Senate Must Grill Tainted Alabama DOJ Nominee: Part I

By Andrew Kreig / Project Director's Blog

 

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. Beck’s role in that travesty further destroys public confidence in that long-troubled DOJ office. At the minimum if confirmed, Beck must recuse himself and all of the most prominent staff at DOJ's Montgomery offices from the Siegelman case and every spin-off public corruption probe. The more logical outcome, however, is for the Senate Judiciary Committee to grill Beck, right, and other relevant witnesses to bring out all relevant facts, and then block Beck’s nomination because of his conflict of interest.

Our Justice Integrity Project, among many others, has documented how the Bush Justice Department framed Siegelman via the current Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney Leura Canary and her subordinates. The prosecutors did this in part by pressuring Beck’s client Nick Bailey, whose torment and coerced testimony were enabled by a biased Republican trial judge, Mark E. Fuller. Fuller hated Siegelman, according to our research. We documented this in a 2009 investigatory story that the Huffington Post front-paged, entitled, "Siegelman Deserves New Trial Because of Judge’s ‘Grudge,’ Evidence Shows." Fuller himself had no response when we asked him for comment, which helps underscore why the Justice Department and Senate need to have inquiries above suspicion.

Judge Mark Fuller Phil Fleming PhotoFuller is portrayed at right in a rare photo by Alabama's Phil Fleming, which was taken for historic purposes immediately after the 2006 jury verdict in the Siegelman case. Even if Fuller continues to refuse to recuse himself because of his animosity to the defendant, the judge was compromised also by his secret contracts on the side bringing in $300 million from 2006 to 2009 for Doss Aviation, Inc., the judge’s privately held company. Doss primarily serves the Air Force. This Air Force tie-in leads to a host of necessary Senate confirmation questions for Beck, the Justice Department and others regarding Air Force involvement in the Siegelman prosecution and in the recent $35 billion Air Force acquisition of a next-generation of mid-air tankers. Powerful interests wanted these tankers to be built by a European-led consortium at a reassembly plant in Alabama onsortium instead of by a U.S. prime contractor.

To be sure, Beck has strong defenders in Alabama. But state party leaders and the White House declined to respond to our requests for comment on specifics, aside from their press releases. An exception was the prominent Democratic attorney G. Douglas Jones, who defended Beck at length in response to our questions, as indicated in our third installment in this series. Scheduled for tomorrow morning after Part II this after, our third part explores sensitive issues more in-depth than today's introduction. Beck himself declined to respond to requests for comment. But he revealed a number of troubling perspectives when he spoke to reporters on Alabama’s statewide television on June 29, 2007 during a half-hour interview about the Siegelman sentencing. Asked, for example, whether there was evidence of judicial bias by Fuller during the trial, Beck responded emphatically, “None whatsoever.” That was two months after a defense filing showing that the judge was being enriched with Air Force contracts through the company he controlled with up to 44% ownership. Beck showed also a remarkable level of ignorance about basic facts involving two of his biggest cases of the past two decades, that of Bailey (who he had represented since 2001) and former Alabama Gov. Guy Hunt, a Republican conviced of ethics charges in misappropriating some $200,000 and then pardoned.

Among Beck’s defenders, some suggest that a plus for him is that Alabama’s powerful Republican Senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions may provide only token opposition to Beck. This would end the reign of the Republican Canary, arguably the nation's most disgraced federal prosecutor because of her leadership of the office prosecuting Siegelman and his co-defendant, former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy. By this view, confirmation of Beck by Republicans would end the astonishing situation of Obama continuing to employ Canary, a Republican running Alabama's middle district office more than two years after she should have resigned. The United States tradition is that U.S. attorneys leave as a matter of a honor after party-changing presidential elections, but for various reasons that does not seem to apply in Alabama under an Obama presidency. Appointed in 2001 and portrayed at left, Canary continues to run the powerful regional post on the basis of credentials that included marriage to one of Karl Rove’s friends. Before last fall’s elections, she helped lead a gambling-related corruption investigation into primarily Democratic state legislators and lobbyists that in many ways rivals the Siegelman case in terms of political sensitivities. Just last week a federal magistrate-judge threatened prosecutors, including one from Justice Department headquarters in Washington implicated hiding evidence to convict the late Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, with sanctions for their continued failure to comply with legal rules in Alabama.

But Democratic cowardice and confusion in replacing even a prosecutor so disgraced as Canary is no reason to recruit Beck. His conflict is so serious that the Senate Judiciary Committee must grill him expertly at his confirmation hearing – in ways far beyond the committee's usual rubber-stamp process for Alabama personnel – about his role in the Siegelman-Scrushy case, referenced below for brevity as the Siegelman case since all of Scrushy's convictions and seven-year prison term were caused solely by what he's described as innocent donations to an education non-profit at Siegelman's request. The Siegelman prosecution remains a human rights scandal of the worldwide infamy. Even if Beck survives thorough hearings to win confirmation he and all his office’s most senior career holdovers must recuse themselves from the Siegelman case and its important spin-offs. That means Beck’s recusal not simply from formal filings, but also from related personnel decisions such as pay raises and promotions that would make his job as a supervisor almost impractical. As unwelcome precedent, Canary supposedly recused herself from the Siegelman case because her husband was campaign manager for his 2002 gubernatorial opponent, Bob Riley. Yet whistleblower evidence is that she frequently inserted herself into decision-making by personnel actions to micro-manage the prosecution in blatant contradiction to the Justice Department’s public statements.

