By Andrew Kreig / Project Director
The Obama/Holder Justice Department’s win-at-all-costs campaign against political prosecution victims of the Bush administration continued this week. In unrelated prosecutions of Democrats in New Jersey and Alabama, the Department illustrated once again the unfairness of its procedures and its self-serving ethic of silencing critics.
In New Jersey, prosecutors disclosed they would indict former Jersey City mayoral candidate Louis Manzo, left, for a third time after four federal judges threw out previous bribery charges against him because prosecutors improperly expanded the law’s reach to cover candidates. The law is supposed to apply only to those in office. Wouldn't the Justice Department have known that before ruining the lives of Manzo and multiple other candidates by indicting them in the much-touted 2009 “Bid Rig III” sting? To pull off the government-run sting, Soloman Dwek, the perpetrator of a $50 million bank fraud, worked out a sweetheart deal with authorities. Dwek was paid to be paid between $10,000 and $12,000 a month from a victim's fund under government control. Then Dwek went to work for ambitious prosecutors in a scheme devised by Bush-appointed New Jersey U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, now governor, to offer money to local New Jersey politicians and others suspected of wrongdoing. When prosecutors don't know well-settled law before issuing indictments they should admit the mistake. Instead, the Obama Justice Department will take up to 45 days to devise a legal strategy to indict Manzo is some new way, as yet undisclose. “It’s like being waterboarded,” the defendant Manzo told me last evening about his ongoing ordeal. His brother Ronald, his campaign manager, succumbed to the pressure and pleaded guilty this week to federal charges in an unrelated case.
In Alabama, DOJ prosecutors who have relentlessly pursued former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman won a victory this week when a federal appeals court again side-stepped the injustice in the case by issuing a ruling that ensures the government’s decade-long jihad against the defendant continues. More specifically, the all-Republican appeals court panel announced that it was vacating 2006 two corruption convictions, counts eight and nine, against Siegelman. Upon first impression, the decision to vacate seemed to address concerns expressed by the Supreme Court last June when it remanded Siegelman’s case to the appeals court. In fact, the appeals court had already dismissed the charges in March 2009 for lack of any evidence to support the jury verdict. Therefore, some initial news reports last week were misleading. This week's ruling is here, and the 2009 decision is here. Siegelman told his supporters that he will seek rehearing before the full appeals court and, if necessary, seek another Supreme Court hearing. Both Democratic and Republican leaders have sought to keep a lid on the scandal by nominating for Alabama Middle District U.S. Attorney George Beck, who represented the chief witness against Siegelman. Our project seeks for the Senate to include during Beck's confirmation hearing witnesses who, for the first time publicly, could address under oath the vast numbers of irregularities in Siegelman's prosecution. Alabama legal commentator Roger Shuler has thoroughly analyzed shortcomings of the appeals court decision-making. His reports are summarized below. Several columns of his columns this week again slammed the three federal appeals court judges controlling the case: J.L. Edmondson, James C. Hill, and Gerald Bard Tjoflat. To see Siegelman's reaction, click here. An excerpt of the former governor's comment is below:
They got it wrong. On Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals failed to reverse my flawed, politically-motivated prosecution -- even in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that says, in short, that political contributions in and of themselves aren't bribery. Well, we're not giving up because we know that the law is on our side -- and, in time, justice will be done.
Let me be clear: I was never bribed. I never solicited a bribe. I never broke the law....This was a partisan witch-hunt, pure and simple, cooked up by Karl Rove and the Republican Party to try to put me away for good because they disagree with my politics. They couldn't beat me fair and square, so they targeted me with this politically-motivated, unfounded prosecution.
