Was the source who used this term on target? Would the Barack Obama administration actually appoint such an individual to lead the office that directed the Don Siegelman prosecution?
The answer to the first question, based on our research, is yes. The answer to the second question appears to be yes--unless outraged Democrats rise up to stop it.
We learned all we cared to know about Johnson from a brief bio that was published on October 18, 2009, in The Birmingham News. That was almost exactly a month ago, and the article was about the team of federal prosecutors who were handling the case against former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford.
Here is the section on the woman the Obama administration apparently wants to lead the politically sensitive office in Montgomery:
Tamarra Matthews Johnson
Alice Martin said Tamarra Matthews Johnson joined the office about five years ago. Johnson clerked for former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and was a fellow in the solicitor general's office.
"She is exceptionally bright and perceptive," Martin said. "She is likable and easily able to express her thoughts and convictions."
Johnson was on the two-person team that successfully prosecuted state Sen. E.B. McClain this year. Her name was initially among the ones discussed in legal circles as a successor to retired U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon on the federal bench, but she did not apply.
What do we learn from this segment--other than The Birmingham News has spelling problems? Johnson's first name has one "r," not two.
One, we learn that Johnson clerked for retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who was a Ronald Reagan appointee. O'Connor certainly was not a right-wing ideologue in the mold of Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas. But she could hardly be labeled a friend to progressives. After all, she joined the majority in 2000 that put George W. Bush in the White House. Johnson clerked for Sandra Day O'Connor, and that indicates pretty strong conservative leanings.
Two, we learned that Johnson's name was raised in legal circles as a possible successor to retired U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon. This indicates that indeed the Obama administration has had its eye on Johnson.
Three, and perhaps most alarmingly, we learn that Johnson has close ties to Alice Martin, former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama and one of George W. Bush's most notorious appointees. You will recall that Scott Horton, legal-affairs contributor at Harper's magazine and a law professor at Columbia University, has described Martin as perhaps the most "corrupt and crooked public official" in the country.
Here's the kicker: We learn from the 2009 article that Johnson joined the Northern District of Alabama office "about five years ago." That would have been in 2004, in the midst of Alice Martin's reign. That means Alice Martin did not just inherit Tamara Matthews Johnson; she hired her.
And consider this quote from Martin about Johnson: "She is likable and easily able to express her thoughts and convictions." That sentence should send chills down the spines of everyone who cares about justice.
One definition of a "conviction" is a "fixed or firmly held belief." To say that Johnson easily expresses "her thoughts and convictions" sounds like a compliment, and Martin undoubtedly meant it as one. But the "compliment" comes from one of the most politically motivated prosecutors in American history--a woman who oversaw the first Don Siegelman case, plus the cases of Alex Latifi and Sue Schmitz, three of the most blatant political prosecutions in recent memory. In fact, Alice Martin is under investigation for possible criminal misconduct in the Alex Latifi case.
In describing Tamara Matthews Johnson, Alice Martin unwittingly described someone who almost certainly is not fit to be a U.S. attorney. The position does not call for someone who is easily able to "express her convictions." The position is about justice, not "firmly held beliefs."
The U.S. attorney will be "the people's lawyer" in the Middle District of Alabama. As such, he or she will represent the interests of people from all walks of life--and from all political persuasions. The position calls for someone who can dispassionately analyze the facts and the law and prosecute crimes, not people.
Alice Martin was an abject failure in that regard. And there is every reason to think that Tamara Matthews Johnson, Martin's acolyte, would be a failure, too.
If the Obama administration is seriously considering Johnson for the U.S. attorney position in Montgomery, Alabama, someone needs to receive a wake-up call--quickly.