Justice Integrity Project
The New Yorker Magazine's legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin last week advocated a presidential pardon for former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman.
In writing Why Obama Should Pardon Don Siegelman, the commentator understated in erroneous fashion the gross injustice of the prosecution, according to Siegelman's co-defendant Richard Scrushy.
The former HealthSouth CEO commented that Toobin is among the many journalists who have accepted a false prosecution narrative that Scrushy donated $500,000 in 1999 to the non-profit Alabama Education Foundation in order to obtain appointment to a governor-appointed regulatory board.
Scrushy, shown a photo with one of his nine children during his five years in prison, said the sum was $250,000 and it came from HealthSouth at the request of a fellow businessman, not Siegelman -- and Scrushy did not want to serve on the board.
The developments were among several last week in the federal-state prosecution that has become a human rights disgrace for the American judicial system.
Additionally, Siegelman's friends reported that the defendant has spent a month in remarkably uncomfortable transit and in solitary confinement surrounding his so-far unsuccessful federal hearings Dec. 15 and Jan. 13. Siegelman sought release on bond Dec. 15 before U.S. District Judge Clay Land in Montgomery, and then argued his appeal last week before a three-judge panel in Atlanta.
Earlier this month, legal blogger Roger Shuler argued Siegelman lawyers claim that U.S. Magistrate Charles Coody lied about reviewing Leura Canary documents. Coody failed to respond to our request for comment last week.
In 2004, the Bush Justice Department failed to win convictions in separate trials of Siegelman and Scrushy but succeeded in a second joint trial in 2006 with a new judge, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller of Alabama's middle district based in Montgomery.
Siegelman was Alabama's most prominent Democrat when he was governor from 1999 to 2003, but has been continually investigated, prosecuted, or imprisoned since his first months in office in 1999, beginning by then-Alabama Attorney Gen. William Pryor, who now sits on the federal appeals court.
Toobin, a graduate of both Harvard College and the university's law school, has been a staff writer at the New Yorker since 1993. In the late 1980s, he was a federal prosecutor working on the Iran-Contra case. Adding to his influence, he is the author of multiple books on legal affairs and has been the senior legal analyst for CNN since 2002.
A federal appeals court in Atlanta hears on Jan. 13 the latest appeal of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, one of the nation’s leading political prisoners.
His imprisonment for 1999 actions not considered a crime by other political figures has been compounded by more than a month of harsh confinement over the holidays preventing family visits and communications with his lawyers in advance of his hearing, aside from one phone call.
“Don has spent more than a month in solitary confinement, 24 hours a day for more than 36 days,” wrote his friend Anita Darden, who has maintained the Don Siegelman website for years. “What a shock and disappointment this must be to a man so hopeful for release a month earlier. How did this happen?” she continued in a column posted Jan. 12 on a supporters' website.
Update from New York Times: Lawyers for Don Siegelman, Ex-Governor of Alabama, Again Seek His Release From Prison.
In a case brought by the Bush administration and vigorously endorsed by the Obama Justice Department despite evidence of massive irregularities, Siegelman’s appeal focuses on two arguments:
He asserts that Alabama Middle District U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, in office from 2001 to 2011 and shown in a file photo, failed to recuse herself from decision-making despite a conflict of interest because her husband, William Canary, was campaign manager for a Siegelman rival. Leura Canary claimed she recused but the government has denied since 2006 the defense requests for evidence on the issue.
As a second ground for appeal, Siegelman says that his trial judge, then-Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, improperly imposed a sentence for charges for which Siegelman had won jury acquittal.
The Anniston Star in Alabama editorialized last week regarding Siegelman’s 78-month sentence for actions not normally considered criminal. The newspaper said the tough sentence contrasts sharply with the 24-month sentence a Virginia federal judge imposed this month on Republican former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, who with his wife accepted some $170,000 in gifts from a lobbyist.