In 2009, the Obama administration under Attorney General Eric Holder, left, sought 20 years in prison for Siegelman, now 65. Holder and his minions did so even after multiple whistleblowers and documents showed that the defendant and his co-defendant businessman had been railroaded in the nation's most notorious political prosecution of the decade. The former governor is now free on bail from a seven-year sentence after serving 18 months, with the first part of it in solitary confinement. His convictions ostensibly were primarily for seeking a donation to a non-profit group in circumstances that Siegelman and many independent observers regard as not crime, especially after a Supreme Court decision last year on similar cases. There’s no evidence that the DOJ has thoroughly investigated the whistleblower and other evidence that the prosecution was a Karl Rove-inspired, trumped up effort to imprison Siegelman because he was Alabama's only viable statewide Democratic candidate. An initial prosecution of Siegelman went nowhere. But in 2005, authorities connived to obtain a second, secret indictment and transfer the prosecution to the politically connected Middle District Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller. After many questionable and even outrageous pro-prosecution rulings he government showered some $300 million in federal contracts to a closely held company, Doss Aviation, Inc., that Fuller controlled as its largest stockholder.
The Justice Integrity Project has written extensively about these scandals, and shall continue to do so. In the meantime, we provide details below via columns on these cases and their overall context. That context includes the staffing of the Justice Department during the Bush years by hiring officials such as Monica Goodling, Kyle Sampson and Mary Beth Buchanan, who imposed political tests to ensure that law enforcement personnel were “loyal Bushies.” Those were the words of Sampson when he was chief of staff to the attorney general and writing Rove at the White House. The Obama administration’s whitewashes and cover-ups of such wrongdoing have had to become an increasing part of our news coverage at our project. Regrettably, we must explore in much greater depth reasons for law enforcement personnel to stick together.
Undertaking official corruption investigations is, of course, a worthy objective, and we provide below and elsewhere evidence of successes. In New Jersey, for example, most of the defendants have pled guilty. The traditional news media focuses heavily on indictments, prosecution leaks of salacious information about defendants, and guilty verdicts for obvious reasons. Even independent authors tend to be swept up in pro-prosecution themes because it is authorities, after all,who are sitting on treasure troves of information that authors need, and it is authorities who have more credibility with the public than defendants and their attorneys. For such reasons, were showcased on our site and radio show, The Jersey Sting, a new book described below that presents a largely pro-prosecution view of the New Jersey case. Any positives in the Alabama prosecution are far less obvious, especially if one computes the many millions of dollars of taxpayer dollars spent in the decade of litigation. Siegelman described last week that he has paid more than $2 million in attorneys fees to defend himself. Left uncounted is spending by co-defendants who were acquitted but who nonethelss found their careers and finances and families devastated. There are many witnesses also who have vast expenditures. And who in power has rigorously examined the vastly larger amounts of government spending to achieve such meager and controversial results? We have looked at preliminary results, primarily when a DOJ whistleblower named Tamarah Grimes raised the question and was fired for her initiative in questioning the government waste of money.
Two final points need to be spelled out. First, it's not enough that the government act in a fair and honest manner most of the time as it obtains convictions. The Justice Department needs to act in a reasonable proportion to the suspected crime, allocation of resources and basic honesty all of the time because of its special role in the court system. It's fair to describe the yet-unpublished material as "explosive," with the potential (along with previously published material) to send important officials to prison if anyone dared investigate these miscarriages of justice in a thorough fashion by calling witnesses in public for the first time. Therein may well be the incentive to keep defendants such as Manzo and Siegelman under pressure for so many years at so much costto the public. They have to worry about avoiding prison, and have scant opportunity to examine the larger picture. We at our project have shown great abuses in both the New Jersey and Alabama prosecutions, and there's much more to come on both. Additionally, it is important to note that neither the project nor I personally have any taken any money, benefit or similar promise from any of the Alabama or New Jersey defendants, or any known supporters. We’re doing this to underscore the importance of due process rights in the legal system.
These New Jersey and Alabama developments underscore in tragic ways the themes articulated by longtime litigator and civil rights advocate Harvey Silverglate in his pioneering book, Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent. In the foreword, Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz quotes Lavrenti Beria, the head of Stalin’s secret police, as saying, “Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime.” Dershowitz continues:
Even after Stalin’s death, the gulag was filled with ordinary citizens who had committed no crimes other than disagreeing with the powers that be. They were not prosecuted for dissenting. Instead they were prosecuted for violating the myriad laws regulating commerce and other day-to-day economic activities.
