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Federal authorities continued this month their remarkably harsh and unjust treatment of the nation’s most famous political prisoner. The U.S. legal jihad continued even as the Obama administration cited “human rights” as the rationale for new U.S. interventions overseas.

Authorities shackled former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman during his Dec. 15 court appearance in Montgomery, denied his request for bond pending appeal, and have reportedly kept him in solitary confinement over the holidays so far in the city’s county jail while he awaits an appellate hearing next month.

The Obama administration’s hypocrisy is thus displayed as it continues Bush and Clinton policies of citing “human rights” abuses elsewhere around the world as an excuse to foment revolutions and propaganda campaigns in John FarmerVenezuela, the Ukraine, and Syria coordination with covert CIA military and propaganda initiatives.

The Justice Integrity Project today updates our long-running coverage of the Siegelman case with an overview of recent courtroom and commentary developments.

Several legal experts have weighed in with powerful articles describing anew the injustice of Siegelman’s imprisonment for 1999 actions as governor that were not criminal as commonly understood.

Perhaps most significantly, Rutgers Law School Professor John J. Farmer, dean of the school from 2009 until last July and a former New Jersey attorney general, published an attack on the prosecution, Obama refuses to pardon Siegelman for acts less egregious than the president's.

In a New Jersey law school classroom far from Alabama, Farmer has supervised a student-led research project documenting the injustice. He himself has been part of a bipartisan, unprecedented -- and unsuccessful -- petition to the U.S. Supreme Court by 113 former attorney attorneys from 40-plus states arguing that Siegelman's actions were not a crime.

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) published this month another important column attacking the fairness of the current administration, Justice Department Downplays Evidence of Politics in Probe of Governor. POGO researcher Adam Zagorin is a former Time Magazine reporter who published there in 2007 was of the first revelations of the prosecution's basis in politics, not corruption-fighting. 

"New evidence," Zagorin wrote, 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.

Barack ObamaYet, as many other experts and investigators have written and we shall see again below, those willing to operate in a just, humane manner do not include the federal judges presiding over Siegelman's case. Nor do they include the Obama Justice Department and Bureau of Prisons, nor President Obama.

Some might argue that Obama, shown at his desk in a White House photo, merely lets the justice system run its course, and has scant role in Siegelman’s ordeal, which began in 1999 under Republican Attorney Gen. William Pryor, now a judge on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Nonsense. Our more than five years of reporting on the case indicates many ways in which Obama's and his close advisors have tipped the scales against Siegelman, aside even from his powers of pardon under the Constitution.

Among the administration's tactics have been fighting (partly with the help of Obama's close friend Elena Kagan when she was at the Justice Department) all of Siegelman’s well-merited appeals up to the Supreme Court.

The list goes on: Obama retained in office for more than two years the notorious Bush-appointed federal prosecutor Leura Canary. The president then as her successor George Beck, who had let Canary's team terribly his client, Nick Bailey, the chief witness against Siegelman. 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.

We reported Beck's disgraceful conduct and conflict of interest in his region's biggest case in our four-part series in 2011, beginning with Part I: Senate Must Grill Tainted Alabama DOJ Nominee.

Obama’s close friend and Attorney General Eric Holder presided over the scorched-earth firing in 2009 of firing Justice Department whistleblower Tamarah Grimes, who unsuccessfully sought to present sworn evidence against Leura Canary.
 
Under the supervision of the Obama Justice Department, Canary's team meanwhile argued during a resentencing proceeding for a 20-year sentence for Siegelman.
 
Eric HolderThen the Obama-Holder team oversaw a whitewashed internal probe by Justice Department special prosecutor Nora Dannehy of Bush-era political prosecutions. Dannehy's once-over-lightly look at the nationwide scandals involving Bush-era political prosecutions failed to examine key witnesses in the Siegelman case like Canary, Grimes or anyone else. Instead, it focused almost exclusively on the Bush-era firing of New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias for political purposes, as reported in our New Questions Raised About Prosecutor Who Cleared Bush Officials in U.S. Attorney Firings. Dannehy, who relentlessly and unfairly prosecuted a Republican businessman named Charles Spadoni, and found no reason to sanction anyone in the Justice Department or elsewhere for the misconduct.
 
