Conservative George Will Urges Review of Siegelman Convictions

Conservative commentator George Will published a nationally syndicated column Feb. 12 urging the Supreme Court to reconsider the corruption convictions of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. The column by Will, at left below, represents a breakthrough in the national media’s treatment of Siegelman’s 2006 convictions.

SiegelmaGeorge F. Willn, at right, was AlabDon Siegelmanama’s governor from 1999 to 2003 and the state’s most prominent Democrat until the eve of his convictions in a second federal trial. He, his supporters and our Justice Integrity Project have ascribed his investigation by Republicans beginning in 1999 largely to a politically motivated frame-up. Alabama Republicans controlling their state's Attorney General’s office started it and worked closely after 2001 with the Bush Justice Department in a process now being carried forward by co-opted successors in the Obama administration.

Sidestepping
the most explosive claims in that debate, Will’s column focuses more generally on the vast potential for injustice when federal prosecutors can selectively determine which political contributions are bribes, and ignore the vast number of similar situations. Will warns against excessive powers for prosecutors when, as in the Siegelman conviction, scant evidence exists of an “explicit” deal. In a column appearing in the Feb. 12 print edition of the Washington Post and nationally, Will wrote:

All elected officials, and those who help finance elections in the expectation that certain promises will be kept — and everyone who cares about the rule of law — should hope the Supreme Court agrees to hear Don Siegelman’s appeal of his conviction. Until the court clarifies what constitutes quid pro quo political corruption, Americans engage in politics at their peril because prosecutors have dangerous discretion to criminalize politics.

 

Siegelman filed on Feb. 1 his latest petition to the Supreme Court to review his convictions for urging in 1999 the wealthy Alabama businessman Richard Scrushy to donate to the non-profit Alabama Education Foundation. Siegelman then reappointed Scrushy that year to a state board overseeing the health care industry. Scrushy is now serving a seven-year prison term for donating $250,000 in 1999 and $250,000 the following year. He had been CEO of HealthSouth, and complains that he must be the only person in history convicted for contributing to a non-profit. Republican governors previous to Siegelman had named Scrushy to the board in recognition of his national prominence before his company went bankrupt amid findings of inflated revenues and securities fraud.  

The Siegelman and Scrushy convictions became a national sensation in the civil rights community in 2007 following revelations that year of White House pressures on the Bush Justice Department resulting in firing of nine Bush-appointed U.S. attorneys for such political reasons as failure to indict sufficient numbers of Democrats to affect elections. In Alabama, Republican whistleblowers, most notably former Republican operative Dana Jill Simpson, stepped forward to offer sworn testimony of such irregularities in the Siegelman-Scrushy prosecution, including involvement by Rove and the trial judge, Mark Fuller. But the Obama administration fired another whistleblower, DOJ paralegal Tamarah Grimes, failed to call relevant witnesses in any internal investigation -- and even urged a much-longerr term for Siegelman on resentencing than his original seven years.

The national media have since largely abandoned coverage because of scant discernible interest by any official body in subjecting allegations of irregularity to any sworn, public testimony subject to cross-examination. William Pryor, the former Alabama Attorney General who helped launch the scorched-earth jihad against Siegelman in 1999, now sits as a federal appeals court justice supervising trial procedures in the state. Rove and other Republicans have denied any misconduct, and Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee and elsewhere backed away from investigations for a variety of reasons. The reasons include pressure by powerful Republicans, institutional loyalty by Justice Department personnel and the Obama administration's unwillingness to second-guess its Bush predecessors.

But civil rights advocates, including our Project, continue to regard the prosecution as a human rights disgrace of global importance and an ongoing blight on the Obama administration’s record. Our report three months ago, Siegelman Case Showdown Nov. 2 Hurts Obama, Not Rove, revealed exclusive and explosive on-the-record quotations from two experienced political figures, Democrat Bill Barnes and Republian Luther "Stan" Pate IV. Each is now a candidate for Congress in Alabama's Sixth Congressional District.

Eric HolderMore generally, another controversial public corruption retrial is scheduled to begin Feb. 13 in the federal courthouse in Montgomery where Siegelman and Scrushy were convicted. The Justice Department, led by Attorney General Eric Holder, at left, hopes for better success against legalized gambling advocates and legislators than it experienced last summer when it failed to win a single conviction on a single count in 140 charges that went to a jury. The prosecution was further marred by claims, including from a federal judge, that authorities led in part by those who convicted Siegelman were illegally suppressing evidence. More recently, investigative reports suggest that authorities do not want to investigate seriously suspects closely connected to the gaming scandals that imprisoned lobbyists Jack Abramoff and his Alabama-connected colleague Michael Scanlon. These issues could arise at the gaming trial since the defense has listed more than 300 potential witnesses. For details see below. 

