The doors have been blown wide open in the appeal of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, a Democrat who appears to have been convicted of the crime of guilt-by-association in order to completely clear the field for the reelection of Republican Bob Riley. It’s a sensational story that goes all the way to the White House, and if it weren’t true, most people wouldn’t believe it could be true.
During the past year, Governor Siegelman has been on a crusade to clear his name and convince the American people that he is/was the victim of a coordinated political witch hunt orchestrated and executed by powerful Republicans intent on destroying his career.
It may all sound too conspiratorial, but consider this as a preface:
Siegelman was defeated for reelection in November 2002 by Representative Bob Riley by the narrowest margin in Alabama history: approximately 3,000 votes. The result was controversial, as on the night of the election, Siegelman was initially declared the winner by the Associated Press. Later, a voting machine malfunction in a single county was claimed to have produced the votes needed to give Siegelman the election. When the malfunction was claimed to have been corrected, Riley emerged the winner. The recount of that county’s votes was affirmed by the state’s Attorney General, Republican Bill Pryor. Largely as a result of this controversy, the Alabama Legislature amended the election code to provide for automatic, supervised recounts in close races.
That’s democracy, right? A single voting machine in a single county could have completely titled the election? Seems fishy. At least they decided to change the law. After the election.
And when Siegelman decided to run again, the Republicans pushed back even more.
Do any of you remember the company HealthSouth? It’s huge, one of the biggest and most important companies in the State of Alabama, and believe it or not, the company donated to politicians, including Siegelman.
And back in 2003, its CEO, Richard Scrushy, a man who Siegelman had appointed to a volunteer health care board (Scrushy had previously served in the same capacity under three different Republican Governors), had allowed its accountants to overstate the company’s value by over $1.4 billion (a ton of money, to be sure, but still only 10% of its real value).
The company was roundly chastised for this blatant misstatement, which allegedly cost shareholders tens of millions of dollars, and Scrushy, despite being found not guilty of violating Sarbanes-Oxley, was subsequently found guilty of bribing Siegelman (because he donated money to support a Siegelman-endorsed state lottery initiative, in order to provide for universal education) in exchange for maintaining a seat on the same health care board on which he had already, consistently served, a seat that was initially appointed to him during a previous Republican administration.
If this sounds absurd, flimsy, and ridiculous, it’s because it is absurd, flimsy, and ridiculous.
And after going after Scrushy, the Republicans went after Siegelman. The husband of the US Attorney initially assigned to the case just so happened to be a GOP operative and a friend of none other than Karl Rove. The US Attorney, Leura Canary, a Bush appointee, eventually handed over the prosecution to another attorney, but as we learned yesterday, she actually continued to be involved.
Siegelman was found guilty on seven of thirty-three counts and sentenced to seven years of jail and a $50,000 fine. It was an incredible and obvious miscarriage of justice, and after serving less than two years, Siegelman was set free in order to prepare his appeal.
I met Governor Siegelman only five months after his release, at the Democratic National Convention. I decided to introduce myself because I knew Siegelman had served his time in Oakdale, Louisiana, at the same facility as Governor Edwards, and to be honest, though I’d heard of his case before, I was, at the time, more interested in hearing his impressions of Edwards. According to Siegelman, by the way, Edwards is still physically and spiritually strong, though it obviously pained him to speak about how an overly politicized prosecution had forced a once-revered leader to live out his twilight years in redundancy and infamy.
Either way, yesterday, we learned of even more injustices in the Siegelman case. From Time Magazine:
The documents, obtained by TIME, include internal prosecution e-mails given to the Justice Department and Congress by a whistle-blower during the past 18 months. John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which investigated the Siegelman case as part of a broader inquiry into alleged political interference in the hiring and firing of U.S. Attorneys by the Bush Justice Department, last week sent an eight-page letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey citing the new material.
Conyers says the evidence raises “serious questions” about the U.S. Attorney in the Siegelman case, who, documents show, continued to involve herself in the politically charged prosecution long after she had publicly withdrawn to avoid an alleged conflict of interest relating to her husband, a top GOP operative and close associate of Bush adviser Karl Rove. Conyers’ letter also cites evidence of numerous contacts between jurors and members of the Siegelman prosecution team that were never disclosed to the trial judge or defense counsel.
