Justice: The Rovian Touch
Justice: The Rovian Touch
The case of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (D) has raised concerns about the extent of the politicization of justice under the Bush administration.
|OCTOBER 12, 2007||by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna,
Matt Corley, Ali Frick, and Jeremy Richmond
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The Rovian Touch
“Alberto Gonzales is out as attorney general, but there is still a lot of questionable Justice Department activity for Congress to sort through,” stated the New York Times in September. In particular, the case of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (D) has raised concerns about the extent of the politicization of justice under the Bush administration. In 2006, Siegelman was convicted on charges of “conspiracy, bribery and fraud,” stemming from payments made by then-HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy payments to Siegelman “in laundered funds to obtain a seat on a state regulatory board governing HealthSouth.” Siegelman was also charged with a “pay-for-play scheme” tied to lobbyist Lanny Young. But Time magazine obtained documents last week showing that Young “also gave illegal contributions to U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and U.S. Circuit Judge Bill Pryor, both Republicans and both former state attorneys general.” Sessions and Pryor, however, were never investigated or prosecuted. This week, House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) released testimony from Alabama Republican operative Dana Jill Simpson charging that former Bush adviser Karl Rove and his allies pushed the Justice Department into prosecuting Siegelman. In a bipartisan letter to Congress raising concern about Siegelman’s prosecution, 44 former state attorneys general wrote: “There is reason to believe that the case brought against Governor Siegelman may have had sufficient irregularities as to call into question the basic fairness that is the linchpin of our system of justice.”
‘NORMAL FOR POLITICS’: “Siegelman was a major frustration to Alabama Republicans. The state is bright red, but Mr. Siegelman managed to win the governorship in 1998 with 57 percent of the vote.” Yet in 2002, Siegelman narrowly lost the governorship to Bob Riley. In 2004, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama Alice Martin charged that Siegelman “had been involved in an effort to rig bids on a state project in Tuscaloosa.” A judge dismissed the case due to lack of evidence. Just as Siegelman was preparing to run for governor again, a second round of charges was brought in 2005 by U.S. Attorney Leura Canary in Montgomery, “a different judicial district distinct from the Northern Alabama district.” His trial in 2006 “overlapped with Alabama’s Democratic primary, in which Siegelman had initially been a heavy favorite.” Canary’s office then “convicted him of charges for which he was sentenced to seven years in prison.” Those charges have been considered tenuous by some legal experts. “It seems to me the conduct in this case was similar to a lot of what we take as normal for politics,” said David A. Sklansky, a former federal prosecutor and professor at University of California, Berkeley.
ROVE LEAVES HIS MARK: In 2002, Siegelman sought a recount in the race with Riley. According to an affidavit filed by Simpson, Bill Canary — a “long time friend of Rove’s” — said on a conference call “not to worry about Don Siegelman” because “he had already gotten it worked out with Karl and Karl had spoken with the Department of Justice.” Simpson said the participants in the conference call expressed “concern that Gov. Siegelman would refuse to give up his challenge to the vote count.” Bill Canary denied the allegations. This week, House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) released the transcript from Simpson’s sworn testimony before the committee, further implicating Rove. Simpson told investigators that during Bob Riley’s 2005 campaign against Siegelman, Rob Riley — the governor’s son who also had ties to Rove — “told her that Rove had intervened again, this time going directly to the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice” to bring “corruption charges” against Siegelman. Rove allegedly assured the prosecution that Siegelman would face Mark Fuller, an Alabama federal judge who reportedly “hated” Siegelman. Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) found Rove’s scheme unsurprising, citing his “involvement in the state’s politics in the 1990s and Alabama’s wholesale transition, bucked by Mr. Siegelman, to Republican dominance.”
PART OF A PATTERN: Siegelman’s prosecution fits a pattern of politicization of the Justice Department under Gonzales and Rove. Gonzales pushed for the firings of at least nine U.S. attorneys for alleged “performance based” issues. But as Congress investigated the firings, it was revealed that several of the attorneys were fired for not prosecuting Democrats prior to major elections. Rove may have orchestrated the firings, by helping draw up the list of attorneys to be fired. Siegelman’s “irregular” prosecution adds more weight to allegations that the White House and Justice Department “selectively prosecuted Democrats.” “The extraordinary sensitivity of these cases — and their ability to change the political balance of power in the country — makes it critical that prosecutors be nonpolitical and above reproach. In the current Justice Department, they have not been,” wrote the New York Times about the Siegelman case.
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