The Siegelman Case

Will’s column is rare if not unprecedented pro-Siegelman commentary in the Washington Post, which has largely relied so far on on routine wire service summaries of official proceedings, such as the largely rubber-stamp approvals by the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. That court, primarily working through three hard-right Republicans, has never been willing to discuss, for example, how the controlling Supreme Court test in 1989 on judicial recusal fits a situation when post-trial evidence arose that the judge "hated" a defendant and was enriched by the government as part of what one whistleblower swore was a plot to "hang" the defendant. Authorities dismiss the allegations as implausible but without any public evidence of calling relevant witnesses.

By contrast, CBS 60 Minutes in 2008 broadcast a hard-hitting expose. Similarly, conservative legal scholar Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, a former assistant Treasury secretary in the Reagan administration and opinion editor at the Wall Street Journal, wrote in 2008 that Siegelman was the victim of an obvious Republican frame-up that he describes as increasingly typical of the overall loss of due process protections in the courts.

Similarly, Alabama's Stan Pate, one of the pioneers of his state's Republican party, told me last summer that the federal bribery prosecution improperly advanced the goals of Siegelman's Republican rival, Bob Riley. Further, Pate charged, timid leaders of Alabama and national Democrats have facilitated the injustice by failing to investigate and by naming George Beck as U.S. attorney for Alabama's Montgomery-based Middle District. Beck was the defense lawyer who represented Nick Bailey, the government's central witness against Siegelman. Pate felt so outraged by the process that he has contributed several hundred thousand dollars during the past decade to help Bailey pay his legal expenses to Beck. Pate felt prosecutors terribly Bailey into  providing the testimony prosecutors needed to secure convictions. The outspoken Pate also rented an airplane in 2010 to fly a banner over the 2010 Rose Bowl denouncing Riley at the national football championship game that day featuring the University of Alabama. Riley, his family and friends attended the game and saw the airplane banner flown back and forth.

Will, a former history professor who holds a doctorate in political science, remained aloof in this weekend's column from such jousting -- dramatic and even colorful though it is. Instead, Will crafted a hard-hitting column in his typical cerebral style about Siegelman's Feb. 1 plea to the nation's high court:

The Supreme Court can circumscribe this dangerous discretion by affirming the principle that the quid pro quo standard for bribery requires proof, not a mere inference, of an actual communication. In the law’s current, contradictory condition, the line is blurry between the exercise of constitutional rights and the commission of a crime.

Politics in a democracy is transactional. Candidates routinely solicit the support of interest groups, from unions to business organizations to environmental and other advocacy factions. (“If you vote for me, I will do X for you.”) And many such groups solicit the solicitousness of candidates. (“If we support you, will you do Y for us?”) It is not uncommon for wealthy individuals to support presidential candidates lavishly, if not for the purpose of becoming ambassadors, then with the hope that the president-elect will show gratitude for their generosity. The Washington Post of Jan. 19, 2011, reported (“Embassy openings for open wallets”) that President Obama’s political appointees, as opposed to career diplomats, had received 30.05 percent of ambassadorial posts, just below the 30.47 average of the previous five presidents.

Our non-partisan Project is an investigative complement to the mainstream media and also an advocate for legal reform. Therefore, we  Siegelman supporters on Facebook and on an Alabama list-serve run by Siegelman sympathizer Pam Miles to comment on Will's column. As background, our Project has never accepted any money from Siegelman, his supporters or any other criminal defendant. But we see no conflict listing here for reader convenience the location of the Siegelman defense fund website, especially since he and his family have had to respond to a decade of taxpayer-funded investigations that have ended his career and threaten to put him in prison for the rest of his life. Siegelman, in his 60s, is free on bond, and awaiting resentencing from a Republican judge who reportedly hated him even before the case -- and who initially ordered Siegelman to be hauled away in chains for solitary confinement without the appeal bond normal in white-collar cases. The government probes and post-trial efforts to vindicate the prosecution must have cost at least $10 million and perhaps vastly more. Whistleblower evidence is that one paralegal alone cost taxpayers $500,000 by the end of 2006.

This week, a Siegelman supporter named “Esther” from Alabama spotted the Will column online and left a comment online in the reader reaction space. Her comment was in part:

You can find the story here:  Don Siegelman's problem....He was probably the only honest governor to have served in Alabama in over 50 years. Don Siegelman was re-elected as governor of Alabama. The next day Republican announced that they had found more votes and suddenly that crooked slimeball Riley was governor. They were not satisfied with stealing an election but went after Don until on their 3rd attempt they found a crooked Bush judge. Don was convicted for appointing a political appointee to a position that he had held under three other governors..........You can't make up this crap.

