Part III: Beck’s DOJ Backers Make Their Case

Parts I and II of this opinion series outlined 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 III below showcases the case for confirmation by Beck’s backers. Coming this afternoon in Part IV: Next steps for those not convinced that this nomination is in the public interest.

By Andrew Kreig / Project Director’s Blog

“For his diligence and relentless pursuit of justice, I have named George L. Beck to serve as a U.S. Attorney,” announced President Obama on March 31. “I am confident he will serve the people of Alabama with distinction.” The White House noted that Beck has been a shareholder of Capell & Howard, P.C. since 2004, and began his career as an associate in 1966, when he enlisted in the Alabama Army National Guard on his way to retiring as a colonel in 2001.

The nomination followed a recommendation by the federal nominating committee of the Alabama Democratic Party, and more than two years of ineffectual state and national efforts by Democrats to find a consensus, centrist candidate who could satisfy varied Democratic interests without incurring fatal opposition from Alabama’s Republican U.S. Senators, Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions.

Under Mark Kennedy, left, a new state party chairman installed after the party’s rout in November’s elections, Democrats ultimately picked what their leaders regarded as a safe pick for the powerful regional post running federal criminal and civil litigation from the Justice Department office based in the state capital of Montgomery. 

An appointment would finally ease out from office the incumbent Republican U.S. attorney, Leura Canary, who was nominated  by President Bush a decade ago after mariage to one of Karl Rove's best friends. She remains in power despite a track record arguably making her the most notorious federal prosecutor in the nation, albeit one ostensibly well-regarded by top Justice Department colleagues.

"I have known George for more than twenty years, and I have a deep respect for his ability to carry out the duties of the office with honor and incredible skill," said Kennedy as he coordinated with the White House his announcement of support for Beck.

"President Obama's decision is the right thing to do, and it is a privilege to know that an attorney of George's caliber will be serving the people of the Middle District in the U.S. Attorney's office." Kennedy’s press release continued:

The nomination follows weeks of intense vetting and significant coordination between the Department of Justice and local Alabama officials, including the newly-elected chair of the Alabama Democratic Party. Since taking office as Chairman in January of this year, Judge Mark Kennedy has worked tirelessly to help expedite the naming of a new Middle District U.S. Attorney.

Kennedy added, "During my two-month tenure as the Chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, I have made the resolution of this nomination one of my highest priorities. We have long needed new representation in the Middle District and we thank the White House for working so closely with us in recent weeks to resolve this long-standing issue. We are grateful to the White House for choosing an experienced and knowledgeable nominee for this critical position in whom the people of Alabama can have the utmost confidence."

Longtime Alabama journalist Roger Shuler provided a quite different perspective in his column, “Obama Proposes a Wretched Nominee for Controversial U.S. Attorney Post.” Shuler blogs on legal affairs topics at his Legal Schnauzer site, and frequently also on such national Democratic-leaning sites as OpEd News, Daily Kos and FireDogLake. Shuler wrote:

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?

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.

Shuler has blogged for four years about the frame-up of former Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman and many other Democrats across the Deep South by so-called “loyal Bushies” in the Justice Department such as Canary, left. They purportedly used criminal prosecutions for political purposes, as revealed by the 2006 U.S. attorney firing scandal. A Bush-Obama joint investigation concluded last summer, however, exonerated the Justice Department of any serious wrongdoing, and never even interviewed victims and whistleblowers.

Shuler is a former Birmingham News reporter and University of Alabama communications specialist with for nearly four decades experience in those two jobs. In a lawsuit, he alleges that his commentaries on his own time prompted influentail donors to the university arrange his firing him to suppress his off-the-job commentary, with his wife fired also from a separate job further to silence him. Meanwhile, Shuler's powerful columns about legal abuses parallel those by other independent investigators, including those by our Justice Integrity Project. We also have identified gross violations of due process in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia, among other places. In general, the Obama Justice Department’s leadership and holdover employees have abjectly closed ranks with predecessors in this and orchestrated cover-ups that continue the injustices. This is the background for Shuler's recent description of Beck’s long-rumored nomination:

How bad a choice is Beck? Consider a post we wrote on January 7, 2010, which described a possible Beck nomination as a "train wreck." What do you really need to know about George Beck? Two things:

* His firm has been known as a base of operations for GOP strategist Karl Rove when he comes to Alabama;

* He represented Nick Bailey, the government's star witness in the Don Siegelman case, and allowed prosecutors to browbeat Bailey and interview him more than 70 times, including what appears to be blatant coaching.

We outlined the case against Beck in a post from more than a year ago, titled "Is Obama About to Make a Terrible Nomination in Alabama?" Unfortunately, we now know the answer is yes.