Listed below are a number columns and news stories about the developments in New Jersey and Alabama. Excerpted also are recent columns about frightening new levels of searches and intimidation of critics and dissenters. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer wants airport-type security for those boarding trains. What’s next? Warrantless searches for those who have the nerve to step on a sidewalk and breath the government’s air?
Why do we need to foster such notions here in the United States?
Below are significant articles that articles contain a sample of news. See the full article by clicking the links in the sections on News Reports at the top of the homepage.
Manzo Prosecutions in New Jersey
Newark Star-Ledger, Insurance broker Manzo pleads guilty to conspiracy to commit extortion, faces jail time, MaryAnn Spoto, May 12, 2011. Ronald Manzo, an insurance broker by trade, was also in the business of arranging the election of politicians for a price, federal prosecutors say. Today he paid the price. Facing back-to-back criminal trials and probation violation charges, Ronald Manzo pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit extortion with Elwell. Prosecutors say they agreed to dismiss the allegations related to his brother’s case.
Associated Press / KRMG-AM/FM, NJ political consultant pleads to corruption, David Porter, May 12, 2011. A political consultant charged in New Jersey's largest corruption sting pleaded guilty Thursday as the government notified his brother, a former state Assemblyman, that he could face additional charges despite a court ruling that dismissed the most serious charge against him. Ronald Manzo admitted in federal court in Newark that he acted as a middleman between a government informant posing as a corrupt developer and a northern New Jersey mayor. Manzo was to have gone to trial in June with former Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell.
Jersey Journal, Feds expected to indict former assemblyman Louis Manzo of Jersey City for third time in two years, Agustin C. Torres, May 12, 2011. Former assemblyman Louis Manzo (left) of Jersey City said it's like being in a tag-team wrestling match without getting the opportunity to get in the ring. Now he'll have to wait a bit longer while the federal government prepares to re-indict him on presumedly corruption charges. "They are no longer seeking justice," said Manzo who charged the U.S. attorney's Office of ethics violations in his indictment. He claimed that the 2009 Bid Rig III mass corruption sting was used to advance the gubernatorial campaign of Chris Christie. Lynch said federal prosecutors indicted Manzo "for a headline." Government prosecutors in court today ignored Journal questions.
Justice Integrity Project, Book ‘Jersey Sting’ On Christie Probes Raises Questions, Andrew Kreig, March 22, 2011. The Jersey Sting is a new book about a major federal corruption case that helped former New Jersey U.S. Attorney Chris Christie win his state’s governorship in 2009. Readers here know that our Justice Integrity Project has documented in multiple columns the unfairness of the controversial 46-defendant case initiated by the Republican Christie. Prosecutions, primarily resulting in guilty pleas but also including an unusually high number of acquittals or pre-trial rulings adverse to the government, have continued vigorously under Christie's successors in an office now led by the Democratic-nominated U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman. Authors Ted Sherman and Josh Margolin are investigative reporters who long worked the Star-Ledger, the state’s largest daily newspaper. St. Martin’s Press, which published the book this month, says, “The Jersey Sting takes you deep inside a one-of-a-kind case, through a narrative fashioned from scores of interviews — both on and off the record — and from thousands of pages of documents, criminal complaints, transcripts of federal wiretaps, court records, and sworn depositions.” They appeared on the Washington Update radio show on April 7.
Justice Integrity Project, Court Slaps Feds Again For Christie-Era NJ Prosecutions, Feb. 21, 2011. In a major setback for the U.S. Justice Department and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a federal appeals court last week dismissed federal bribery and conspiracy charges against two New Jersey Democrats targeted in a trap set by Christie. Our non-partisan Justice Integrity Project has repeatedly pointed to the 46-defendant “Bid Rig III” case as one of the nation’s most scandalous political prosecutions of recent years.
Siegelman and Scrushy Case in Alabama
Birmingham News, Until and unless the U.S. Supreme Court rules differently, Siegelman and Scrushy remain guilty as charged of bribery, Editorial board, May 17, 2011. For those who believe in justice, last week's appeals court ruling regarding charges against former Gov. Don Siegelman and HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy had to be satisfying.