U.S. authorities must stop protecting those foreigners who funded the 9-11 terrorists. That was the theme of speakers at a Capitol Hill press briefing Jan. 7 who made compelling arguments against continued secrecy and cover-up.
Former Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Bob Graham (D-FL) and Congressmen Walter Jones (R-NC) and Stephen Lynch (D-MA) were joined by representatives of 9/11 families. They urged passage by the new Congress of a resolution declassifying the 28 pages of the 2002 congressional joint inquiry on 9/11 that identified funders of the 19 accused hijackers.
Jones opened the briefing by noting the Jan. 7 terrorist attack in Paris earlier in the morning that killed at least 12 at the Paris newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Details: Gunmen storm Paris satirical newspaper.
“Just like the tragedy in France today,” Jones said, “no nation can defend itself unless the nation knows the truth, and especially when there’s been an attack like 9/11.” Jones, Lynch, and U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) won 10 other co-sponsors to House Resolution No. 428 from among the 435 House members.
A nearly hour-long video of this week's briefing shows Lynch at left and Jones:
“Money is the lifeblood of terrorism,” added Terry Strada, national co-chair of 9/11 Families United Against Terrorism.
The widow of World Trade Center victim Tom Strada and mother of three continued: “By hiding the truth about who financed 9/11, the guilty parties have gone unpunished, free to continue financing terrorist organizations. As a consequence, we have witnessed the creation of branches of al Qaeda like ISIS grow at an alarming rate.”
Graham, as co-chair of the joint congressional investigation of 9/11, co-authored the 28-page section of its report that Presidents Bush and Obama have suppressed.
Graham, 78, is shown in a photo from his senate career. He served three terms after two term as Florida governor. He retired in 2005 after exploring a presidential candidacy.
This week, he recalled being shocked upon completion of the report and learning that the Bush White House was going to suppress findings vital to a key point – did the hijackers act alone? Graham said the 28 pages remain vital also to the country’s ongoing need for justice and national security.
Graham and others who have read the report face arrest if they describe what is in the top-secret section. Since July, members of Congress have been able to read it in a guarded room so long as they take no notes. About thirty members have reportedly seen it so far.
At the Jan. 7 press briefing, officials cited non-secret investigations for their conclusions: Evidence suggests the Saudi Arabian government and its controlled entities funded pre-attack expenses of some of the accused hijackers. Of the 19, 15 were Saudi natives. Independent research suggests expenses could be substantial. Author Daniel Hopsicker, for example, described in his Welcome to Terrorland book extensive flight school training expenses along with a lavish life-style for several of the now-dead accused. The Egyptian native Mohammad Atta, for example, was a flashy dresser, and heavy drug and alcohol user, Hopsicker reported, based in part on a taped interview with Atta's former girlfriend, a stripper.
“Al Qaeda was a creature of Saudi Arabia,” Graham said. “And now, ISIS is a creature of Saudi Arabia.”
Graham then cited the Jan. 7 killings at the Paris newspaper.
The Washington Post reported Jan. 2 important conflicts of interest involving the career of liberal commentator Bill Moyers. The newspaper omitted an even bigger conflict regarding Moyers’ role in the JFK murder investigation.
To commemorate Moyers’ last scheduled "Moyers & Co." show this week on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), the Post’s Paul Farhi reported financial relationships regarding the 1967 creation of PBS and some of its operations since then.
Omitted from the Post profile A Crusader’s Quiet Farewell was Moyers’s key role helping his mentor Lyndon Johnson coordinate news coverage of President Kennedy’s 1963 assassination. That killing enabled the Johnson presidency, of course, and also propelled the aide's career. Three recent books have alleged that Johnson helped coordinate the murder. Many others have argued that Johnson orchestrated a cover-up of the murder, at the minimum, via the Warren Commission's claim that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone to kill JFK with three shots from behind.
We start with recognition of Moyers's impressive career. He has provided a rare and often brave window via mainstream media into the inner councils of the powerful and the harm they inflict on the public.
