Part IV: What To Do About Obama's Alabama Snafu?

Written by Andrew Kreig
Published on April 7, 2011

The first three parts of this series outlined why President Obama failed the public by nominating Alabama attorney George L. Beck as U.S. attorney for the state’s middle district even though the nominee has establishment support.

By Andrew Kreig / Project Director's Blog

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 nomination can restore public trust.

Let's look at the background: Most Alabama Democratic leaders are now so thoroughly intimidated by the Republican ascendancy that they dare not oppose GOP demands with any vigor for fear of being squeezed out of all decision-making and related benefits. As for national-level Democrats? Their track record is abject deferral to Republican Senators Dick Shelby and Jeff Sessions, Last fall, the Democratic National Committee reputedly contributed nothing to Bill Barnes, the Democratic primary winner competiting against Shelby. Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont portrayed at right, is the committee chairman. He has the power to make these hearings meaningful if he wants to do so. Let's encourage him to do that. Below is additional background about why leaders from should cooperate for this unique opportunity to enlighten the public about one of the nation's most dramatic and important nominations.

Alabama's junior senator, Sessions, at left, is the ranking Republican on the committee. His senior Senate colleague, Dick Shelby, is at right. They are two savvy political figures who could change the dynamic of the nomination as well.

One illustration of the dynamics is the now-ended political career of Congressman Artur Davis, Alabama’s most recent Democratic candidate for governor. Davis is an African-American who became a friend of Obama during their overlapping studies at Harvard Law School. Davis initially made a splash in 2007 as a member of the House Judiciary Committee seeking justice in 2007 for Siegelman after whistleblower revelations suggested the defendant and his co-defendant, Richard Scrushy, had been framed, But Davis dropped off the committee and cozened up to Alabama’s Republicans in an attempt to win bipartisan support in his gubernatorial race. Nonetheless, Davis lost badly in Alabama’s Democratic primary last June, part of what became an overall 2010 rout of the party’s candidates across the board. The trend was so bad that even some legislators elected as Democrats promptly switched parties after the election. This helped further transform the 71 percent white majority state into a demographic whereby whites are increasingly Republican. In recent memory, the state that voted heavily Democratic on state and local levels even in the 1990s. That was when such Republican political operatives as Karl Rove and his friend William Canary helped transform first the state Supreme Court to majority Republican status, with the transformation rapidly reaching other state offices that decade.

Yet some Democrats can prosper even as the party’s fortunes dwindle. One is G. Douglas Jones, the Clinton-era Democratic former U.S. attorney who was quoted extensively in Part III of this series as backing George Beck’s nomination to become middle district U.S. attorney. Jones is prominent in private practice and as a powerbroker between state and politics on legal issues. His clout is especially strong given the current dearth of Democratic elected officials. As noted previously, his clients have included Siegelman, and he is much honored for such accomplishments as prosecuting suspects in the notorious 1963 church bombing in Birmingham in the 1990s. In 2008, Alabama blogger Glynn Wilson broke the story in his Locust Fork News-Journal that Jones agreed to waive the statute of limitations on the alleged bribery in the interest of appearing to cooperate fully with the prosecutors in the Siegelman investigation “at a time when he was being told that the chances of an indictment were slim.” We saw also in Part III that Jones defends himself from allegations of conflict, noting that Siegelman has not criticized him.

Siegelman himself has declined to comment about anything for this column, except for saying, “The President has waited for over half his term to make a nomination....what's the rush?” I wrote back to the former govenor that his comment might be too cryptic for easy understanding, but didn’t hear back. I can appreciate reluctance further to criticize almost anyone. The former governor is facing the possibility of a long prison sentence from his nemesis, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller. The defendant doubtless sees fading hope of support after more than a decade of all-out investigation and fading memories of his supporters. For the record, neither I nor the Justice Integrity Project has received any money or promises from him, other defendants or any intermediaries or other supporters theirs in our years of research and reporting on their case.

More generally, we at our Project are seeing increasing hardship, fear and discouragement nationwide from defendants, their supporters, whistleblowers and others. Concern for civil liberties is a luxury for many who fear for their basic job, financial and health security.

But some still exist who are infuriated at what they see as injustice and apathy both those who are supposed to be our representatives. Early this week, we published a column about how a federal appeals court upheld a four-year prison system imposed unfairly in our minds upon the Republican one-time New York City Police commissioner Bernard Kerik. One of his supporters wrote me to urge a letter-writing campaign to the White House seeking 100,000 signatures on Kerik's behalf seeking a pardon. I responded that suchan effort would likely gain no traction. Exhibit A is Siegelman. Already, his supporters have probably generated more than 100,000 such letters or calls, plus obtaining a Supreme Court victory, a CBS 60 Minutes expose and other major successes raising questions about his prosecution. Still, he faces a long prison term, perhaps stillto be imposed by his nemesis, Fuller.

What to do?

Let's go beyond petitioning. Senate confirmation hearings are the one time when nominees must obtain public approval, as should those who vote for them. The proceedings are usually rubber-stamps for deals worked out in private. But a few representatives of an energized public can make a huge impact. We need to use the Beck confirmation as a forum to air for the first time publicly in a formal setting the  questions raised in this series.

The senate may not want to permit independent witnesses to raise questions about the nominee and the process. In that case, the Justice Integrity Project will convene a forum inviting witnesses from all relevant vantage points. This will be much like a three-hour forum we convened on short notice in 2009 at the National Press Club. The 13 speakers provided a pioneering educational forum on the problem of political prosecutions in the United States. C-SPAN covered the unique event in its entirety, helping the entire country understand the dimensions of a problem that most news organizations regard as too controversial.

What do you think? Please share your ideas pro or con, eithr privately or in a reader comment attached to this column.

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