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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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JUSTICE

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.

UNDER THE RADAR

ETHICS — REP. JEFF FLAKE PREDICTS ‘ANOTHER INDICTMENT OR TWO’ FOR EARMARK ABUSE IS ‘COMING’: Over the years, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has garnered a reputation as “the House’s No. 1 earmark-hater” due to his willingness “to kill projects” favored by his colleagues. Though he has gained increased support for his anti-earmark mission since the 2006 elections, Flake says it will probably take “another” earmark-centered “indictment or two” before his fellow lawmakers seriously tackle earmark reform. Flake believes that day is right around the corner, telling the Politico that he thinks more indictments “are coming.” Though he did not name names to the Politico, a number of Flake’s colleagues, including Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), Rep. Gary Miller (R-CA), Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) and Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), are currently under scrutiny for their handling of earmarks. Flake could also be referring to the ” fresh wave of campaign-related theft and corruption investigations” reported recently by Roll Call. According to the Capitol Hill paper, “indictments may be on the horizon.”

ENVIRONMENT — ADMINISTRATION PROHIBITS LEGAL ACTION AGAINST POLLUTER UNTIL 2018: The Environmental Protection Agency and American Electric Power (AEP) reached an agreement this week in a suit regarding AEP’s “failure to take the necessary steps to mitigate the impact of acid rain.” The agreement, in which AEP “agreed to spend $4.6 billion to reduce chemical emissions” was initially hailed by environmental groups. But “buried in paragraph 133 of the consent decree…is a section that assures AEP that the government will not pursue any action stemming from the ‘modification’ of these plants between now and Dec. 31, 2018.” This signals that the Bush administration “has no intention of taking enforcement actions against the utility for the same kind of Clean Air Act violations in the future.” In the 1990s, power companies extended the operation of aging plants to evade stricter reductions required of new plants. The Clean Air Cct requires refurbished plants to meet the same standards as new ones to avoid this situation. Now the Bush administration is using settlements over past violations to allow this dirty practice to continue for ten more years at the same facilities that broke the law in the 1990s. Frank O’Donnell of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch, notes that it is nothing new with this administration. “Seven or eight years ago, the U.S. electric industry was frantically on the run because federal enforcers were going after them at every turn,” he said. “Then the Bush administration called off the dogs.”

WOMEN’S RIGHTS — ABORTION RATES UNAFFECTED BY OUTLAWING THE PROCEDURE: A new global study “has concluded that abortion rates are similar in countries where it is legal and those where it is not, suggesting that outlawing the procedure does little to deter women seeking it.” While the rates of abortion are similar worldwide, the safety of the procedure varies widely. The study “found that abortion was a very safe procedure for women in countries where it is legal, but extremely dangerous for women in countries where it is outlawed and performed underground.” “The data also suggested that the best way to reduce abortion rates was not to make abortion illegal but to make contraception more widely available.” Unfortunately, the Bush administration continues to promote a failed policy of abstinence-only sex education and tie African HIV/AIDS reduction aid to groups promoting abstinence-only policies.

THINK FAST

The “richest Americans’ share of national income has hit a postwar record,” with the “wealthiest 1% of Americans earn[ing] 21.2% of all income in 2005, according to new data from the Internal Revenue Service. … The bottom 50% earned 12.8% of all income, down from 13.4% in 2004.”

The New York Times’s Paul Krugman covers the right-wing smear of Graeme Frost and his family, calling it “a perfect illustration of the modern right-wing political machine at work, and in particular its routine reliance on character assassination in place of honest debate.”

“A comprehensive global study of abortion has concluded that abortion rates are similar in countries where it is legal and those where it is not, suggesting that outlawing the procedure does little to deter women seeking it.” Additionally, abortion was found to be more dangerous where it is outlawed.

The ethics watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) asked a federal judge yesterday to order the White House to preserve tapes used to back up its e-mail system. “The White House is refusing to confirm that they have maintained e-mail going back to the beginning of the administration as they are required by law to do,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW.

In an “unusual” and “unprecedented” move, CIA director Michael Hayden has ordered an “internal inquiry into the work of the agency’s inspector general,” who has been responsible for “aggressive investigations” of the CIA’s detention and interrogation programs.

Time magazine asks, “Who will be punished for Haditha?” While few dispute the fact that “women and children were killed in their homes alongside adult males by U.S. Marines” in Hadith on Nov. 19, 2005, “the likelihood is” that none of the soldiers involved will be charged for murder.

The Sept. 16 shootout in Baghdad by Blackwater guards was a “criminal event,” according to a report by the first U.S. soldiers to arrive on the scene. “It had every indication of an excessive shooting,” said Lt. Col. Mike Tarsa, who led the troops who responded to the incident.

And finally: Even the White House has noticed Radiohead’s new album. Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto is reportedly a “big fan” of the group and plans to download “In Rainbows.” National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said that he is “90 percent sure” he has a few Radiohead songs on his iPod, but none from their 2003 album, “Hail to the Thief,” which is considered a reference to President Bush.

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GOOD NEWS

“The number of tourists in this city [New Orleans], one of its strongest barometers for recovery, is on a pace to increase more than 60% this year as corporate conventions bring in billions of dollars in revenue.”

STATE WATCH

CALIFORNIA: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) vetoes a measure that would have allowed new citizens to register to vote on election day.

COLORADO: “Colorado’s Medicaid enrollment is on a decline for the first time in nearly 10 years.”

ENVIRONMENT: “More than half of all industrial and municipal facilities across the country dumped more sewage and other pollutants into the nation’s waterways than allowed under the Clean Water Act.”

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: EXCLUSIVE: e-mail reveals that a staffer for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) propagated the smear campaign against 12-year old Graeme Frost.

WAR ROOM: “Three people” in Vice President Cheney’s office tried to silence MSNBC’s Chris Matthews.

CAPITOL BRIEFING: House conservatives steer clear of Vice President Dick Cheney.

FIREDOGLAKE: The call list of senators who need to be reminded not to put telecom immunity into the new FISA bill.

DAILY GRILL

“We advance the name of General Petraeus this year because he has come to personify the GI Joes and GI Janes of whom he is in command.”
— New York Sun, 10/10/07, nominating Petraeus for the Nobel Peace Prize

VERSUS

“Former Vice President Al Gore and the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Friday for their efforts to spread awareness of man-made climate change and lay the foundations for counteracting it.”
— MSNBC, 10/12/07

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