Obama DOJ Part II: Bailey-Beck Siegelman Frame-up

 

Part I of this opinion series outlined on April 6 why President Obama made a mistake in nominating prominent Alabama attorney George L. Beck as U.S. attorney for the state’s middle district. Part II below amplifies why Beck’s role in the federal prosecution of former Gov. Don Siegelman creates huge conflicts for Beck that are against the public interest.

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 in the state capital of Montgomery.

On June 29, 2007, Alabama Public Television's "For the Record" show hosted a panel of reporters interviewing Beck as they sought in-depth analysis regarding that day’s federal court sentencing of Democratic former Alabama Gov. Siegelman and his co-defendant, Republican businessman Richard Scrushy.

Beck was not sure about some of the facts surrounding his client and key prosecution witness Nick Bailey. But Beck knew enough to vouch vehemently for Chief U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller. “None whatsoever!” was Beck’s response to a question about whether he had any doubts about Fuller’s fairness.

By the time of a Feb. 24, 2008 investigation of the case by CBS 60 Minutes, however, one of the nation’s most popular television programs would inform the world that Beck and Fuller let the government witness Bailey be coached and/or coerced by prosecutors up to 70 times, without providing legally required details to the defense to enable pretrial preparations.

See for yourself during the show narrated by Scott Pelley Did Ex-Alabama Governor Get A Raw Deal?

Beyond that, a series of sworn filings in 2009 further suggests that prosecutors abused their powers by pressuring Bailey to provide the testimony they wanted to frame Siegelman and Scrushy. 

According to Bailey’s Alabama friend and employer Stan Pate, the pressure included a threat of a 10-year prison sentence (compared to the 18-month term Bailey later received as a reward for his testimony) and the threatened smearing of Bailey with homosexual innuendo and targeting of his friends unless he cooperated with prosecutors. Pate's affidavit amplified as follows:

Based on my discussion with Nick, I have no doubt that the pressure, persuasion and rehearsals to which Nick was exposed by the agents and prosecutors had a significant effort on the testimony he gave at the trials in which he testified, including the Siegelman/Scrushy trial. A week ago, Nick told me that he had just reread his testimony in the Siegelman/Scrushy trial and said, “I can’t even believe I said those things."

Bailey’s own affidavit in 2009 does not use such strong language, perhaps understandably since he had recently been released from his prison term. But nothing in his affidavit contradicts his remarks on 60 Minutes and the sworn statement of Pate in a portrait of an all-out campaign now lasting more than a decade by ambitious prosecutors to do whatever it took to convict Siegelman and Scrushy. Prosecutors argued for a 30-year sentence for Siegelman, even after Northern District Chief U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon (handling the Siegelman's prosecution before prosecutors were able to finesse a transfer to Fuller's courtroom) and Fuller's jury rejected the vast bulk of prosecution charges. 

Look carefully at the words and demeanor of Beck in the 2009 interview as he seeks to quell even the tepid concerns voiced on the program by trusting reporters who deferred to his judgment as a lawyer. Beck, who had represented former gubernatorial aide Bailey since 2001 on separate charges than those implicating Siegelman, does not seem to have much of a problem with the case. True, he does mildly note that he was surprised the defendants did not receive bond while pursuing their appeal, and he suggests that the case’s complexities might bring it to the U.S. Supreme Court years down the road.

But think for yourself about whether that’s the kind of concern for justice -- or even vigorous defense of his own client Bailey -- that the country needs to reform the most notorious prosecution cesspool in America.  And don’t think for a moment that the president, his attorney General Eric Holder and the Alabama Democratic Party’s leadership don’t know about these problems.

After researching this case for three years my estimate is that the White House and Justice Department have received scores of thousands of protests about the Siegelman verdict, perhaps even more than 100,000. 60 Minutes, after all, has long been one of the nation’s most popular television shows, even if it’s broadcast of the Siegelman expose was electronically deleted (purportedly because of mysterious technical difficulties at the CBS Huntsville affiliate) through much of Alabama. Former Wall Street Journal associate editor Paul Craig Roberts was among commentators who promptly wrote a powerful follow-up, It Does Happen In America: The Political Trial of Don Siegelman.

Meanwhile, an unprecedented coalition of more than 90 former state attorneys general from more than 40 states (including some Republicans) signed a petition saying Siegelman’s main offense (and all of Scrushy’s) are not even crimes in the United States. As if all that were not enough, the state's 2010 Democratic U.S. Senate nominee, Bill Barnes, wrote both Holder and the White House asking tough questions about the fairness and status of the case but never received an answer before the election.

