What was Obama's reward for his careful approach to Shelby? A knife between the shoulder blades. And it appears to be driven by Republican Scott Brown's win in Massachusetts, leaving Democrats without a super majority in the Senate.
Shelby has announced that he is putting a hold on at least four nominees for top federal jobs because he is unhappy with the White House's handling of an Air Force refueling-tanker contract. The Mobile Press-Register reports that, according to a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Shelby has gone even further. Writes reporter Sean Reilly:
A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said via e-mail that Shelby had placed a "blanket hold" on administration nominees, a move that could affect dozens of candidates awaiting confirmation for a variety of posts.
"He is holding up all of the president's nominations," the spokeswoman, Regan Lachapelle, said.
Alabama Democrats have been alarmed for months because the Obama administration has allowed Shelby and U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to block two highly regarded nominees--Michel Nicrosi and Joseph Van Heest--for the U.S. attorney position in Montgomery, Alabama. The delay means that Bush appointee Leura Canary, who oversaw the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, remains in office more than a year after Obama became president.
The latest nominee reportedly is Montgomery lawyer George Beck, who has drawn heavy criticism from Siegelman-case whistleblower Jill Simpson. Beck's law firm, Simpson says, has strong ties to former Bush White House strategist Karl Rove and Business Council of Alabama President Bill Canary.
What should Obama do? It appears that Scott Brown's victory has convinced Shelby that he can play hardball with the administration. It's time Obama played hardball in return.
We made a suggestion almost three months ago, and it still holds up today--even more so, now that Shelby has shown his true stripes on matters of federal nominations. Obama should move to nominate a U.S. attorney who is from outside Alabama. We even presented an excellent candidate:
A person from outside of Alabama is exactly what the Middle District needs. A Justice Department source even has given us the name of an excellent external candidate--Christa Deegan of Columbus, Ohio.
Deegan served briefly in the Middle District of Alabama, and our source said she resisted the toxic culture in Canary's office and wound up being replaced by Anna Clark Morris, who was more than happy to go along with the dysfunctional status quo. Ironically, Morris has family ties to prominent Democrats, and her name has been floated as the possible new U.S. attorney in Montgomery. Our source says such a choice would be "disastrous."
But Deegan, according to our source, is exactly what the office needs. Here is what we wrote about Deegan in an earlier post:
Christa D. Deegan, who had 16 years as a federal prosecutor in Cleveland, Ohio, moved to the Montgomery office in March 2007. "She was an excellent prosecutor, a mover and a shaker, very competent--too competent for such a mediocre office," the source says. "More importantly, she conducted herself in a professional manner and worked very hard. She immediately opposed the hostile work environment, refused to participate in the afternoon gossip sessions, and refused to conform to the toxic culture of the office."
After about seven months on the job, Deegan was fired because she "didn't fit in." Said our source: "She was replaced by Clark Morris, who was more than willing to conform, even embrace the culture."
Deegan now is Ohio's director of industrial relations, where she took over an office that was plagued with allegations of racial discrimination and retaliation. Deegan has vowed to restore staff morale in the Ohio agency. "Except for her experience in Montgomery, Alabama, she has a spotless record for competency, ethical conduct, and professionalism," the source said.
If Christa Deegan (or someone like her) is appointed in Montgomery, she will have no shortage of dirt bags to investigate. And one of them should be Richard Shelby. Consider this from one of our earlier posts:
Alabama's senior senator reportedly has curious ties to Doss Aviation, the firm of which U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller (who handled the Siegelman case) is an owner. Scott Horton, legal affairs contributor at Harper's magazine, has written about the Shelby/Doss Aviation ties:
So now let’s look at another prominent Alabama government contractor with a recent streak of politically-linked successes: Doss Aviation. On Shelby’s own website, there’s a press release from February 2006 in which Shelby says “I am disappointed that the Air Force did not choose Selma as the site for their Introductory Flight Training program . . . ” It sounds like the story of an earmark gone wrong. But there at the end of the press release there’s this: “It was announced today that the program was awarded to Pueblo, Colorado, teamed with Doss Aviation.”
Horton goes on to note some curious connections between Fuller, the judge in the Siegelman case, and Richard Shelby:
Today, Fuller and Shelby even have offices in the same building–One Church St. in Montgomery. That’s also where Doss Aviation was registered, with Mark Fuller listed as the company’s president, from 1999-2002.
Sure, it was peculiar that Fuller listed a government building as the registered address of a private company that contracts with the government. But what’s also peculiar is that the offices for Fuller’s previous gig as District Attorney for the 12th Circuit, were at 98 North Edwards in Enterprise (see also). I have no idea why Doss Aviation, with Fuller as president, was registered at One Church Street (the home of numerous government offices including the office of Senator Shelby) years before Fuller became a federal judge. But it does raise a very curious question: who, exactly, was picking up that mail?
Indeed, who was picking up that mail? And here's an even better question: Was Richard Shelby using his power in the Senate to steer contracts to a company in which he held a financial interest? If that is ever proven, could the senator be in some serious doo-doo? Is that why he's so concerned about who becomes U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama?
This sounds like a job for Christa Deegan--or someone just like her. Could the Obama administration be thinking along those lines?
If Obama was not thinking along those lines then, he certainly should be now. It's time to play hardball with Richard Shelby.