Dannehy's whitewash for the Justice Department paralleled its investigation of potential criminal offenses in CIA torture and evidence destruction by Dannehy's Connecticut-based DOJ colleague, John Durham, who found no reason to prosecute any government officials either. Curiously, Durham, like Dannehy, had been appointed to investigate federal misconduct when a federal appeals court had already found that each of them had illegally suppressed evidence in the Spadoni case.

Summing up the Siegelman case, Obama and his top appointees have thwarted fact-finding investigations by the Justice Department, Congress and the defense, and allowing the Bureau of Prisons and U.S. Marshal’s service repeatedly to inflict unnecessary indignities on him paralleled elsewhere with no investigation or sanction.

Their conduct has had the result, if not intention, of inflicting additional pain, punishment and public shaming upon Siegelman, long-regarded as the most popular Democrat in his region and a potential president.  

Our project has repeatedly documented these matters in columns too numerous to re-cite. Details can be found by using the search engine at the top of this page.

The Big Picture

Before addressing recent developments in the Siegelman prosecution, two general points are worth making.

First, most of the Justice Department's work is necessary and reasonably non-controversial. The matters addressed here are a small minority of cases, albeit especially revealing and otherwise important.

Second, nonetheless, our focus on Siegelman is not to suggest that he deserves special status, including relief from his discomfort and indignity in his courtroom shackling). Instead, his experience (as he himself has argued many times) merely illustrates in a visible way injustices that many others experience.

We have reported on many other such political prosecutions targeting victims from both parties, and hurting both well-known and largely unknown individuals. Among the particularly disturbing cases recently coming to our attention have been the heavy punishment and lack of appellate bonds for "The IPR 6," six mostly black software engineers from Colorado convicted of financial fraud. Their case has aroused effective community support, as we reported in A Just Cause' Provides National Model For Grassroots Legal Reform, but no relief so far from the courts.

Abraham Bolden book cover, The Echo from Dealey PlazaAnother shocking case was the 1964 frame-up on federal bribery charges of Abraham Bolden, the nation's first African-American assigned to Secret Service protection of a president.

As recounted by his autobiography The Echo from Dealey Plaza (and confirmed elsewhere), Bolden received a seven-year prison term after he sought to alert the Warren Commission of systemic breakdowns in Secret Service protection of President John F. Kennedy before the assassination. His two trials and sentence were marred by suffered monumental injustice that included a recantation by the major prosecution witness, a Fifth Amendment claim by the prosecutor, and then solitary confinement and forced drugging of the defendant.

Bolden, though ailing, is still alive in Chicago and deserves a pardon as much as Siegelman. Not likely, however, unless the public understands that ordeals are part of the system that few want to explore.

Regular readers here know that we have reported extensively why Kennedy assassination and murder cover-up remains especially important to anyone's understanding of current affairs, including the reluctance of the White House, Justice Department, Congress and the courts to exercise their oversight powers on sensitive matters. It would be difficult to imagine a matter more worthy of concern than the real story behind the history-changing murder of a president in broad daylight.

But we return below to a narrower focus, albeit one of the greatest criminal justice travesties of our time. 

This Month’s News

For today's update, let’s start with the official proceedings in court this month.

U.S. District Judge Clay LandU.S. District Judge Clay D. Land, a Republican appointed by President George W. Bush in 2001, denied on Dec. 19 Siegelman’s request for release on bond pending his request for a new trial on for 2006 corruption convictions.

Land was assigned the case because appellate court officials suspended Siegelman’s trial judge, Mark Fuller, from his duties following Fuller’s arrest on a misdemeanor wife-beating charge in August. Fuller and most of the appellate judges on the Georgia-based 11th Circuit Court of Appeals are Republicans.

In a 31-page decision, Land ruled that in essence Siegelman should remain imprisoned because fellow judges have rejected most of his previous appeals to the Eleventh Circuit. Thus, Land, reasoned, the defendant seems unlikely to win on his current arguments, scheduled for a hearing Jan. 15 in Atlanta.