Legal Schnauzer, Siegelman Convictions Hang on the Definition of One Word, Roger Shuler, May 12, 2011. After more than 10 years of investigations, prosecutions, and appeals, the convictions in the Don Siegelman case essentially stand on the definition of one word. The meaning of the word "explicit." Was the jury made up of enlightened citizens or a bunch of dimwits? The Eleventh Circuit can't seem to make up its mind. Did the three-judge panel bother to review its own work before writing its most recent ruling? The work of the Eleventh Circuit on the Siegelman case can only be described as a "fiasco." And there is no doubt about what that word means.
Birmingham News, Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman may ask Supreme Court to review case, attorney says, Kim Chandler, May 10, 2011. A lawyer for former Gov. Don Siegelman said the governor will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if needed following the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision today upholding most of his conviction in a government corruption case. The 11th Circuit after reviewing the case for a second time upheld five of the counts against Siegelman and four against former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy. "I'm disappointed in the ruling, but we will continue to fight until we have complete exoneration and a correct understanding of the law," Siegelman lawyer Sam Heldman said. Heldman said the governor's first step will be to seek a rehearing before the 11th Circuit. "If that is not successful we will go to the Supreme Court," Heldman said. Scrushy lawyer Bruce S. Rogow said he was pleased the court dismissed two of the charges against Scrushy. "It's a step in the right direction. Now we just need to take a larger step," Rogow said.
Legal Schnauzer, Federal Judges on Siegelman Appeal Prove To Be Both Corrupt And Lazy, Roger Shuler, March 11, 2011. A federal appeals court might have unwittingly provided insight yesterday about its muddled handling of appeals in the Don Siegelman case. Yesterday's ruling from a three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit accomplished almost nothing. The judges provided no insight on Skilling or its impact on bribery convictions. And they provided zero relief for Siegelman. The only relief came for codefendant Richard Scrushy, who had two of his convictions on honest-services fraud reversed.
Legal Schnauzer, Breaking: Federal Court Is Pulling a Charade in the Siegelman Case, Roger Shuler, May 10, 2011. It appears federal appeals courts are issuing "split decisions" on Bush-era political prosecutions. By upholding at least one segment of the convictions, the appeals courts are giving the prosecutions some legitimacy and making it more difficult for victims to sue for monetary damages. Victims might have their prison sentences greatly reduced, or eliminated, but justice still will not be served. In the Siegelman/Scrushy case, we still have motions to recuse trial judge Mark Fuller.
Project Series on George Beck Nomination
Justice Integrity Project, What To Do About Obama's Alabama Snafu? Part IV, April 8, 2011.The Justice Integrity Project today calls for the Senate Judiciary Committee to invite independent witnesses to testify at the confirmation hearing for George L. Beck, President Obama's nominee to become U.S. attorney for the middle district of Alabama. Only a full review of the conflicts surrounding this nationally important but dubious nomination can restore vitally needed public trust.
Justice Integrity Project, Beck's Backers Make Their Case, Part III, April 8, 2011. “For his diligence and relentless pursuit of justice, I have named George L. Beck to serve as a U.S. Attorney,” announced President Obama on March 31. “I am confident he will serve the people of Alabama with distinction.”
Justice Integrity Project, Bailey-Beck Siegelman Frame-up, Part II, April 6, 2011. Two videos, one from June 2007 and another just seven months later in 2008, illustrate why George Beck is such a bad choice as the Obama nominee to run Alabama’s troubled middle district office.
Justice Integrity Project, Senate Must Grill Tainted Alabama DOJ Nominee, Part I, April 5, 2011. President Obama ended more than two years of high-profile White House indecision March 31 by naming the prominent Alabama attorney George L. Beck as his nominee to become U.S. attorney for the state’s Montgomery-based middle district. Despite an impressive career overall, Beck is a horrible choice.
Staffing Justice Department With Partisans
Justice Integrity Project, Virginia Bar Continues Whitewash of DOJ Misconduct, May 9, 2011. In a typical whitewash of misconduct by top officials, Virginia Bar Association issued merely a reprimand to a former Bush Department of Justice executive who lied about whether she used improper political criteria to hire the Department's attorneys.
