By Andrew Kreig
Dana Jill Simpson, the Alabama attorney who stepped forward in 2007 to provide sworn evidence on how her fellow Republicans were framing Democratic former Gov. Don Siegelman on corruption charges, today released a statement saying that President Obama’s Department of Justice has declared a “war on whistleblowers.”
Simpson gave her statement to our Justice Integrity Project and OpEd News contributor Roger Shuler of Alabama’s Legal Schnauzer for release first to OpEd News, the main outlet for several previous opinion columns she has written. “We are getting dangerously close to becoming a “Dictator Democracy’ where even our thoughts can get us in trouble,” wrote Simpson, “and anything we do to bring truth to our citizens can get us thrown in jail.”
Aside from CBS 60 Minutes and MSNBC interviews broadcast in 2008 about the Siegelman case, Simpson rarely speaks in public despite what she describes as more than 100 broadcast and cable invitations. Similarly, she has written only a few opinion columns. Most notable were those for OpEd News last year when she concluded that Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan was not likely to protect civil rights as much as most Democrats imagined, given Kagan’s advocacy of more imprisonment for Siegelman and similar indications excessive deference to secrecy and executive power.
Simpson’s strong words now are prompted by the Obama administration’s failure to follow up on whistleblower complaints such as hers nationally about the justice system. Instead, she denounces the Obama DoJ’s coddling of corrupt office holders from past administrations and its retributions against whistleblowers and investigative journalists.
Simpson, who had a family member who worked for the Bush family and who was herself a longtime opposition researcher for Republican candidates, took daring steps in early 2007 by providing sworn testimony that helped make the Siegelman case an international human rights disgrace.
No Two-Party Oversight
None of this makes sense according to standard high school civics, whereby the two major parties joust with one another and rigorously hold each other accountable, with the press eager to pounce on any potential problems.
But OpEd News readers have seen many authoritative accounts of bipartisan deference, back-scratching and crony capitalism. In that Kabuki Theater, elite players go through the motions of disputing one another on such matters as social issues – guns, gays, abortion – but tend to stand as, in effect, citizens united against whistleblowers and reporters who dare delve into sensitive areas of law enforcement, war-making and similar foreign affairs.
The last straw for Simpson, she says, was this weekend’s announcement by WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange that the Justice Department had served secret legal papers last month to obtain comprehensive information about his Twitter account and that of others suspected of helping his organization provide secret documents on foreign affairs to reporters from mainstream publications. Besides Simpson, three other prominent whistleblowers -- former FBI special agent Coleen Rowley, former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds and retired Army Col. Ann Wright -- also recently protested the Obama administration’s crackdown on confidential sources, as amplified below.
The Last Straw
As further background, the Associated Press reports Assange’s announcement. Glenn Greenwald provides hard-hitting legal commentary. FireDogLake’s Cynthia Kouril points out that Twitter apparently decided to fight for the privacy of its subscribers whereas probable DoJ requests for subscriber records from other Internet services such as Google and Facebook apparently are still secret.
Simpson, who says her home was torched for unknown reasons in early 2007 soon after some in Alabama learned that she had volunteered to help Siegelman and co-defendant Richard Scrushy, concludes her statement below with a call for citizen action to protest the Justice Department’s initiatives announced in recent weeks.
Siegelman Case Backgrounder
Among the many reports on the Siegelman case is a two-part report by Joan Brunwasser interviewing yet another whistleblower in the case, former DoJ paralegal Tamarah Grimes. The Justice Department fired Grimes after she reported irregularities in the case to officials, including Attorney Gen. Eric Holder.
Shuler, in Alabama, original broke the story: Grimes had been the DOJ’s top career paralegal its corruption prosecution of Siegelman and Alabama businessman Richard Scrushy along with several Siegelman aides. The DoJ fired Grimes, a Republican, in June 2009 shortly after she summarized in a letter to Holder her allegations of unprofessional behavior by Middle District U.S. Attorney Leura Canary and the overall Siegelman prosecution.
Canary, a Bush presidential appointee in 2001 and wife of Karl Rove friend and Siegelman opponent William Canary, remains in office despite a U.S. tradition that presidential appointees resign upon a change of administration. The Obama administration is expected soon to announce a replacement. The leading candidate is reputed to be Alabama attorney George Beck, who has an interest in covering up DoJ misdeeds in the Siegelman case because he represented former gubernatorial aide Nick Bailey, the main prosecution witness.
The CBS show and affidavits in 2009 revealed that authorities pressured Bailey in up to 70 pre-trial interrogations, some at an Air Force base by a DOJ prosecutor who also held a powerful post as an Air force reserve colonel. The interrogations of Bailey were without required disclosures to the defense, and were accompanied by blackmail threats, according to affidavits. Beck’s defenders say has an impressive resume, and he simply helped his client obtain the best deal possible under the circumstances. In this view, prosecutors were determined to pressure his client on separate charges in order to win the convictions of Siegelman.