In sum, the most relevant authorities in the Democratic Party likely know all about the Pandora’s Box of this prosecution. So their reasons for picking Beck to supervise it merit much more review. This must come without Beck’s help. Now 69, he has declined our requests for comment as he seeks to nail down his powerful regional post.

Shackles and Solitary for Siegelman

In the absence of Beck's responses to current questions, we must study by default his track record. His words and demeanor in his 2009 interview are helpful. The news clip introducing the segment shows former HealthSouth, Inc. CEO Scrushy, a father of seven mostly young children, saying before sentencing that he was innocent of wrongdoing. Scrushy's federal crime? He contributed money to a non-profit that Siegelman had helped found to promote better education in Alabama via creation of a state lottery.

Watch how Beck talks about just-ended courtroom scene that day when Scrushy was hauled from his family unexpectedly without appeal bond. Federal marshals hustled Scrushy, like Siegelman, away in chains to begin seven-year sentences without being able to say goodbye to their families. For good measure, they put the former governor in solitary confinement at the beginning of his sentence to keep him away from family, supporters and the news media. Does Beck look in the video like he cares? Not much. That seems telling, especially when his own client whom he had represented since 2001 apparently made it happen, with reluctance. Bailey’s testimony was, in effect, that Scrushy -- portrayed at right in prison, where he remains -- made the donations because he wanted to continue serving on a state board that he had previously been appointed to by other governors. But doesn't Beck also have the "Go along to get along" philosophy?

Fast forward to today. The initial public outrage over Siegelman’s treatment has dwindled because of the vast dollars and expert personnel that the Justice Department can apply to grind down defendants.  He won a helpful Supreme Court decision last June but still faces a long prison sentence as law enforcement personnel from the Obama and Bush eras see their interest in closing ranks with politically well-connected leaders of the defense bar. The result? The current bipartisan effort to show that no one in authority did anything wrong in either the Siegelman/Scrushy case, or in many related developments within Alabama’s justice system.
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As we describe below, the U.S. attorney nomination process in the aggregate affects millions of people across the nation on their most vital concerns, not just the defendants in the Siegelman case or other criminal defendants. Vastly more important than fate of these few criminal defendants is whether our political system (including the wheeler-dealing process of Senate confirmation) provides accountability via U.S. attorneys and courts over the nation's business and public policy concerns.

Little recognized by political pundits focused on elections, our court system has the power to control the entire public policy array of government -- elections, health care, pollution, etc. -- not simply crime cases. Our thesis in this series is that the prosecution of Siegelman was not simply to rid Alabama of a Democrat, but to help elite insiders from both parties control public policy and government contracts. As often the case, the politically well-connected are thrilled to join the government gravy train when permitted. The review of the Beck nomination is based on filings in the Siegelman case supplemented by interviews and reports by other authors.

Representing Nick Bailey
As noted above, the Justice Department interrogated Bailey up to 70 times before Siegelman’s 2006 trial on corruption charges, with few of those interrogations disclosed to the defense as required by law. The court system has not yet acted on the defendants’ extensive affidavits showing that prosecutors, in effect, blackmailed Bailey during this process. This illustrates the well-known legal principle, “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

The defendants allege that an Air Force reserve colonel, since promoted to general, worked under Canary as the lead federal prosecutor on a special anti-Siegelman task force headquartered at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery. With kind of extra security, secret interrogations of such witnesses as Bailey could remain even more secure.

We know by now that the prosecution of Siegelman was an important component of Karl Rove’s strategy of politicizing the Justice Department to establish Republican control of Deep South state and local governments. Although Rove has repeatedly denied improper involvement, substantial evidence exists of an unprecedented U.S. political purge in 2006. 

The purpose? In the words of then DOJ Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson, to replace 15 to 20 percent of Republican U.S. attorneys with those who had achieved an even higher status as being “loyal Bushies” in the powerful posts. Among the most prominent was Leura Canary, appointed as middle district U.S. attorney in 2001 by incoming President Bush. Her husband is Rove’s close friend William Canary, CEO of the Business Council of Alabama and the campaign manager in 2002 for Siegelman’s successful Republican gubernatorial opponent, Bob Riley, right. Remarkably, she remains in office to this day. There, she is helping other Bush holdovers and the Obama administration create headlines by prosecuting some suspects, while also keep a lid on the scandals created under their own watch.

Obama’s own Justice Department has been heavily complicit in trying to squash Siegelman, Scrushy and whistleblowers.  Our Justice Integrity Project has documented many such instances, listed below in an appendix to this column and summarized here:

Obama/Holder: 20 More Years for Siegelman?