Beck, Kennedy, the state party’s Executive Director Bradley Davidson and the White House each failed to respond to my requests Friday for comment. The White House contact is Hannah August, a communications specialist formerly with the Justice Department and now responsible for justice-related issues in Southern states. But G. Douglas Jones, a former U.S. attorney for Alabama’s Northern District during the Clinton administration and current power-broker within the state and national party on justice issues, was willing to speak. He responded to questions both about his support for Beck’s nomination and about the criticism that Jones himself has endured, most strikingly from Shuler.

The blogger, at right with his late schnauzer, Murphy, has described Jones as seriously conflicted over the Siegelman case. 

In such columns as “Lawyers Rake In Almost $28 million in Fees on Scrushy Case,” Shuler reported that Jones agreed to a prosecution request to waive the statute of limitations for Siegelman. Jones then went on to serve as plaintiff’s lead co-counsel with local attorney Rob Riley, son of Alabama Gov. Bob Riley (Siegelman’s Republican opponent in 2002 and 2006) in a major securities fraud civil suit against Siegelman’s co-defendant, Richard Scrushy. Scrushy was imprisoned entirely on Siegelman-related charges of making donations at Siegelman’s request to the non-profit Alabama Education Foundation. Scrushy consistently maintained right to the day he received a seven-year prison term in 2007 that his refusal to lie on the witness stand at prosecution request to help prosecutors frame Siegelman is the reason for his harsh sentence.

Meanwhile, Jones and Riley helped lead the way for plaintiffs to win a $455 million settlement (largely from insurers) in a civil case alleging that Scrushy committed a fraud on investors as CEO of HealthSouth, Inc. by inflating its value. Huge legal fees then went to Jones and other attorneys.

Jones, left, and his supporters vehemently deny Shuler’s allegations of conflict of interest. Therefore, my questions to Jones last weekend addressed not simply his support for the Beck nomination to run the office in charge of the Siegelman/Scrushy prosecution, but lingering questions about his own role.

Jones has previously stated that he agreed to waive the statute of limitations only to show cooperation and other good faith after prosecutors erroneously told him they were not planning to indict Siegelman after their first prosecution was gutted by a skeptical trial judge, Northern District Chief U.S. Judge U.W. Clemon. But the limitations waiver and transfer of prosecution efforts to Middle District Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller (whom we described in Part I of this series as hating Siegelman and enriched by $300 million in federal contracts for his closely held company) helped prosecutors obtain the time needed to indict Siegelman and Scrushy a second time in May 2005 with a secret indictment. Authorities unveiled the indictment the following fall, helping set the stage for a 2006 trial that thwarted with a conviction Siegelman’s attempted political comeback against the senior Riley in the 2006 gubernatorial elections.

My questions to Jones included ones about Beck’s unusually advanced age at 69 for a U.S. attorney appointment. Most important, however, were the questions of conflict of interest prominently reported in Parts I and II of this series. To recap, the question is how Beck, defense attorney for the key prosecution witness Nick Bailey in the scandal-ridden prosecution of Siegelman, could possibly supervise the same middle district U.S. attorney’s office that exhibited so many well-documented but yet unpunished abuses as those involving in the Siegelman/Scrushy convictions.

Jones responded as follows:

George is eminently qualified to be US Attorney. He is a veteran lawyer who is respected by judges and lawyers on both sides of the aisle. He will be fair and balanced, and not driven by any political agenda, which is especially important for that particular U.S. Attorney position. This is not a lifetime appointment. So I am not concerned at all about his age. I think that office needs a seasoned lawyer with a steady hand regardless of age, and he certainly fits that bill.

With regard to his representation about Nick [Bailey], it is not a question whether he might be conflicted. He will be conflicted from any involvement in the case. I think that the real question will be whether it causes the entire office, including the Assistant U.S, Attorneys who prosecuted the case, to also be recused. A strong argument can be made that this case is so controversial that the entire office should be recused, and either another U.S, attorney appointed to oversee the case or someone out of Main Justice. That's a decision to be made by the hierarchy at DOJ.

Finally, all I can say about any questions that have after the fact been raised regarding my representation of Gov. Siegelman while also working on a civil matter against Richard Scrushy is that Don was well aware of the civil case and it was never an issue with us and that is all that matters to me. Moreover, as you know I did not represent him at trial due to a trial conflict with another matter and it is the trial where the rubber meets the road with regard to such issues. Scrushy was ultimately dismissed from our case without any settlement or judgment against him.

Coming in Part IV: Next steps for those not convinced

 

 

 

 

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)

1. Documents Regarding U.S. Attorney Firings
2. Rove & Miers Interview Transcripts & Documents (Aug. 11, 2009)
3. “Reigning In Imperial Presidency” Report (Jan. 13, 2009)
4. “Majority Staff Report: Allegations of Selective Prosecution” (April 13, 2008)

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