Making of a Whistleblower
Here are highlights of Simpson’s courageous role in the Siegelman case, which I have covered closely. First, she quietly pointed out in early 2007 to Siegelman and Scrushy attorneys that Siegelman’s trial judge, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, was being enriched on the side by $300 million in Bush contracts to a closely held company, Doss Aviation, Inc., that the judge controlled as 44% stockholder (reportedly reduced to 32% later).
When Fuller declined to recuse himself before sentencing the defendants Simpson felt as an attorney that she needed prevent injustice at sentencing by stepping forward publicly with an affidavit and later sworn testimony to House Judiciary Committee staff, as well as extensive background information to such journalists as Glynn Wilson, Scott Horton, Wayne Madsen and Shuler.
Also, she swore in formal settings that, among other things, she participated in a 2002 conference call of Republican strategists led by Business Council of Alabama CEO William Canary, who described a plan to eliminate Siegelman from politics with crime charges. She testified also that then-Gov. Bob Riley’s son Rob in early 2005 predicted to her an indictment of Siegelman that would be steered to Middle District Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller. Riley told her, she said, that Fuller “hated” Siegelman and who would “hang” him once an indictment was prepared and he obtained control over the case.
Those events have unfolded much as described, with Siegelman and Scrushy railroaded into convictions and sentenced to seven-year terms apiece by Fuller. Siegelman, originally put in solitary confinement, was released on bond in March 2008, only after the nationwide outrage from the 60 Minutes expose on Feb. 24, 2008.
Simpson, accused by her critics of seeking publicity, says that her only other pre-planned interview was with MSNBC on Feb. 25, 2008 -- and even that was merely to use competition to encourage CBS into using its evidence, including the whistleblower footage of her that CBS had recorded the previous September. She says she learned that CBS had informed the still-influential former Bush advisor Karl Rove of the material, and he had told the station that he didn’t believe the story or like it, thus helping discourage any broadcast for many months.
GOP Players Deny Wrongdoing
Rove and the other Republicans named have disputed Simpson’s accounts. But none of them have provided sworn public testimony under cross-examination, as she is willing to do.
Any future public testimony would build on more than 150 pages of her existing 2007 House testimony where Republicans badgered her and Democrats urged her to avoid discussing some of her most explosive testimony unless directly asked. Rove has denied wrongdoing in the Siegelman case in his 2010 book Courage and Consequence and in carefully negotiated House Judiciary Committee testimony that I have described as a whitewash, as have other commentators.
With Judiciary Chairman John Conyers’ now-imprisoned wife Monica under the pressure of federal bribery charges in 2009, the timid and craven mindset of the Democratic Committee majority and its staff was illustrated by a staffer’s attempt to curry favor with the witness Rove by disparaging Simpson to him, as Rove describes in his book. Rove further states that his chief interrogator, California congressman Adam Schiff, “was clearly not prepared.” That is no surprise to close observers of the case since the committee never interviewed key witnesses to develop a tight framework of questions for Rove regarding the Siegelman case and similar political prosecutions across the nation.
The Supreme Court in June vacated Siegelman’s convictions under the disputed “honest services” counts, despite the Obama DoJ’s arguments by then-Solicitor General Kagan that the court should affirm his convictions. The DoJ has argued that the 64-year-old former governor should receive 20 years additional prison time, and that there’s no reason for Fuller to recuse himself as judge. Siegelman, still free on bond, faces an important hearing Jan. 19 before a Republican-dominated federal appeals court that has consistently rejected his and Scrushy’s arguments.
As for Simpson, she and two other sources have told me that the FBI passed on to her a threat on her life regarding her work. The FBI called her home to advise her on protective measures after hearing of the threat, which was passed on by a well-intentioned law enforcement source in Alabama whom I have interviewed.
Despites such vicissitudes, she says the Justice Department’s own hostility at its highest levels to accountability and an informed public represents main threat to whistleblowers and justice -- and ultimately to our nation’s democracy. Her statement in full is:
"Whistleblowers have known for a long time that the Obama administration doesn't respect the desire of whistleblowers to bring truth to our nation's shores. The Obama Administration would rather hide the lies our government tells our citizens and prosecute the whistleblowers. It is easier, they think, than admitting the truth. The fact is that that our government has been lying to us about wars and other foreign affairs. I guess this is Obama's way of “looking forward.” He wants to ignore the lies our government and its officials told the citizens for the last 10 years.
He won't prosecute the people who illegally tortured people and politically prosecuted folks all over our country. Now it appears his administration prefers to prosecute the truth-telling whistleblowers who show the lies of the White House and Pentagon. This says something about our current government when admitted water-boarding torturers are protected and truth-tellers like Assange are prosecuted for exposing the lies of our government.