So it is with that high standard in mind that we report on the singular omissions below. We hope Moyers one day soon will fill in the gaps speaking bluntly with his rare combination of eloquence, experience, and audience.
In a 1963 photo, Moyers is shown as an aide to President Johnson in the weeks after the assassination when Moyers was coordinating media coverage.
The establishment liberal media have been less than aggressive in probing the JFK assassination, thereby illustrating the overlap of journalism and politics.
For such reasons, we at the Justice Integrity Project draw what we can from the mainstream media and augment that information with alternative sources. The Moyers story provides an apt kick-off for our 2015 efforts. This is our first column of the year.
Kennedy’s murder remains at the heart of recent American history. Among the many impacts: Kennedy had tried to stop the Vietnam War but Johnson promptly countermanded Kennedy's order and greatly increased U.S. involvement. The record is inevitably mixed, of course. Johnson, a Texan and longtime segregationist, pushed civil rights legislation through the Southern Democrat-dominated Congress in ways that would have been difficult for Kennedy, a Massachusetts native.
Whatever the case, the public deserves full disclosure especially on matters involving the media itself.
Some commentators, including Moyers (shown in a 2005 photo), have argued that the United States has endured a long-term destruction of democratic institutions and Constitutional freedoms. But few in the traditional media, including its liberal outlets that Moyers has helped fund, dare try to connect the JFK murder to subsequent events in direct fashion.
Retired professor and diplomat Peter Dale Scott, for example, argued last fall at a conference on the Warren Commission that the commission's cover-up of the JFK murder led oligarchs to use similar methods to oust Richard Nixon from the presidency, sabotage the re-election of Jimmy Carter, undertake heinous arms and drug smuggling in the Iran-Contra scandal, and obscure (at the minimum) important facts about 9/11, such as funding of the hijackers.
Scott's new book The American Deep State: Wall Street, Big Oil and the Attack on U.S. Democracy, parallels arguments by others that gain relatively little traction in the media.
We now know about the once-secret 1960s Operation Mockingbird program and a 1967 CIA directive to smear government critics as "conspiracy theorists." CIA Dispatch 1035-960 instructed agents to contact their media contacts and urge them to disparage those who criticize the Warren Commission findings. The 150-page CIA document is here in the original, and here in reformatted text of its summary.
Even in media circles or popular discussions today about civic affairs, many people respond to new information by stating they are not interested in criticism of government on sensitive matters because it might be considered "conspiracy theory." Few repeating such adages seem to know that a secret government plan in 1967 popularized those words to immunize government in effect from any suspicions of gross misconduct in major events.
We have described that process in Washington Post Still Selling Warren Report 50 Years Later. That column was a segment of our recent 22-part "Readers Guide" to the JFK assassination. Today's column is part 23 in our series, and breaks additional ground below:
Federal authorities continued this month their remarkably harsh, unjust treatment of the nation’s most famous political prisoner.
The U.S. legal jihad against former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman persists even as the Obama administration separately cites “human rights” as the rationale for new U.S. sanctions, bombing, revolutions, and other interventions overseas.
Authorities shackled Siegelman during his Dec. 15 court appearance in the state capital of Montgomery. They denied his request for release on bond during appeal and reportedly kept him in solitary confinement over the holidays for two weeks, preventing family visits. Reputedly cramped in a tiny cell without a change of clothes or access to counsel, Siegelman was in a county jail with bright lights shining in his cell 24-hours-a-day while he awaited his federal appellate hearing Jan. 13.
Jan. 2 Update: Family members unable to learn his whereabouts in recent days suspect it may be because he was in the process of being transferred to a federal prison in Oakdale, LA.
The Obama administration’s hypocrisy is thus displayed as it continues Bush-Clinton policies of citing “human rights” abuses elsewhere around the world to achieve controversial policy goals. Many of these human rights campaigns are highly selective against political targets of the United States and not allies. Like the now-proven-false claim that Iraq's soldiers were killing Kuwaiti babies in their incubators two decades ago and thus justifying Operation Desert Storm, more recent human rights allegations against targeted regimes may be a pretext to foment revolutions, covert paramilitary actions, and propaganda campaigns on multiple continents.