Yes, the filthy, vile Karl Rove was involved in this up to his beady little Nazi eyes, aided and abetted by a shyster republican U.S. Attorney named Leura Canary who is still trying to stick her pointy nose into this case. Judge Fuller, the crook who heard the case and keeps on hearing it, was another Bush buddy, who has been awarded lots of contracts for a company he owns on the side. Jury members were allowed to email each other and I believe there was a case of one of the jurors having the hots for a police officer/security guard who was in daily attendance in the court room. If Don Siegelman is guilty for appointing a political donor to the position then every living president is guilty along with governors & other political positions where this takes place on a regular basis.

She continued, echoing Will's theme but in a more earthy manner:

So lets prosecute them or turn Don lose and clear his name. He has spent 8 months in prison for a non-crime. Now the same corrupt prosecutors are trying to uphold this phony conviction and they want to send him to prison for 20 yrs!! 20 freaking years for a non-crime. We have cold blooded murderers who don't get this much time. These corrupt, low life scumbags in Alabama are some of the most despicable characters you will ever run across and they seem to be having one helluva good time with these vile political prosecutions. Don was not the only one. I think there were hundreds of these cases when Bush was in office. Sadly President Obama left a lot of these crooks in office including that witch Leura Canary until recently.

...

The New York Times, 60 Minutes, Time Magazine and other national media did extensive reporting on his case. But it's been six years -- and people forget. In the meantime, he is over 2 million dollars in debt. He had to cash out his retirement. He has to scrape to keep the roof over their [family] heads. His political life is ruined. He has asked the Supreme Court to hear his case. Needless to say the wait takes its toll. You may reach Governor Siegelman at:

P. O. Box 430116
Birmingham, Alabama 35243


“You had me in tears, Esther,” wrote back Los Angeles-based Marilyn Noyes, another Siegelman supporter. Noyes has written dozens of letters to Washington White House and DOJ authorities through the years begging them, without success, to reexamine the irregularities in the Siegelman conviction. Instead, the Justice Department and courts continually vindicate themselves, with the Justice Department implausibly arguing that not a single reasonable, unbiased person in the United States would think the trial judge had an appearance of bias because of such factors as the award of $300 million in Bush contracts during the case by a privately held company he controls as its largest stockholder.

“You really said it well,” Noyes continued to Esther on her email, which was widely disseminated to bloggers and human rights activists nationally on the Miles list. “My God, I hope the George Will column is an indication that there's light at the end of the tunnel. We're all pulling for you, Governor Siegelman!”

 

 

Who's Who? Chart Prepared by Siegelman Supporters

Siegelman Case Relationship Chart

Selected Relevant News Reports

Washington Post, Is it bribery or just politics? George F. Will, Feb. 12, 2012. All elected officials, and those who help finance elections in the expectation that certain promises will be kept — and everyone who cares about the rule of law — should hope the Supreme Court agrees to hear Don Siegelman’s appeal of his conviction. Until the court clarifies what constitutes quid pro quo political corruption, Americans engage in politics at their peril because prosecutors have dangerous discretion to criminalize politics....In 2009, a bipartisan amicus brief by 91 former state attorneys general urged the Supreme Court to use Siegelman’s case to enunciate a clear standard for establishing quid pro quo bribery. Today’s confusion and the resulting prosecutorial discretion chill the exercise of constitutional rights of political participation and can imprison people unjustly.

Young Turks,

, Cenk Uygur, Feb. 20, 2012 (Video). Conservative columnist George Will thinks Democratic Alabama Governor Don Siegelman was unfairly convicted of bribery. Why does the Obama Administration?

Legal Schnauzer, George Will, Of All People, Stands Up for Justice in the Don Siegelman Case, Roger Shuler, Feb. 12, 2012.
Who could have imagined that George Will would prove to be more progressive than Barack Obama on fundamental matters of justice? Will, probably the nation's foremost conservative columnist, writes in his most recent piece that the U.S. Supreme Court should review the convictions of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman and codefendant Richard Scrushy to ensure that overzealous prosecutors are not criminalizing standard political behavior. The Obama Justice Department, meanwhile, has stated that the Siegelman case was correctly decided and should not be reviewed by the nation's highest court. That presents a disturbing scenario for Democrats as they think about heading to the polls in November: George Will actually is more enlightened than Barack Obama on constitutional issues of profound importance to many progressives. The real issue in the Siegelman case is not the law but judicial buffoonery (or corruption, take your pick). U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, a Bush appointee who oversaw the Siegelman trial in the Middle District of Alabama, got it wrong by giving jury instructions that were contrary to established law. The Eleventh Circuit got it wrong by stating, more or less, that Fuller's instructions were "in the ballpark," and that's good enough for a criminal conviction. As for the Obama administration . . . the president and Attorney General Eric Holder should be ashamed of themselves.