We are getting dangerously close to becoming a Dictator Democracy where even our thoughts can get us in trouble -- and anything we do to bring truth to our citizens can get us thrown in jail. All whistleblowers in our country are in danger as the U.S. government starts to shut out the truth from the people by serving secret subpoenas on the WikiLeaks accounts.
This is only the first step to shutting down the First Amendment rights of journalists to protect their sources from a government that is already caught lying to its citizens on the materials released by Assange and his WikiLeaks crew.
This is Obama's and the DOJ's declaration of its war on Whistleblowers. Unless the public demands they stop this prosecution on truth-telling, our country in a couple of months will have no whistleblowers to see that the truth gets out even when our government blatantly lies to the public."
In recent days, many other well-known whistleblowers and analysts have attacked ongoing Obama administration crackdown. One such even was the Justice Department’s indictment of former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling on charges of leaking classified information to a reporter, apparently James Risen of the New York Times. The Washington Post reported the indictment Jan. 6 as “continuing the Obama administration's unprecedented crackdown on the flow of government secrets to the media.”
The previous day, the Post reported how the White House Office of Management and Budget sent a memo to all of the nation’s top federal security officials in the Executive Branch.
The memo told officials how they should conduct security reviews of sensitive or classified information as the Obama administration attempts to safeguard against future leaks to the information-sharing Web site WikiLeaks and other news organizations. “Among about 100 questions,” the Post said, “the memo asks how agencies are measuring the ‘trustworthiness’ of employees with access to sensitive information and whether workers must report whenever they have contact with news reporters.”
In reaction to such efforts, former FBI special agent Coleen Rowley published a column Jan. 10 on Huffington Post warning that “a significant portion of the 854,000 intelligence operatives, analysts, agents, private contractors and consultants now operating in "Top Secret America" have already turned the "war on terror" inward, targeting their fellow Americans, no longer focusing just on Muslims and mosques but on infiltrating peace, environmental, civil liberties and social justice groups.”
The day previous, former FBI contract translator Sibel Edmonds wrote Jan. 9 on her Boiling Frogs blog a column headlined, “Obama’s Whistleblower-Hunt: Whistleblowers Long for Bush-Cheney Era Leniency?” Edmonds, an FBI contract employee focused on Mideast languages, was fired in early 2002 after informing FBI supervisors that she was encountering evidence on wiretaps that a foreign power was apparently bribing members of Congress.
The Justice Department fought her through the courts for years to block release of the names on state secrets grounds. Edmonds ultimately released the information in 2009 via subpoena in another case, as I reported from outside the deposition room in 2009. Madsen, a former National Security Agency analyst, was the only other reporter on the scene at her deposition. The concept of reporting on bribes to officials even with sworn testimony makes mainstream organizations nervous for fear of endangering official sources unless authorities themselves want publicity for allegations. In this instance, recipients of the money on the rare occasions when they answered questions in public simply said they have many supporters and no way of knowing the source or motive of donations.
“Despite all the threats and muscle-flexing not a single whistleblower, including myself, got arrested or even pursued criminally under the previous regime,” Edmonds wrote this weekend on her blog. “With Obama the era of threats has changed into an era of punishment-imprisonment, and in some cases even torture.”
The other whistleblower who has stepped forward is former diplomat and retired Army Col. Ann Wright. She wrote a column for OpEd News Jan. 5 entitled, “Obama: No Whistleblowing on My Watch.” The author is a 29-year U.S. Army/Army Reserves veteran and a former U.S. diplomat. She resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq after service in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, among other nations.
“As President, Obama says -- No whistleblowing on my watch!” Wright wrote. “As he has on so many issues as President, Obama is taking a 180-degree turn from his comments as a candidate -- comments on which the American people relied and for which they elected him.”
What to do? In Alabama, Simpson concludes her statement today with this plea:
Please stand up and make your voices be heard that whistleblowers who tell the truth should not be prosecuted. Ask why none of the military been prosecuted or other government officials have been prosecuted for lying to people in our country about these wars and foreign affairs.
Demand our first amendment be upheld. If you don't we may within months no longer have a right to speak up when we see government wrongdoing in the United States.
Huffington Post/AP, Julian Assange Court Date: WikiLeaks Founder To Fight Sweden Extradition, Jill Lawless, Jan. 11, 2011. WikiLeaks will step up its publication schedule of secret documents, founder Julian Assange announced Tuesday, promising more revelations based on the group's stash of confidential U.S. embassy cables and other leaks.
Boiling Frogs, Obama’s Whistleblower-Hunt: Whistleblowers Long for Bush-Cheney Era Leniency? Sibel Edmonds, Jan. 9, 2011. You thought the Bush-Cheney administration was bad? Think again; especially if you happen to be a whistleblower. Despite all the threats and muscle-flexing not a single whistleblower, including myself, got arrested or even pursued criminally under the previous regime. With Obama the era of threats has changed into an era of Punishment-Imprisonment and in some cases even torture.
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