant Governor and finally as Governor from 1999 to 2003.
On Election Day in November 2002, when the polls had closed and the votes were being counted, it seemed increasingly apparent that Governor Siegelman had been victorious in his re-election bid against Republican challenger Bob Riley. But then — just as in the infamous Florida election of 2000 — something strange happened in the tallying of the votes.
Long story short, Baldwin County gave a vote total favoring Siegelman and then later said that he received 3,000 votes less than first reported, thereby giving the election to Riley. Poll workers had been sent home, and a new count had commenced without any official watchers present. Democrats asked for a recount, but the Republican Attorney General William Pryor had the ballots sealed.
The cast of characters:
William “Bill” Canary, who was a longtime Alabama hired gun before he became a Bob Riley campaign advisor in 2002. In 1994, Canary — whose focus at the time was on defeating Democratic judges in Alabama — brought in outside help in the form of yet another GOP operative by the name of Karl Rove.
Rove and Canary managed Attorney General William Pryor’s re-election campaign in 1998. It was Pryor who would later seal the Baldwin Country ballots in the 2002 governor’s race, ensuring the victory of a candidate who had been advised by his own former campaign manager, Bill Canary. All three men — Rove, Canary, and Pryor — are also known to have a close political and social relationship.
After Pryor was re-elected as Alabama Attorney General in 1998, he almost immediately began the investigation into Siegelman which would eventually lead to Siegelman’s conviction and imprisonment nearly a decade later.
It would take a Riley campaign attorney — long-time Alabama Republican Dana Jill Simpson — to finally blow the whistle on the Republican governor. In a 2007 affidavit and sworn testimony, Simpson stated unequivocally that dirty tricks had sealed her boss’s victory in the 2002 election, and she named Karl Rove and the US Department of Justice as conspirators in the case.
Simpson had been communicating with Siegelman attorney’s before releasing her affidavit, and during that period her house was burned down and her car was run off the road.
Expanding on her original allegations, Simpson testified on Sept. 14 before lawyers for the House Judiciary Committee and dropped a bombshell revelation. In this additional testimony, Simpson described a conference call among Bill Canary, Governor Riley’s son Rob and other Riley campaign aides, which she said took place on November 18, 2002 — the same day Don Siegelman conceded the election. Simpson alleged that Canary had said that “Rove had spoken with the Department of Justice” about “pursuing” Siegelman and had also advised Riley’s staff “not to worry about Don Siegelman” because “‘his girls’ would take care of” the governor.
The “girls” allegedly referenced by Bill Canary were his wife, Leura Canary — who was appointed by George W. Bush in 2001 as the US Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama — and Alice Martin, another 2001 Bush appointee as the US Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. Simpson added that she was told by Rob Riley that Judge Mark Fuller was deliberately chosen when the Siegelman case was prosecuted in 2005, and that Fuller would “hang” Siegelman.
The Siegelman case was assigned to Judge Mark Fuller, a former district attorney whom George W. Bush had nominated for a federal judgeship in August 2002. Fuller was accused by his Siegelman-appointed successor in the district attorney’s office of falsifying payroll records with intent to defraud the Alabama retirement system, leading him to back Riley during that year’s election. This episode raises serious questions about Fuller’s refusal to recuse himself and helps explain Rob Riley’s alleged statement to Jill Simpson that Fuller would “hang” Siegelman.
Here are a few more characters, also from The Raw Story:
Lobbyist Jack Abramoff had his own reasons for being opposed to Governor Don Siegelman. Not only had Siegelman campaigned in 1998 on the issue of setting up an Alabama lottery to help fund public education, but he also supported Indian gambling in the state. Abramoff saw both of these initiations as threatening the casino revenues of his own tribal clients, and early in 1999, he arranged for Ralph Reed to run a stealth lobbying campaign against them, using his connections in the religious right. Reed was a long-time associate of Abramoff’s, going back to their College Republican days in the early 80’s, and also an ally of Karl Rove, who had helped him get into the lobbying business when he left the Christian Coalition in 1997.