Scandals Related to Siegelman-Case Misconduct

What the world now knows about the Siegelman case is bad enough. That will be the basis of most of our analysis below. But even more important at this point are investigations into other Alabama situations related to the Siegelman frame-up. Primary among them are the still-uninvestigated corruption allegations against Siegelman’s trial judge, Fuller, stemming from an alleged plot by the judge to defraud the state of Alabama’s pension fund of some $330,000. Following up an initial report in 2007 by Harper's contributing editor Scott Horton, I outlined this plot in my 2009 Huffington Post column, based on a 180-page an affidavit and supporting exhibits filed by a Missouri attorney with the middle district courthouse, the Department of Justice and elsewhere. Someone has mysteriously removed the legal papers from the PACER electronic filing system in the courthouse that Fuller presumably controls as chief judge, But there is no statute of limitations on impeachment actions, and this is precisely the kind of sensitive matter that Canary’s successor, whether Beck or someone independent, should be investigating.

 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), right, never questioned Fuller during his 2002 confirmation hearing how the prospective judge could be running Doss, a Colorado-based military contractor, at the same time he was supportedly working fulltime as a state of Alabama prosecutor for years before his judicial appointment. Fuller's' senator sponsors Shelby and Sessions never volunteered any  information about that Doss job. Niether did the Senate's highest-ranking Republican, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, in describing Fuller's background to the full Senate before obtaining unamious senate approval for Fuller. This time with Beck, the public must insist that Leahy and his colleagues call independent witnesses and otherwise perform more than a rubber-stamp function.

The second matter requiring Senate inquiry related to the Beck nomination are the allegations that Siegelman’s prosecution was related to a $35 billion, decade-long Air Force procurement of the next-generation fleet of mid-air refueling planes. The Defense Department recently announced that Boeing would (again) win the competition, reversing a previous decision at rival EADS and its partner Northrop Grumman would build the planes, with a vital assembly plant in Mobile, Alabama. A full investigation into the real story behind that decade-long competition, which included the imprisonment of both Boeing and Air Force officials for bribery, is another vital reason to recruit a U.S. attorney free of deep political entanglements with the Alabama power-structure that fought so mightily to defeat the Boeing bid.

Third is the major political corruption scandal that since the middle of last year has engulfed Alabama politics. It centers on the long-running anti-gambling crusade of two-term Republican governor Bob Riley to shutter electronic bingo casinos in the state. This helped prompt the federal indictment via Canary’s office of Alabama gambling kingpins Milton McGregor and Ronnie Gilley along with several legislators and lobbyists on corruption charges. The indictment of 11 defendants by Canary's office are fascinating enough on their own: This alleges bribery by facility owners McGregor and Gilley to influence the legislature to allow the casinos to stay open and avoid the loss of many casino jobs.

The back story is even more sensational: This is that Riley’s own anti-gambling campaigns against such opponents as Siegelman were funded by up to $13 million in gambling industry contributions by Mississippi casinos seeking to protect their market share by thwarting gambling in nearby Alabama. This $13 million allegation arose during U.S. Senate hearings overseen by Sen. John McCain of  Arizona examining allegations against the Mississippi casino operators by their since-convicted Washington lobbyists Jack Abramoff and his aide, Michael Scanlon, a former aide to Alabama's Senator Shelby, who is portrayed at left. Those hearings produced evidence that Abramoff also laundered seven-figure fees from Mississippi gamblers to former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed to help Riley by using Reed’s supposed moral authority (funded by Mississippi gamblers!) to oppose Alabama gambling on moral grounds.

Even more intriguing, but less documented at this point, are allegations that Riley may have benefitted from a separate seven-figure “investments” by McGregor, laundered through intermediaries, into a Russian lottery scheme. As background, McGregor is-a longtime powerbroker in Alabama’s politics, law and defense industries in addition to his gambling interests. Several investigative reporters have published source-based stories about these allegations of a purported Russian lottery “investment” by McGregor and a handful of other wealthy Alabamans benefitting Riley, who left office in January because of term-limits. Explanations for potential motivations are internally consistent, albeit controversial, and are beyond the scope of this series. But that's the ostensible purpose of full and honest investigations by the U.S. attorney's office and Senate, getting every relevant person under oath.

Bottom line: The next Middle District U.S. Attorney has ample leads of official corruption with implications extending far beyond the borders of Montgomery. But the initial step is to restore public confidence in the administration of the middle district U.S. attorney’s office.

Later Today in Part II: Bailey, Beck and the Siegelman-Scrushy Frame-up

 

 

 

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)

 

 

 

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