Under Obama and Canary, the middle district in 2009 requested 20 additional years in prison years for Siegelman, then age 64. The Justice Department has not endorsed recusal from the case for Judge even though the legal standard is if any independent and reasonable observer might harbor doubts about his fairness. Instead, the court system has sat for nearly four years on evidence that Fuller hated Siegelman, was enriched by hundreds of millions of federal contracts for his closely held Air Force contracting company on the side, which Fuller has controlled as by far its largest shareholder. Beyond that, nearly the Obama or Bush administrations – including Canary’s middle district office that Beck seeks to run -- or Congress apparently has ever investigated sworn complaints that Fuller should be prosecuted and impeached for attempting to defraud Alabama’s state pension system of $330,000 in a Doss-related scheme chronicled in my 2009 Huffington Post expose, and by others as well.

Additionally, I have studied Fuller’s 2002 confirmation hearing before the Senate. Not one senator involved in his unanimous confirmation even mentioned Fuller’s work running the Colorado-based Doss as it performed such militarily sensitive tasks as refueling Air Force planes (including the Presidential Air Force One) and training Air Force and international pilots for war. This is all especially peculiar because Fuller was supposedly working fulltime for years at the same time as a State of Alabama prosecutor.

Did those same murky Air Force connections lead to Fuller’s efforts to pay off staffer with state pension funds? That's the allegation in a sworn statement and exhibits filed in 2003 with the court. And why can’t the public, including defense attorneys for those with cases before Fuller, find those documents on the federal government’s electronic filing system PACER? The filing system is supposedly designed in part to enable litigants to smoke out potential conflicts by judges.

But someone at the courthouse managed by Fuller removed those documents about the judge from the federal government’s file and PACER electronic records system. So, they were unknown to Siegelman and Scrushy defense counsel at the time of trial. The Justice Integrity Project posts here the only known copy online of the 180-pages of affidavits and exhibits of that request for Fuller’s recusal, prosecution and impeachment. Fuller has declined comment on the matter, and as have other authorities.

Beyond that, Obama’s Justice Department fired its Middle District paralegal Tamarah Grimes, right, on trumped up charges after she wrote Holder about many serious irregularities she observed in her office’s administration under Canary. Grimes says that Canary helped influence the Siegelman prosecution through highly irregular staff assignments despite her ostensible recusal. Grimes is a Republican who reached out without success to then-House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers about wrongdoing by Canary. One of his reports highlighted her statements, helping make her a target.

Conyers, 81, last month held a news conference at the National Press Club to boast of his progressive agenda. I asked him why he let Grimes lose her job and home for protesting wrongdoing at the Justice Department without inquiring about her, much less calling whistleblowers like her and victims of political prosecutions as committee witnesses. Conyers, whose wife is in prison on federal bribery charges, responded that he doesn’t know anything about Grimes,but once spoke to Siegelman. Then, putting on the charm as he does so eloquently, he said he’s not finished yet fighting for the public even though he’s no longer chairman because of Republican victories last fall.

Last year, Obama’s DOJ via his friend Elena Kagan unsuccessfully argued to the Supreme Court that it should not review Siegelman’s prosecution. Even a Republican-run high court disagreed. The court last June vacated Siegelman’s “honest services” convictions and remanded the case to a lower court.

Shamelessly, the Obama Justice Department immediately followed up by trumpeting a report it has developed absolving itself and the Bush administration of wrongdoing during the Bush political purges and follow-ups. Undisclosed to the public until a Justice Integrity Project investigation last summer, DOJ’s report had been prepared by a prosecutor that the DOJ knew all along had herself been found by an appeals court of engaging in prosecutorial misconduct by withholding evidence in a political corruption case.

Now, the DOJ is fighting to return Siegelman to prison, keep Scrushy there and otherwise maintain its reputation in Alabama and elsewhere. Democrats claim that their top priority is to replace Leura Canary. But everyone knows that the tradition, easily enforced by the Obama administration if it so desired, is for such presidential appointees as her to resign promptly as a matter of honor upon a change of presidents.

In the meantime, Obama, the Justice Department and the Alabama Democratic Party leadership are pushing the nomination of George L. Beck. In our next installment, Part III, we’ll examine their arguments – and what you can do if you disagree with their push for his confirmation.

 

Coming tomorrow in Part III: Testimonials for Obama’s ‘Bama Man Beck

Contact the author Andrew Kreig or comment


Appendix of Cited and Follow-up Reports

2011

Legal Schnauzer, Obama Nominee Should Be Rejected for Key Justice Department Post, Roger Shuler, April 6, 2011. The U.S. Senate should thoroughly grill and then reject the Obama administration's nominee for a controversial U.S. attorney position, according to a report out this morning from the Justice Integrity Project (JIP).