Abramoff and Reed were aided in their lobbying campaign by then-Congressman Bob Riley, whose former press secretary, Michael Scanlon, had recently gone to work for Abramoff’s ally Tom DeLay and would become an associate of Abramoff’s the following year. Riley wrote a fundraising letter for the campaign on the stationery of a group headed by former DeLay chief of staff Ed Buckham, and Abramoff and his wife donated to Riley’s re-election campaign in 2000. It was Bob Riley who would run against Siegelman for the governorship in 2002.
At the same time as their anti-lottery campaign, Abramoff and Reed were also running a stealth lobbying campaign in Alabama on behalf of their client, Channel One, carried under the name of a front group whose leader was apparently employed by either Bill Canary or his business partner.
Here’s a bit more about Judge Mark Everett Fuller (from Harper’s Magazine):
[…] we examine a post-trial motion, filed in April 2007, asking Fuller to recuse himself based on his extensive private business interests, which turn very heavily on contracts with the United States Government, including the Department of Justice.
The recusal motion rested upon details about Fuller’s personal business interests. On February 22, 2007, defense attorneys obtained information that Judge Fuller held a controlling 43.75% interest in government contractor Doss Aviation, Inc. After investigating these claims for over a month, the attorneys filed a motion for Fuller’s recusal on April 18, 2007. The motion stated that Fuller’s total stake in Doss Aviation was worth between $1-5 million, and that Fuller’s income from his stock for 2004 was between $100,001 and $1 million dollars.
Doss Aviation, Inc. (motto: “Total Quality Service Isn’t Expensive, It’s Priceless”) and its subsidiary, Aureus International, hold contracts with a number of government agencies.
Doss Aviation and its subsidiaries also held contracts with the FBI. This is problematic when one considers that FBI agents were present at Siegelman’s trial, and that Fuller took the extraordinary step of inviting them to sit at counsel’s table throughout trial. Moreover, while the case was pending, Doss Aviation received a $178 million contract from the federal government.
The Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice intervened, saying almost nothing about the merits of the motion, but attacking the professional integrity and motives of its adversaries.
A judge has the responsibility to raise conflict issues on his own initiative—to disclose them to the parties appearing before him, and, when appropriate, to drop out of a case. Judge Fuller, on the other hand, as a committed senior Republican and part-owner of a large business that survives on government contracts, has presided over cases that relate to his personal interests. And that raises questions about the kind of justice he dispensed in the Siegelman case.
And let us not forget those who made it all possible and who allow this to continue–Amnesia Al Gonzales and Michael Mukasey. From The Brad Blog:
The CBS webpage preview for Sunday’s story offers a glimpse into one aspect of the story, and a part of their interview with Jill Simpson on just one small part (perhaps the most minor, in truth), of the entire, bastardized Seigelman miscarriage of justice. But again, we find another window into the politicization and abuse of the U.S. Department of Justice under the control of Rove, Bush, Gonzales and their corrupt company […]
(CBS)…Siegelman was convicted of bribery in a case that has drawn criticism from Democrats and Republicans. In fact, 52 former states’ attorneys general from both political parties petitioned Congress to investigate Siegelman’s case, resulting in hearings held last fall.
“I haven’t seen a case with this many red flags on it that pointed towards a real injustice being done,” Grant Woods, the former Republican attorney general of Arizona and one of those who petitioned Congress, tells Pelley. “I personally believe that what happened here is that they targeted Don Siegelman because they could not beat him fair and square.”
From Tuscaloosa News:
Michael Mukasey may have a distinguished career as a judge but as U.S. attorney general, he’s a loser. For all the interest he has shown in the duties of his new office, we may as well have a smiling wooden puppet seated in his chair.
His failure to look into an allegation that partisan political interests guided the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman is part of this dereliction of duty. Although he told the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday that it is inappropriate for politicians to try to influence criminal prosecutions, Mukasey admitted under questioning by Rep. Artur Davis that he has not looked into the Siegelman case allegation.
Mukasey tried to excuse his inaction by saying the Siegelman case is on appeal. But Davis noted that the allegation of selective prosecution is not part of the appeal.
Justice Department or Just Us Department?