Pam Miles List-Serve, Don Siegelman, Esther Davis, Feb. 12, 2012. A brilliant, determined young man, a Rhodes scholar and karate black-belt, Donald Eugene Siegelman worked work his way through law school and eventually became the only Alabamian ever to be elected to four state-wide office, including the governorship.  As Lieutenant Governor, in 1997 Lieutenant Governor Don Siegelman  joined other states in a lawsuit against tobacco companies. Attorney General Bill Pryor and Alabama Republican Bill Canary fought the lawsuit. Siegelman accused Pryor, a close personal friend of Karl Rove, of being  too friendly with the tobacco industry. This disagreement served as the spring board for Pryor and his friends to launch an on-going investigation that would ultimately end Siegelman’s political career. Bill Canary was known as  “a legend in Republican circles” and  “someone you drop in a state when something needs fixing.”  He and Rove developed a strategy to turn around the court system in Alabama by hand-picking GOP candidates, spending million of dollars to get them elected. The strategy worked. Not one Democrat serves on the Alabama Supreme Court.  At the same time, there remained the problem of the popular Democratic governor. There was always the possibility that he would one day run for president.  In 2001 Bush- appointed US attorney, Leura Canary, wife of Bill Canary, and former assistant to  Bill Pryor, federalized Pryor’s on-going investigation of Siegelman. Subsequently,  Siegelman was indicted and dragged into court in 2004, 2005 and 2006. He was dogged his entire political career by a cabal engineered from Washington, which included Pryor, Karl Rove, who had been  Pryor’s campaign manager, and Canary, who had been  Bob Riley’s campaign manager, and Leura Canary. Through the years, they would bring more than 100 indictments against him.

Legal Schnauzer, Why Did Karl Rove and His GOP Thugs Target Don Siegelman in Alabama? Roger Shuler, Feb. 6, 2012. (1) Why did Karl Rove and his pro-business GOP thugs target Alabama Democratic Governor Don Siegelman? (2) Why did the Bush administration proceed with what has become the most notorious political prosecution in American history? Those questions are particularly powerful now because Siegelman last week filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court for review of his 2006 convictions on bribery and obstruction of justice charges. This appears to be Siegelman's last crack at appellate review, and if it is denied, he probably is headed back to federal prison. I've probably written more words about the Siegelman affair than just about anyone on the planet, so I might as well take a crack at answering those questions.

Montgomery Advertiser, Don Siegelman asks U.S. Supreme Court to review bribery conviction, Brian Lyman, Feb. 1, 2012.  Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman Wednesday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review his 2006 conviction on bribery and obstruction of justice charges. The 116-page petition for writ of certiorari requests the court to consider when a political contribution becomes a bribe, a key element of the former governor’s case. In their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Siegelman’s attorneys ask the court to settle the matter, citing different rulings by different U.S. circuit courts on the issue. Jill Simpson

Justice Integrity Project, Alabama Democrat’s Slam at Party, Bush Advocacy Prompt Pushback, Guest Column by Jill Simpson, right, Jan. 31, 2012. "The truth about Artur Davis is that he sold out the Democrats in the State of Alabama, including Don Siegelman, when he stopped requesting as a House Judiciary Committee member that Karl Rove be brought before Congress in a public hearing with full examination to answer for his crimes devising political prosecutions."

Justice Integrity Project, Judge Denies Siegelman Co-Defendant Scrushy New Trial, Andrew Kreig, Jan. 24, 2012.  An Alabama federal judge imposed a reduced 70-month prison term for former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy Jan. 24 on a 2006 corruption conviction after denying Scrushy’s request for a retrial based on new evidence. Middle District Chief U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller resentenced Scrushy for bribery, conspiracy and fraud charges involving the one-time billionaire’s donation of $500,000 beginning in 1999 to the non-profit Alabama Education Foundation at the request of then-Gov. Don Siegelman. Scrushy is shown at right with one of his sons during a prison visit.