With that context, the Justice Integrity Project today updates our long-running coverage of the Siegelman case to survey recent court and commentary developments.
Several legal experts have recently published powerful analyses documenting the injustice of Siegelman’s imprisonment for 1999 fund-raising of a kind not treated as criminal when performed by other politicians, including President Obama.
Most significantly, Rutgers Law School professor John J. Farmer published on Dec. 24 an oped on Al.com, Alabama's biggest news site, Here's why President Obama should pardon Don Siegelman. Farmer, shown above, was dean of the school from 2009 until last July. A Republican, he is a former New Jersey attorney general, senior counsel for the 9/11 Commission, and acting governor of New Jersey.
Farmer has been part of a bipartisan, unprecedented petition to the U.S. Supreme Court by 113 former attorneys general from 40-plus states arguing that Siegelman's actions were not a crime. The court rejected Siegelman's request for a new trial.
Farmer has supervised a student-led research project at Rutgers documenting the injustice. Farmer has earned a bipartisan reputation locally in New Jersey as a straight-shooter and is a columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger, the state's major newspaper.
Separately, the non-partisan DC-based Project on Government Oversight (POGO) published this month another important column attacking the fairness of the current administration. POGO researcher Adam Zagorin wrote Justice Department Downplays Evidence of Politics in Probe of Governor. In 2007, Zagorin published in Time Magazine one the first exposés on the sordid basis of the Siegelman prosecution.
"New evidence," Zagorin wrote this month, indicates "that Department of Justice prosecutors, who are supposed to ignore politics, were thinking and acting in partisan terms when they probed the governor’s administration. The same evidence illustrates a systemic problem at the Justice Department: When the Department investigates allegations of misconduct by its own prosecutors, it typically avoids transparency or public accountability.
Last June, Pace University Law School professor Bennett Gershman authored Cruel Justice: The Case of Don Siegelman, a column for the Huffington Post decrying the prosecution. Gershman is a former New York prosecutor who authored the unique scholarly work Prosecutorial Misconduct.
Most vividly, film maker Steve Wimberly unveiled last month a powerful 12-minute video, Killing Atticus Finch. It illustrated how legal experts from across the country such as Gershman have rallied to Siegelman's defense. Former Arizona Attorney Gen. Grant Woods, co-chair of that year's presidential campaign of GOP presidential nominee John McCain (R-AZ), is among those quoted.
The trailer is linked here on GoFundMe.com in an effort to raise $15,000 to continue the project. Atticus Finch is a fictional character in Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird and a 1962 film starring Gregory Peck. The setting was a small town in Alabama during the segregation era. Finch was a lawyer who humanely represented despised black defendants threatened with being railroaded in a criminal trial.
By contrast, the judges presiding over Siegelman's case have given scant indication of operating in a just, humane manner.
Nor has Obama, his Justice Department, and his Bureau of Prisons.
A White House photo from September shows the president speaking with Iraq's newly installed Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
Some might argue that the president has so many duties that he merely lets the justice system run its course and thus has scant role in Siegelman’s ordeal.
Not so. Our more than five years of reporting on the case indicates many ways in which Obama and his close advisors have tipped the justice scales against Siegelman. Most obviously, Obama has not used his presidential pardon power under the Constitution, or similar clemency measures.
Among the administration's aggressive tactics have been fighting all of Siegelman’s appeals, including well-merited ones to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Obama's close friend Elena Kagan, shown in a file photo, signed a major brief against Siegelman as Solicitor General in late 2009 before she became Obama's first nominee to the Supreme Court. Kagan, an ambitious and well-connected Harvard Law-credentialed legal scholar, thus paved the way for her Senate confirmation with just token opposition from Siegelman's longtime Republican antagonists and their Senate allies.