This is how rubber-stamp justice works. As an alternative, Land could easily have taken judicial initiative to allow Siegelman to gather the evidence that the defendant has repeatedly sought since before his 2006 trial. One key element would be whether Canary in fact recused from the prosecution because of her financial conflict, or whether she continued in charge, as the whistleblower Grimes claimed before Grimes was fired in a ruthless manner.

This is directly relevant to Siegelman's pending appeal:

His two grounds are that: 1) Siegelman’s original prosecutor, Canary, never recused herself from decision-making, as she had claimed, because of her conflicts of interest from her husband William Canary’s Republican campaign work; and 2) the trial judge Fuller improperly sentenced Siegelman on charges for which he had won jury acquittal.

Legal blogger Roger Shuler has covered the recusal issue for years, with this update (including the Land opinion in an appendix): Courts continue to deny discovery on Leura Canary's 'recusal,' pointing to a cover-up in Siegelman case.

Siegelman’s 78-month jail term imposed by Fuller was primarily because Siegelman as governor in 1999 reappointed the Republican Alabama businessman Richard Scrushy to an unpaid state regulatory board after Scrushy contributed several hundred thousand dollars to a campaign Siegelman supported to create a state lottery in Alabama.

The law enforcement actions to imprison him have continued, with Bush and now Obama's Justice Department officials fighting continually to keep Siegelman imprisoned for the 1999 actions despite vast evidence of official misconduct by prosecutors, agents, and judges.

CBS “60 Minutes,” for example, broadcast a hard-hitting exposé nearly five years ago, Did Ex-Alabama Governor Get A Raw Deal? The show helped make the prosecution notorious as a global symbol of human rights abuses within the United States. Siegelman is shown in a file photo from the show.

This month, one the nation's best-known political prisoners was kept in prison garb and shackled during his bond hearing. During it, defense attorney, former Obama White House Counsel Gregory Craig, argued unsuccessfully that Siegelman should be granted appeal bond while courts weigh his request for a new trial.

The former governor is serving a 78-month prison sentence largely for a 1999 appointment to a state board a donor to a non-profit. The one-term governor from 1999 to 2003, his state's most prominent Democrat, has been continuously investigated and prosecuted since 1999, resulting in convictions in 2006.

If Siegelman, 67, fails to win a new trial he is scheduled for release in 2018 and must adhere to post-release requirements, including heavy burdens of community service for a man already stripped of his pension, law license, and forced to defend himself against the multi-million dollar government effort beginning in 1999.

Siegelman supporters appeared en masse in court for his hearing while abiding by the defendant's  request not to antagonize the judge by any improper displays.

Supporter Anita Darden, an Atlanta woman who for years has run a website FreeDon.org, reported that the former governor, a tall and traditionally lean fitness buff, seemed about twenty pounds underweight during his court appearance.

Also troubling to them were the special indignities placed upon him, such as handcuffs and shackles preventing him from taking notes in court, and solitary confinement in Montgomery’s county jail, limiting his outreach. Siegelman’s imprisonment has been in Louisiana’s federal prison at Oakdale despite family requests that he be held closer to home.

The trial judge, whom we have documented as having been a longstanding political opponent of Siegelman who “hated” the defendant because of the judge’s own corruption, also commanded that Siegelman be hauled from the court in shackles, denied appeal bond customary for white-collar offenses, and be placed in solitary confinement and shunted around the prison system, thus limiting contact with family and the news media.
Siegelman supporters – and indeed any thinking person – were saddened also that the defendant’s daughter Dana has been recovering from the serious injuries sustained by a hit-and-run driver who smashed her while she was bicycling home from work. The younger Siegelman, her father’s chief advocate in letter-writing campaigns to the Obama White House and elsewhere, appeared in court in a wheelchair.

Siegelman and his supporters had been hopeful that the new judge’s desire for the defendant to appear in court might be a sign that he was open to ordering a release, pending an appellate decision that might take more than a year after arguments next month.