Siegelman was released on bail earlier this year after a federal court ruled that his appeal raises “substantial questions.” But the issue that turned the case into a national controversy was the allegation of political bias. Critics, including a bipartisan group of 52 state attorneys general, have raised numerous questions, including the allegation that Siegelman was prosecuted at the insistence of Bush-appointed officials at the Justice Department and Leura G. Canary, a U.S. Attorney in Montgomery whose husband was Alabama’s top Republican operative and who had worked closely with Rove for years.
When the House Judiciary Committee looked into the Siegelman affair earlier this year, the DOJ issued statements, placed in the Congressional Record, maintaining that the case had been handled only by career prosecutors, not political appointees, and that Canary had recused herself in 2002, “before any significant decisions … were made.”
But new documents furnished by DOJ staffer Tamarah T. Grimes tell a different story. A legal aide who worked in the Montgomery office that prosecuted Siegelman, Grimes first submitted her documents to DOJ watchdogs in 2007, and now finds herself in an employment dispute that could result in her dismissal. Grimes’ lawyer had no comment.
The documents — whose authenticity is not in dispute — include e-mails written by Canary, long after her recusal, offering legal advice to subordinates handling the case. At the time Canary wrote the e-mails, her husband — Alabama GOP operative William J. Canary — was a vocal booster of the state’s Republican governor, Bob Riley, who had defeated Siegelman for the office and against whom Siegelman was preparing to run again. Canary also received tens of thousands of dollars in fees from other political opponents of Siegelman.
In one of Leura Canary’s e-mails, dated Sept. 19, 2005, she forwarded a three-page political commentary by Siegelman to senior prosecutors on the case. Canary highlighted a single passage, which, she told her subordinates, “Ya’ll need to read, because he refers to a ‘survey’ which allegedly shows that 67% of Alabamans believe the investigation of him to be politically motivated.” Canary then suggested: “Perhaps [this is] grounds not to let [Siegelman] discuss court activities in the media!”
Prosecutors in the case seem to have followed Canary’s advice. A few months later they petitioned the court to prevent Siegelman from arguing that politics had any bearing on the case against him. After trial, they persuaded the judge to use Siegelman’s public statements about political bias — like the one Canary had flagged in her e-mail — as grounds for increasing his prison sentence. The judge’s action is now one target of next month’s appeal.
Beyond providing the e-mails, Grimes has given a written statement to the Department of Justice that Canary had “kept up with every detail of the [Siegelman] case.” If true, Conyers told Mukasey, this raises “serious concerns” because “it is difficult to imagine the reason for a recused [U.S. Attorney] to remain so involved in the day-to-day progress of the matter under recusal.”
Last year Grimes gave the DOJ additional e-mails detailing previously undisclosed contact between prosecutors and members of the Siegelman jury. In nine days of deliberation, jurors twice told the judge they were deadlocked and could not reach a decision. After the panel finally delivered a conviction, allegations emerged that jurors had discussed the case in e-mails among themselves and downloaded Internet material — serious breaches that could have invalidated the verdict. But the trial judge ruled that the jurors’ alleged misconduct was harmless.
A key prosecution e-mail describes how jurors repeatedly contacted the government’s legal team during the trial to express, among other things, one juror’s romantic interest in a member of the prosecution team. “The jurors kept sending out messages” via U.S. Marshals, the e-mail says, identifying a particular juror as “very interested” in a person who had sat at the prosecution table in court. The same juror was later described as reaching out to members of the prosecution team for personal advice about her career and educational plans. Conyers commented that the “risk of [jury] bias … is obvious.”
What’s more, when prosecutors conducted their own investigation of suspected improper conduct by jurors after the trial, two of them were interviewed, despite instructions from the judge that no contact with jurors should occur without his permission. Those interviews were not publicly disclosed until nearly two years later, when the head of the DOJ’s criminal division belatedly wrote all parties, including the appeals court in Atlanta, to inform them.
Further undisclosed evidence of prosecution team members speaking with jurors following the verdict emerges in Grimes’ written statement to the DOJ. In it, she says a member of the team prosecuting Siegelman had spoken with a juror suspected of improper conduct — apparently at the time the judge was due to question the juror about that conduct. Grimes quotes the lead prosecutor in the case as saying someone had “talked to her. She is just scared and afraid she is going to get in trouble.”
In his letter to Mukasey, Conyers calls this additional juror contact “important information,” noting, “It is startling to see such repeated instances of federal prosecutors failing to keep the defense apprised of key developments in an active criminal case.” He might have added that the judge was, in some instances, apparently not in on the secret either.
It’s disgusting and affront to a fair and honest democracy and a functional and equal judicial system.
I proudly stand by Governor Siegelman.