Partisan opposition to Siegelman is longstanding among Alabama's now-powerful GOP judicial and political elite. The investigation of Siegelman began in 1999 under orders of Alabama's Republican Attorney Gen. William Pryor, now a judge on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that supervises federal appeals from Alabama, Georgia and Florida. This probe was at the beginning of Siegelman's 1999-2003 term when the former lieutenant governor was Alabama's most popular and otherwise prominent Democrat.
More currently, the roll call of Obama administration opportunists and cover-up artists goes far beyond Kagan:
We can learn a lot from the public-relations drubbing that Republicans are inflicting on Jonathan Gruber. He is the recently humbled MIT economist who has been a much-cited expert on the Obama administration’s health care plan.
Close attention to the scandal teaches how the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka "Obamacare," was passed in part by faux-populist corporate technocrats who operated with an "ends justifies the means" mentality that's counter-productive when exposed.
Part of their problem has been near-demonic opposition by GOP opponents of expanded health care and thereby save lives. But a big part also has been the phony PR campaign of which Gruber was a part to sell the plan.
Gruber, shown in a photo from his faculty website at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), apparently made millions of dollars little known to the general public -- a group he has described with disdain.
More important, his secrets remind us how President Obama's major domestic achievement was shaped right from the beginning by technocrats who relied heavily on public relations strategies to outwit not simply Republicans but also progressives advocating universal health care that could have used a lower cost "public option" method of delivery like Medicare or systems used in other nations.
Right now, Republicans are gloating over what they call "Gruber-gate." Democrats are playing defense for a program that sought to extend coverage to an estimated 36 million Americans who could not afford health care.
There exists another and largely un-reported perspective these days worth remembering. The Obama White House secretly sabotaged from the beginning simpler, cheaper and more progressive alternatives to its complicated ACA, which was cobbled together to appease important special interests. Thus, Gruber and his arrogant behavior were just small parts of a larger PR spin machine.
Earlier this month, a GOP-led House committee attacked Gruber for his recently revealed statements to lecture audiences.
Most disturbing, the professor confided to fellow technocrats during a 2013 conference at the University of Pennsylvania that ACA's passage required “the stupidity of the American voter.”
The conservative advocacy group American Commitment last month revealed the tapes showing Gruber making the disparaging comments as he described the narrow congressional passage of the ACA in 2010. The video clip shows Gruber saying “lack of transparency is a huge political advantage.” Gruber added that “the stupidity of the American voter . . . was really critical for the [ACA] to pass.”
Gruber issued many apologies at a House hearing Dec. 9 by the House Government Operations Committee.
Setting the stage for future brow-beating in the next Congress, outgoing Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), right, demanded that Gruber cough up his financial records so the public could learn how much he has made in grants. Such funding, ostensibly awarded on a merit basis, can serve also as a control/reward system for academics and their institutions.
During the run-up to ACA passage in 2010, the Obama administration urged news outlets to quote Gruber because he was a supposedly independent expert who had calculated why ACA would meet its financial and other performance goals, including estimates reviewed by the influential Congressional Budget Office.
Far from being independent, Gruber was in the process of making at least $392,000 from two "sole-source" U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) grants, according to a 2010 report by progressive blogger Marcy Wheeler of FireDogLake.
When the scandal broke last month about Gruber’s arrogant comments to fellow economists, President Obama downplayed Gruber’s role in the health care field. In a brief remark Nov. 16 during a trip to Australia, the president called Gruber, “some adviser who never worked on our staff.”
However, extensive background exists showing that the president knew and admired Gruber, whom he cited in an April 2006 speech before the Hamilton Project, a prestigious start-up think tank under the wing of the Brookings Institution.
Republicans have gone overboard also. Several, including Issa, have called Gruber an "architect" of Obamacare. But that description exaggerates Gruber's role, as Factcheck.com reported in The ACA-Gruber Connection. The true architects were White House staff along with a few major lobbyists and Senators with their staffers, many of whom have profited handsomely from their roles.