Instead, the defendant undertook what he described as a painful journey from Louisiana that included a roundabout 10-hour bus trip and seven-hour plane trip, all while confined to at times painful shackles.
In general, authorities maintain they merely impose standard practices in such matters. Even so, that merely raises the question of whether standard practices should be re-examined. Siegelman, a former Alabama attorney general, has been especially active in helping other prisoners, as documented by his Oakdale correspondence and visitors.

Thus, his ordeal and our reporting of it here has significance far beyond his personal circumstances.

If authorities from jailers to judges to the White House can inflict such unwarranted punishment on a white former governor who is well-known internationally as a political prisoner the implications are obvious for those with lesser credentials, clout, or access to the media. Two million American men and women are now behind bars – by far the highest rate in the world.

That vast cost in ruined lives is only part of the story. Taxpayers and communities are paying enormous costs, not just in custodial expenses but in ruined lives of defendants and their families.

Again, the Siegelman prosecution is a microcosm. Two of his colleagues were acquitted but suffered enormous litigation expenses. Scrushy served a seven-year sentence despite weak and  disputed evidence that he intended his donation to the lottery fund to secure a regulatory board seat.

Why? It’s a long story, which will shall explore in the next part.

But as a preview, the late White House correspondent Helen Thomas drew on nearly 70 years experience in covering the White House beginning in 1943 to tell share her impression as we sat side-by-side at a National Press Club dinner.

“As for Obama," she said, "I think he’s weak. He has no courage.” Thomas continued, "We need a stand-up guy to do what’s right for the country.”

 
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Related News Coverage

Siegelman Case News

Al.com, Clemency for former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman overwhelmingly favored by AL.com readers, Jim Stinson, Dec. 19, 2014. When it comes to former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and his transgressions, AL.com readers are in a forgiving mood. By a margin of almost 50 points, AL.com readers believe Siegelman should have his sentence commuted. The readers' poll found 70.8 percent, or 897 respondents, believe Siegelman should get a commutation.

Montgomery Advertiser, Don Siegelman denied motion for release from prison, Brian Lyman, Dec. 18, 2014. A federal judge Thursday denied former Gov. Don Siegelman release from prison while an appeal of his 2006 conviction U.S. District Judge Clay Landon corruption charges goes forward. In a 30-page decision, U.S. District Judge Clay Land, shown in a file photo, wrote that while he believed the record contained evidence that might support the former governor's allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, previous rulings by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals made it unlikely that Siegelman's motion for a new trial would succeed.

Al.com, Obama refuses to pardon Siegelman for acts less egregious than the president's, John Farmer, Dec. 24, 2014. John J. Farmer, Rutgers Law School, shown in a photo at left, is a professor of law at Rutgers University, and a former attorney general for the state of New Jersey. President Obama has acted like every one of his predecessors in rewarding his biggest political contributors. But if this time-honored tradition of appointing ambassadors and other officials based largely on political support is so obviously permissible, the question that should trouble the president's conscience is why, if he is willing to make such appointments, he is also content to leave people like [former Alabama Gov.] Don Siegelman in prison. A bipartisan and nonpartisan group of over 100 former state attorneys general -- myself among them -- participated as friends of the court in an unsuccessful effort to persuade the federal appeals court and U.S. Supreme Court to reverse Siegelman's conviction. More recently, as Dean of the Rutgers School of Law, I worked with law students from the Constitutional Litigation Clinic to look at every federal official corruption prosecution over the prior decade. The students' conclusion, as stated nearly two years ago in a Jan. 7, 2013, letter to Obama and the pardon attorney seeking a commutation of Siegelman's sentence, was stark:  "the Siegelman conviction is readily distinguishable from every other contemporaneous corruption prosecution .... 'No charges have been brought against a politician where the quid pro quo is as far attenuated as in the present case.'"

Legal Schnauzer, New judge in Siegelman case decides to protect his corrupt colleagues by denying request for release, Roger Shuler, Dec. 18, 2014.