Birmingham News, Federal prosecutors in the bingo vote-buying case need to get their act together, Editorial Board, April 5, 2011. Federal prosecutors involved in the bingo vote-buying case are apparently off to a bad start, if a hearing last week is any indication. U.S. Magistrate Judge Wallace Capel Jr. sharply scolded the government's team for not giving the 10 defendants information they are entitled to have about federal wiretaps. He threatened sanctions and issued a special rebuke for lawyers from the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., who are leading the prosecution. "This is supposed to be some elite unit coming down from D.C., and how this case has been conducted is ridiculous," Capel said.

Legal Schnauzer, Obama Proposes a Wretched Nominee for Controversial U.S. Attorney Post, Roger Shuler, April 1, 2011.
Just when you think the Obama administration's performance on justice issues in Alabama can't get any worse . . . it does.  Now we know why Obama waited more than two years to nominate a replacement for Bush appointee Leura Canary in the Middle District of Alabama. He apparently planned to nominate someone who is almost as bad as she is . . . so, why rush it?  George Beck, from the Montgomery firm of Capell and Howard, is the administration's choice, according to a press release issued yesterday. Sources tell Legal Schnauzer that the White House would have needed to strive awfully hard to come up with a worse choice than Beck. The Alabama Democratic Party issued a statement supporting the nomination, which speaks volumes about why Democrats can't win a statewide race in "The Heart of Dixie" to save their souls.

Birmingham News, Alabama judge threatens sanctions against bingo prosecutors, Kim Chandler, April 2, 2011. A judge on Friday said federal prosecutors acted with arrogance and "blatant ignorance" of the law by failing to turn over information about wiretaps to defense lawyers in the bingo vote-buying case. U.S. Magistrate Judge Wallace Capel Jr. said he is considering sanctions against prosecutors for their repeated delays in sharing documents.

2010
Nieman Watchdog, New Questions Raised About Prosecutor Who Cleared Bush Officials in U.S. Attorney Firings, Andrew Kreig, July 25, 2010.

2009
Legal Schnauzer, Lawyers Rake In Almost $28 million in Fees On Scrushy Case, Roger Shuler, Dec. 17, 2009.

Nieman Watchdog, Covering Prosecutors Calls For Tough-Minded Reporters, Andrew Kreig, Oct. 18, 2009.

Huffington Post, Siegelman Blasts DoJ and Judge In ‘Final’ Reply Seeking Hearing, Andrew Kreig, Sept. 21, 2009.

OpEd News: Explosive New Interview: DoJ Whistleblower Slams Siegelman Case, Parts I & II, Andrew Kreig, Sept. 16 & 18, 2009.

Huffington Post, Did DoJ Blackmail Siegelman Witness With Sex Scandal? Andrew Kreig, July 21, 2009.

Huffington Post, As Rove Testifies About Firings At Justice, Why Did DoJ Fire Whistleblower? Andrew Kreig, July 8, 2009.

C-SPAN, June 26, 2009 (3 hours, 4 minutes), Video: C-SPAN. Thirteen speakers describe political prosecutions in the United States during a breakthrough forum on the topic at the National Press Club organized by the Justice Integrity Project's predecessor coalition, following revelations about such prosecutions as Siegelman's, Oliver Diaz in Mississippi and Charles Walker, Sr. in Georgia.

Huffington Post, Alabama Decisions Illustrate Abuse of Judicial Power, Andrew Kreig, June 10, 2009.

Huffington Post, Siegelman's First Trial Judge Blasts U.S. Prosecutors, Seeks Probe of 'Unfounded' Charges, May 21, 2009, Andrew Kreig.

Huffington Post, Siegelman Deserves New Trial Because of Judge’s ‘Grudge’, Evidence Shows….$300 Million in Bush Military Contracts Awarded to Judge’s Private Company, Andrew Kreig, May 15, 2009.

Huffington Post, Probe the Past to Protect the Future, Andrew Kreig, March 4, 2009.

2008
Truth in Justice, It Does Happen In America: The Political Trial of Don Siegelman, Paul Craig Roberts, Feb. 28, 2008.

CBS 60 Minutes, Did Ex-Alabama Governor Get A Raw Deal? Scott Pelley, Feb. 24, 2008. U.S. House Judiciary Committee

2007

Alabama Public Television, For the Record hosted by Tim Lennox, With guests George Beck, Barbara Bobo, Bob Martin and Dave White, June 29, 2007.

Investigative Archives:

Harper's / No Comment by Scott Horton

Legal Schnauzer by Roger Shuler

Locust Fork News-Journal by Glynn Wilson: Siegelman/Scrushy Archive

Wayne Madsen Report by Wayne Madsen (Subscription only)

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. House Judiciary Committee Democratic Majority (By Then-Chairman John Conyers of Michigan)

5. “Allegations of Selective Prosecution” Joint Hearing Materials (2007)