Milton McGregorJustice Integrity Project, Alabama Gambling Leader Claims DOJ Misconduct; Top Prosecutor Quits, Andrew Kreig, Jan. 20, 2012.  Facing retrial Jan. 30 on federal corruption charges, Alabama’s top promoter of legalized gambling, at left, alleges that the elite Justice Department unit prosecuting him illegally suppressed evidence during his first trial last summer. Meanwhile, that unit’s deputy chief suddenly resigned this month. Victoryland bingo parlor owner Milton McGregor’s willingness to hit back hard at federal prosecutors in this week’s filing could presage even more explosive allegations. Also, the sudden resignation of DOJ’s Public Integrity Section Deputy Chief Justin Shur shortly before his scheduled leadership of the McGregor retrial heightens confusion, at best, within DOJ’s anti-corruption unit. Known by the acronym “PIN,” it is led by Chief John "Jack" Smith.

Lagniappe, Davis regrets questioning Siegelman prosecution, Jeff Poor, Jan. 24, 2012. Since losing his bid for the Democratic Party nomination for governor of Alabama in 2010, in what many political spectators viewed as a shocking 24-point loss to then Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, former Rep. Artur Davis has carved himself out a unique spot inside the inside-the-beltway punditocracy of Washington, D.C.

Artur DavisLegal Schnauzer, Artur Davis Must Be the Sorest Loser In the History of American Politics, Roger Shuler, Feb. 1, 2012. Former Alabama Congressman Artur Davis [left] has been conducting a world-class whine-fest ever since he got spanked in the 2010 Democratic primary for governor. Davis says standing up for Siegelman made him appear soft on crime, and by questioning the actions of the Bush Justice Department, Davis called his own integrity into question. If you are a coherent, rational human being, that paragraph will leave you scratching your head. Davis, in so many words, is saying that he now regrets appearing to have principles -- he now regrets suggesting that federal prosecutions should focus only on actual crimes, not the political affiliation of the accused. Artur Davis is saying that he regrets standing up for due process and equal protection under the law -- that if a man has to choose between fundamental constitutional rights and his own political career, he should choose the career stuff every time.

Leura CanaryJustice Integrity Project, Siegelman Case Showdown Nov. 2 Hurts Obama, Not Rove, Andrew Kreig, Nov. 1, 2011.  A legal showdown of historic proportion unfolded Nov. 2 in an Alabama federal court. Squaring off in Montgomery Courtroom B4 were the Obama Justice Department and its most important domestic defendant, former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, once the leading Democrat in his state. Siegelman wants the government to provide documents proving that Middle District U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, right, really withdrew from the case, as she claimed.

Legal Schnauzer, Is Lawsuit Cash Having a Negative Impact on Progressive Politics? Roger Shuler, April 20, 2011. Alabama lawyer G. Douglas Jones helped rake in more than $50 million in attorney fees from a lawsuit against individuals and entities connected to HealthSouth Corporation. Lawyers from California and New York were involved in the case, but Jones served as co-liaison counsel here in Birmingham, home to HealthSouth headquarters. Did Jones' access to cold, hard cash help make him a "kingmaker" with the Obama administration? Do Democrats such as Doug Jones act with progressive ideals in mind? Is George Beck the best candidate to replace Leura Canary, the abominable George W. Bush appointee who helped ramrod the Don Siegelman/Richard Scrushy prosecution?

Legal Schnauzer, Justice Department Continues to Play Hide and Seek with Siegelman Documents, Sept. 26, 2011. Thee decision to prosecute Siegelman and Scrushy for "crimes" that do not exist under the law rests with the Bush administration. But the decision to stonewall on DOJ records now rests with the Obama administration.

Mark FullerHuffington Post, Siegelman Deserves New Trial Because of Judge’s ‘Grudge’, Evidence Shows, Andrew Kreig, May 15, 2009. The Alabama federal judge who presided over the 2006 corruption trial of the state's former governor holds a grudge against the defendant for helping to expose the judge's own alleged corruption six years ago. Former Gov. Don Siegelman therefore deserves a new trial with an unbiased judge ─ not one whose privately owned company, Doss Aviation, has been enriched by the Bush administration's award of $300 million in contracts since 2006, making the judge millions in non-judicial income. These are the opinions of Missouri attorney Paul B. Weeks, who is speaking out publicly for the first time since his effort in 2003 to obtain the impeachment of U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller of Montgomery on Doss Aviation-related allegations. Fuller is at left in a photo by Phil Fleming shortly after the jury verdict on June 15, 2006.

Huffington Post, Siegelman's First Trial Judge Blasts U.S. Prosecutors, Seeks Probe of 'Unfounded' Charges, Andrew Kreig, May 21, 2009. One of the most experienced federal judges in recent Alabama history is denouncing the U.S. Justice Department prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Retired Chief U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon of Birmingham calls for a probe of misconduct by federal prosecutors ─ including their alleged "judge-shopping," jury-pool "poisoning" and "unfounded" criminal charges in an effort to imprison Siegelman.