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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Siegelman: Justice Department Hasn't Changed Under Obama

How has the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) changed now that George W. Bush is gone and President Barack Obama is in charge?

It hasn't changed, says former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. And that's distressing news for progressives who hoped to see accountability for the Bush officials who used the DOJ as a political weapon.

It's particularly distressing for Siegelman, who is perhaps the most high-profile victim of a Bush-era political prosecution. But what other conclusion can Siegelman reach? He recently saw U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, an Obama appointment, file a brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court not to hear the Siegelman case.

In so many words, Kagan is saying, "The Bush DOJ, probably at Karl Rove's direction, got the Siegelman case right based on the facts and the law." That is an outrage, and Siegelman seemed to have a hard time controlling his anger in a recent interview with TPM Muckraker. Reports TPM:

"There's really been no substantial change in the heart of the Department of Justice from the Bush-Rove Department of Justice," Siegelman tells TPMmuckraker in an interview.

Siegelman, a Democrat, served roughly nine months in prison after his 2006 bribery conviction. He was ordered released pending appeal in March 2008. The case, which has been dogged by allegations of politicization and prosecutorial misconduct -- including links to Karl Rove -- centers on what the government called a pay-to-play scheme in which Siegelman appointed a large donor to a state regulatory board.

Siegelman has asked the Supreme Court to consider the definition of bribery, arguing that he merely engaged in routine political transactions. But, in the Nov. 13 filing that raised Siegelman's hackles, Obama's solicitor general argued that "corrupt intent" had been established in the trial.

Either Kagan is completely out to lunch or loyal Bushies embedded in the DOJ still are running the show. As we reported in a series of posts here at Legal Schnauzer, the trial court and the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals both clearly got it wrong in the Siegelman case. The outcome represents a gross injustice, one the U.S. Supreme Court needs to address. Reports TPM:

While Solicitor General Elena Kagan was appointed by Obama, Siegelman says the DOJ staffers who are giving advice and making decisions on his case are the same people who were at the department under Bush. "The people who have been writing the briefs for the government are the same people who were involved in the prosecution," he says.

The filing by the DOJ is a sign that the Obama Administration intends to stay the course in the case, despite entreaties to review it, including a letter from 75 former state attorneys general.

If the Supreme Court declines to hear his appeal, or rules against him, the consequences could be grave, Siegelman says.

"We've got a bunch of people in this country -- including President Obama and mayors and members of Congress -- who will be in jeopardy because any rogue prosecutor who wants to target a politician or a donor will be able to do it."

How bad is the brief? You can check it out below. But here is perhaps the bigger question: Under Rule 15 of the U.S. Supreme Court, a reply brief is not mandatory in a non-capital case such as the Siegelman matter. So why did Kagan file one?

She could have stayed silent on the matter, keeping her distance from the corrupt Bush appointees who preceded her, and let the Supreme Court decide whether to issue certiorari based on Siegelman's brief alone. Instead, she weighed in when she didn't have to--and sided with the cause of injustice in a case that was butchered from the outset.

Here is the reply brief that Kagan filed, arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court should let the Siegelman judgment stand. It really makes you wonder what is going on in the Obama Justice Department. And it makes you wonder if anybody in the administration gives a damn that innocent people are rotting in federal prisons, all because they were on the wrong side of the political fence during George W. Bush's eight long years in office.

Siegelman Case--Elena Kagan Reply Brief


Ron Spainhour said...

I don't know that the substance of the brief justifies the headline. It seems, if the brief is accurate, that the former governor was involved in shady dealings in accepting $$ for a position on the board.

Anonymous said...

Ron- You really need to investigate this matter further to understand how absurd the situation is.

Just thinking about this makes me feel like crying.