Legal Schnauzer, Monica Goodling Ruling Shows That Legal Watchdogs Have No Teeth, Roger Shuler, May 9, 2011. Former U.S. Justice Department official Monica Goodling has received a public reprimand from the Virginia State Bar for her role in unlawfully mixing political considerations and hiring decisions in the George W. Bush administration. Because of Goodling, numerous unqualified lawyers now serve in the DOJ. Because of Goodling, numerous qualified lawyers do not serve in the DOJ. Because of Goodling, and many others, our justice department was used as a political tool.
Washington Post, Ensign broke law, panel finds, Paul Kane and Carol D. Leonnig, May 12, 2011. The Senate ethics committee on Thursday took the rare step of asking federal agencies to investigate a former colleague, saying it found “substantial and credible evidence” that Nevada Republican John Ensign, right, broke federal laws while trying to cover up an extramarital affair with a political aide.
TPM Muckraker, The Ensign-Hampton Affair: Text Messages, Prayer Breakfast And Yahoo Addresses, Ryan J. Reilly, May 13, 2011. The affair between former Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) and his campaign staffer Cynthia Hampton began after the Hampton household was robbed in November 2007. It's well chronicled in a report by the special counsel hired by the Senate Ethics Committee and released Thursday which found the former Senator had violated multiple ethics rules and laws and referred the case to federal prosecutors and the Federal Elections Commission.
National Security and Privacy Cases
Washington Post, Activist who supports soldier in WikiLeaks case sues U.S. over seizure of laptop, Ellen Nakashima, May 13, 2011. The co-founder of a group advocating for an Army private accused of leaking classified material to the anti-secrecy Web site WikiLeaks is suing the U.S. government for unlawfully seizing his computer and copying its contents to aid a criminal investigation of the site. Computer scientist David House’s laptop was taken in November at an international airport by two Department of Homeland Security agents without a hint that it contained evidence of wrongdoing, but rather because House was a vocal supporter of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the accused leaker, the American Civil Liberties Union alleged in a complaint to be filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Boston.
FireDogLake, Chat with David House About New ACLU Lawsuit, Jane Hamsher, May 13, 2011. The ACLU has filed suit on behalf of FDL blogger David House, the friend of Bradley Manning who had his laptop seized by Homeland Security agents last November. The harassment of House and others is part of a pattern of government abuse of power, designed to threaten and intimidate its critics. Everyone who values their right to free speech should be concerned about the government actions that the suit addresses. David joins us in the comments to talk about the suit.
Mother Jones, Green is the new red, James Ridgeway, March 11, 2011. One morning back in 2002, Will Potter, a young newspaper reporter on the metro desk at the Chicago Tribune, heard three heavy knocks on his apartment door. When he opened it, two FBI agents flashed their badges. They told Potter he could either come outside and talk with them, or they would visit him at work. Potter was stunned. "I felt as if I was staring blankly ahead," he said, "but my eyes must have shown fear. 'Now I have your attention, huh?,'" Chris said. The agent went on to tell him, "'after 9/11, we have a lot more authority now to get things done and get down to business. We can make your life very difficult for you. You work at newspapers? I can make it so you never work at a newspaper again.'" For Will Potter, the FBI's visit marked the beginning of what would become a career as an independent journalist, tracking the government's prosecutions—and persecutions—of environmental and animal rights activists, which one FBI deputy director, at the height of the war on terror in 2004, identified as "our highest domestic terrorism investigation priority." Potter's book, published last month and also titled Green Is the New Red, documents the scare tactics used by the government, often in concert with large corporations, against even patently non-violent activist groups.
Los Angeles Times, No-ride list proposed for Amtrak trains after Bin Laden 'aspiration' discovered, Andrew Malcolm, May 10, 2011. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, right, proposes no-ride lists for U.S. domestic trains, similar to the no-fly lists used in aviation, in the wake of intelligence discovered at Osama bin Laden's hideout in Pakistan. "Circumstances demand we make adjustments by increasing funding to enhance rail safety and monitoring on commuter rail transit and screening who gets on Amtrak passenger trains, so that we can provide a greater level of security to the public," the New York Democrat explained at a news conference.>