Saturday, August 04, 2007

Hard Rain Journal 8-5-07: Lessons from Soviet-Style Show Trail of Don Siegelman -- Learned or Unlearned?

Orson Wells' 1962 film version of Franz Kafka's The Trail

Hard Rain Journal 8-5-07: Lessons from Soviet-Style Show Trail of Don Siegelman -- Learned or Unlearned?

By Richard Power

Like most of you, I want to see Bush and Cheney impeached.

There is sufficient evidence, already available in open source, on a range of issues, including Iraq, Katrina, Plame, the politicization of the DoJ, violations of the Geneva Accords, FISA, FOIA and the Bill of Rights, etc.

And if impeachment is politically unrealistic -- in our current circumstances, a Senate trial would almost certainly result in acquittal -- like most of you, I do not understand why censure, indeed multiple censures, are not aggressively pursued as a viable alternative.

Like most of you, I would be willing to support the cutting off of funding for military operations in Iraq, assuming there was enough money in the pipeline to bring the men and women of the US military home safely, and responsibly.

Like most of you, I do not understand why there was no filibuster of the Alito and/or Roberts appointments.

Like most of you, I am weary of making excuses for the Democratic leadership.

And like most of you, I find it almost incomprehensible that so few (almost no) Republican members of Congress have stood up to the Bush-Cheney regime in any significant or sustained way.

(At this point, the US mainstream news media does not even deserve our bewilderment.)

But there is another dimension to all of this disappointment that needs to be factored into our ruminations; there is another bitter truth that must be acknowledged. Perhaps there are threats on the table. Perhaps the situation is much worse than most people realize.

Consider the fate of Don Siegelman, former Governor of Alabama, arguably the most popular Democratic political leader in state history.

Could impeachment be off the table because there are threats on the table? If a political leader as popular and as successful as Siegelman can be sent to federal prison on such trumped up charges, who is safe?

There are important lessons to be learned from the Siegelman case.

If they are learned, we will see the Bush-Cheney regime brought down in accord with the US Constitution, or at the very least, we will somehow limp into the 2008 national elections without having launched another war or undergone a declaration of martial law, and then turn the page.

But if these lessons go unlearned, your children and your children's children will know little or nothing truthful about what patriots -- from Tom Paine and Patrick Henry thru Medgar Evers, Dr. King and the Kennedy brothers to Pat Tillman and Paul Wellstone -- really lived, fought and in many cases died for.

What is the most important lesson? It is not us or them, it is them or the USA itself. They must be stopped -- and they must be stopped soon.

Here is my transcription of David Bender's Ring of Fire interview with Harper's Scott Horton; it provides vital insights into the Siegelman case in particular, and perhaps into the general reticence to make any direct moves against the Bush-Cheney cabal. -- Richard Power

David Bender: Former Alabama governor Don Siegelman has just begun serving a seven year term in federal prison, after having been convicted of accepting a half million dollar bribe. But critics say his prosecution was a political vendetta by Republicans. Karl Rove has been implicated. Dozens of former state attorneys general are demanding a congressional investigation, and members of the House Judiciary Committee are calling for a Justice Department probe of Don Siegelman's prosecution.
Scott Horton is an attorney and a contributor to Harper's Magazine, where he has been covering the Segalman case.
Scott, welcome to Ring of Fire. ... Explain this to me. What we the charges against Don Siegelman and how where the brought to bear against him.

Scott Horton: We've had a series of different proceedings brought against him going back to 2001. The first set involved accusations, always accusations of political corruption involving dozens of different acts. The first set was investigated by the Alabama state attorney general. A man named Bill Pryor, a very controversial fellow ... extremely, intensely partisan ... Pryor concluded he couldn't make a case, but he then went and try to sell to the Department of Justice, the of bringing a case ...

Bender: We have talked about bribery. What were the charges? What was the alleged case against Don Siegelman? [It] involved automobiles, kickbacks for state favors?

Horton: The absolute core accusation is this -- a man named Richard Scrushy, the CEO of Health South, made a contribution of $500,000 to the Alabama Education Foundation, which was an organization that was involved lobbying for an education lottery in Alabama.

Bender: A lottery that Siegelman had run on?

Horton: Right. And then Mr. Scrushy was appointed to a hospital oversight board in Alabama. The core accusation all the way at the base of all of this is that Don Siegelman sold that office, the appointment to that board, for $500,000. Note: Siegelman derived no personal benefit from this whatsoever. Richard Scrushy is a Republican, who opposed Don Siegelman, and he had been appointed to that board by three prior governors, most of them Republicans. ... One of the most preposterous cases ever brought.

Bender: As I recall, one of the judges used that word "preposterous" in here somewhere. So go forward. Bill Pryor could not make a case in 2001 ...

Horton: Then we have another case being brought involving some incidents in Tuscaloosa, in the Northern District of Alabama. It comes before a judge named Clemens, and he instantly starts asking questions about the political motivations of about the political motivation of the prosecutors, and says "Look, I am not going to allow this to go forward in my court unless you can make a prima facie case before me that you have got something here." They fail. The matter is dismissed. And then, in a matter of weeks, it is recommenced in the Middle District of Alabama. And this time it is commenced by another US attorney ...