Legal Schnauzer, Courts continue to deny discovery on Leura Canary's 'recusal,' pointing to a cover-up in Siegelman case, Roger Shuler, Dec. 22, 2014. The primary thrust of last week's Don Siegelman story, on the surface, was whether the former Alabama governor would be released from federal prison, pending an appeal before the U.S. Eleventh Circuit in January. New judge Clay Land (shown in a photo), on the case in the wake of the Mark Fuller wife-beating scandal, denied Siegelman's request for release--and that was at the heart of almost all news coverage. Beneath the surface, and somewhat buried in Land's 31-page opinion, was an issue that is much darker and potentially explosive. In fact, it points to a cover-up of criminal behavior that, if fully exposed, could rock our democracy. We're talking about discovery, specifically an inquiry into the supposed recusal of Leura Canary, the U.S. attorney over the Middle District of Alabama, where the Siegelman case was held. On page 3 of his order, Land states that discovery on the Canary recusal is one of three issues Siegelman raises on appeal--then the judge waits until the final four pages to address it, stating that "the Court leaves the most difficult issue for last." Siegelman presented evidence that Leura Canary had a financial interest in his case. Thanks to whistleblower Tamarah Grimes, he presented evidence that Canary did not abide by her announced recusal. Part of Siegelman's case before Land was a request to conduct formal discovery on the issue of Canary and her failure to fully recuse. By my unofficial count, Land became the sixth judge to deny such discovery. 

AL.com, Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman could soon be released from prison, Jim Stinson, Dec. 15, 2014. Looking thin and dressed in a reddish jumpsuit with a chain around his waist, former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman appeared on Monday in U.S. District Court in Montgomery, asking for temporary release from prison as he awaits a new appeal. Siegelman, a Democrat, was convicted by a federal court in 2006 on bribery, conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges in connection for appointing former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy to a place on a health planning board in return for a $500,000 donation to the governor's campaign for a statewide lottery. Scrushy also served prison time for the scheme, but was released in 2012. Siegelman is serving a 78-month term. Of that, he has served more than 35 months. As the appeal makes it way through federal court, Siegelman would like to be released temporarily while awaiting the appellate case resolution.

Project on Government Oversight (POGO), Justice Department Downplays Evidence of Politics in Probe of Governor, Adam Zagorin, Dec. 11, 2014. New evidence related to one of the most controversial public corruption cases in recent years, the 2006 conviction of Alabama’s former Democratic Governor, Don Siegelman, indicates that Department of Justice prosecutors 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. As a result, the public can be left with a question: Is the Justice Department whitewashing prosecutorial abuse?

Justice Integrity Project, Part I: Senate Must Grill Tainted Alabama DOJ Nominee, Andrew Kreig, April 5, 2011. President Obama ended more than two years of high-profile White House indecision March 31 by naming the prominent Alabama attorney George L. Beck as his nominee to become U.S. attorney for the state’s Montgomery-based middle district. Despite an impressive career overall, Beck is a horrible choice because he was a compliant defense attorney in the notorious prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman’s, the state’s leading Democrat.Justice Integrity Project, Part II: Bailey-Beck Siegelman Frame-up, Andrew Kreig, April 6, 2011. 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.

Nieman Watchdog, New Questions Raised About Prosecutor Who Cleared Bush Officials in U.S. Attorney Firings, Andrew Kreig, July 25, 2010. Four days before Nora Dannehy was appointed to investigate the Bush administration’s U.S. attorney firing scandal, a team of lawyers she led was found to have illegally suppressed evidence in a major political corruption case. Andrew Kreig writes that this previously unreported fact calls her entire investigation into question as well as that of a similar investigation by her colleague John Durham of DOJ and CIA decision-making involving torture.

Huffington 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.

CBS 60 MinutesDid Ex-Alabama Governor Get A Raw Deal? Scott Pelley, Feb. 24, 2008. 

 

Other Cases

Justice Integrity Project, 'A Just Cause' Provides National Model For Grassroots Legal Reform, Andrew Kreig, Sept. 4, 2014. A Colorado-based legal reform group provides an effective model for other groups nationally. A Just Cause began by advocating for six software engineers serving long prison terms for disputed convictions on corruption charges. I become impressed with the leaders and their cause by meeting them in the nation’s capital this summer, reading their materials and being hosted on their radio show