Bender: So they went court-shopping?

Horton: Exactly. Which is not appropriate. In fact, it is a serious violation of legal norms. But there is hardly a legal norm or rule that has not been violated in the course of this prosecution.

Bender: It is important to note here, Scott, that Don Siegelman was one of the most successful Democrats in the modern history of Alabama, in the last twenty five years, in a heavily Republican state.

Horton: I would say he was the most successful Democrat. He was the Democrat that Alabama Republicans most liked to hate. He had been elected to every significant state-wide office ...

Bender: Secretary of State, Lt. Governor ... Attorney General as well?

Horton: Attorney General as well. He had sometimes won by landslides. He was incredibly popular. All this at a time when the Republican Party was consolidating its vise-like grip on politics in Alabama. So they hated him .. And there was a lot of concentrated energy on taking him out.

Bender: So let's pick up the thread. ...

Horton: To jump forward a little bit, recently, in the last two and a half months, they have gotten a lot of detail about what was happening when this case got launched. ... A Republican attorney named Jill Simpson filed an affidavit. Ms. Simpson had worked in the election campaign of Don Siegelman's opponent. She files an affidavit in which she discloses that back in 2002, she had heard a number of very prominent Republican figures talking, in her presence, about the effort to get Don Siegelman. And the discussion included getting Karl involved. And William Canary, who is the husband of Leura Canary [the US attorney in the Middle District], had talked to Karl about this, and Karl had talked to Justice and this would be taken care of.

Bender: "Karl" would be Karl Rove?

Horton: Exactly. And William Canary was the partner of Karl Rove. Karl Rove had a long period of time in which he was deeply involved in Alabama politics. In 1990, he managed a campaign through which the Republicans took control of the Alabama court system at the highest level. ... And that is marked as the point at which the Republican Party really rose to take control of state apparatus ...

Bender: So if you follow the thread here all of it leads through the Republican administrations at both the state and national levels, and Karl Rove, clearly, one could make a case, was intimately involved in the details of this. But unfortunately, as we will see moving forward ... with the whole US attorneys issue, there is no way to make these cases. Because they are denying access to these records ... they are stonewalling ...

Horton: Except, remember, that we have a Republican lawyer who says she heard this being discussed. We have gone back and checked a number of details surrounding her statement, and we have found a contemporaneous corroboration of this, when she sought Ethics advice, from other attorneys in Alabama, we know that the meeting actually occurred, we know the people she said were there were there. Everything falls into place. And then we've got a lot of circumstantial evidence suggesting that Rove was indeed involved in this ... This prosecution was right at the top of the political agenda ...

Bender: ... Where does this go from here?

Horton: Well, the sentencing itself was extremely theatrical. The judge insisted that he be manacled and hand-cuffed, and dragged out of the court room in front of press cameras. Something I have never seen happen before. It was poor political theatre from beginning to end. This is a case where there is quite compelling, indeed, overwhelming grounds for appeal, and I certainly expect this is going to be overturned on appeal.

Bender: This sounds like Russia, this sounds like a show trail.

Horton: I started my own career observing trials in the former Soviet Union and I have to say that more than once looking at this it has reminded me of some of the things I saw in Russia. But we have to go back and look at what is happening with the prosecutors. Because the larger dimension of this is the politicization of prosecution. The government is saying now, "Oh, this has all been handled by local prosecutors, career people down in Alabama." They even have the local prosecutor coming out and making statements, repeatedly, to that effect. That's a lie.

Bender: Who is Noel Hillman?

Horton: Noel Hillman was the head of the Public Integrity section of the Department of Justice. We know from the beginning of the case that Public Integrity was providing supervision. Noel Hillman went down and gave a press conference. He since has been appointed as a federal judge. He was also appointed to be a Court of Appeals judge, and that appointment was pulled at the last minute. We have been told there is a very clear reason why: if he came before Congress for hearings, he could be asked about the Siegelman case and the White House didn't want to risk that.

Bender: And it appears that it is not just that Siegelman case ... Noel Hillman ... was involved not only in this, but in a case in Wisconsin, which was thrown out by the courts, and that there has been a clear, partisan politicization of prosecutions ... this is sort of the flip-side of [the US attorneys scandal], those attorneys may have been fired for not being sufficiently partisan, we are now seeing what happens when you get US attorneys and Justice Department officials who are partisan zealots ...

Horton: ... It is under Noel Hillman that we get seven prosecutions of Democrats to every one [prosecution of] Republicans ...

Bender: Seven to one Democrats to Republicans prosecuted under the Public Integrity section of the Justice Department? ...

Horton: And we have people in the Justice Department right now telling us that it went far beyond the Public Integrity section, and that there were people at the level of Deputy Attorney General, Attorney General and in the White House who were involved in directing these cases, which leads us back to Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, and others.

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