Those questions might seem preposterous. But we have to wonder after news broke last week that the FBI seized computer hard drives from the office of Alabama Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham), one of the most influential members in the state legislature. Rogers was first elected in 1982 and is chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus.
What's going on? Why is John Rogers, in his 28th year as a legislator, suddenly the target of what appears to be a criminal investigation? Many questions remain, but we wonder if the Rogers probe is connected to: (a) Karl Rove and redistricting; (b) Artur Davis and his run for governor of Alabama; (c) Governor Bob Riley and his crusade to stamp out electronic bingo; or (d) All of the above.
The hard drives were seized from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), where Rogers serves as director of minority affairs. We find it curious that John Rogers suddenly is being treated as a criminal suspect in March 2010, roughly eight months before a pivotal national election. (The Birmingham News reported yesterday that Rogers and two other legislators were indicted 20-years ago on federal extortion charges; Rogers was acquitted. Other than that, we know of no other court cases that have called Rogers' actions into question.)
This all hits more than a little close to home for your humble correspondent. I worked at UAB for 19 years until I was unlawfully terminated in May 2008 amid vague allegations that I had used my work computer to write my personal blog. Statements made by my former supervisor at my grievance hearing indicate that my computer, and my desk, were searched thoroughly. A UAB human-resources representative told me--in a conversation that I tape recorded--that I was targeted because of my blog content about the Don Siegelman case. UAB's own information-technology expert testified at my grievance hearing that I had not written the first word of my blog on UAB equipment or time, but the administration upheld my termination anyway. I have filed an EEOC charge, which remains under investigation, and I will be filing a lawsuit against the University of Alabama Board of Trustees (and various folks acting in their individual capacities) within the next six weeks or so.
My experience is instructive because it indicates that UAB easily caves to pressure from the conservative political and corporate forces that run Alabama. That appears to be what is happening in the John Rogers case.
Here is what The Birmingham News reported last Wednesday:
Records related to programs that are overseen by Alabama state Rep. John W. Rogers Jr., at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where Rogers works, were turned over to the FBI Monday.
Rogers confirmed that UAB received the request on Monday. Rogers said today that UAB technicians showed up at his office and pulled at least a dozen hard drives off his computers.
Does that sound a little Gestapo-like to you? It does to me. And I've seen how UAB henchmen (and women) act, in an up-close and personal way, when under pressure from our state's conservative elites.
Is John Rogers a crook, who somehow has been using his UAB position for personal gain? It's possible. But it seems mighty strange that this kind of investigation would pop up now, 28 years into his legislative career.
What could have sparked it? We have some theories:
* The Karl Rove Theory--Rove recently wrote an op-ed piece for The Wall Street Journal, noting the importance of state legislatures in the congressional redistricting process that will take place after the 2010 census. Why does this matter? Turd Blossom tells us:
To understand the broader political implications, consider that the GOP gained somewhere between 25 and 30 seats because of the redistricting that followed the 1990 census. Without those seats, Republicans would not have won the House in 1994.
Could John Rogers be seen as powerful enough to possibly thwart GOP plans in Alabama? That wouldn't be a problem, of course, if Rogers is under criminal investigation or forced from office by a federal indictment? It's unlikely that Rogers' district would go to a Republican, but perhaps a "centrist" Democrat could be found, one who would be easily manipulated by conservatives.
* The Artur Davis Theory--It has been widely reported that Davis is courting the support of business interests in his run for governor. That probably explains his recent decision to vote no on health-care reform, essentially stabbing his "friend," President Obama, in the back. Davis played a major role in Obama's choices for key justice positions in Alabama--U.S. attorney, federal judge, etc. Now the folks that Davis helped put in power appear to be going after John Rogers. Could Davis essentially be serving up Rogers' head on a platter in exchange for support from Alabama's corporate community?
* The Bob Riley Bingo Theory--Governor Bob Riley's crusade to eliminate electronic-bingo, apparently at the insistence of Mississippi gambling interests who supported his 2002 campaign, has been an embarrassment for Alabama--and to the state GOP. Is it possible that GOP henchmen figure Riley has damaged the party brand enough that it might cost them the governor's mansion in the November election? Numerous sources have told Legal Schnauzer that pro-gaming interests have unearthed some serious dirt on Riley and his associates, and it could come home to roost in the next eight to 12 months. Are GOPers concerned that such dirt could be strong enough to keep Riley's hand-picked successor, Bradley Byrne, from winning the governor's race? Under those conditions, is it possible that some Republicans might throw their support to Artur Davis for governor, on the condition that they receive help in taking over the legislature? Does Artur Davis care what that could mean for congressional redistricting--and the agenda of his "friend," President Obama? Probably not.
Interestingly, Rogers has been an outspoken proponent of gambling. Could the raid on his office simply be the latest warning shot from Riley toward pro-gambling forces--sort of a followup to his famed "don't get too close the families" threat?
We will watch the John Rogers story closely. But here is some ugly irony to ponder now. Karl Rove probably should be headed to federal prison for his role in Bush-era crimes. But Barack Obama' determination to "look forward, not backward" has let Rove off the hook and left him in power as a prime GOP strategist--one who already is plotting to help Republicans take back Congress in the not-too-distant future.
And what will happen if Republicans do take back Congress while Obama is in the White House? Our guess is that they promptly will launch the kind of investigations that hamstrung our last Democratic president, Bill Clinton. And we won't be surprised to see a number of Obama staff members wind up in federal prison--while Karl Rove goes merrily on his evil way, perhaps promoting another book about "courage" while he's at it.
The John Rogers case could be seen as the "canary in a coal mine" for Democrats. It probably indicates that Republicans know Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder are weak--and the GOP intends to take advantage of it.
Will Democrats ever learn? Apparently not. Consider this hopelessly naive statement from John Rogers, as reported by The Birmingham News:
"I ain't done nothing wrong," Rogers said. "They can have all the records I have or UAB have and they won't find anything illegal."
Rep. Rogers, have you not been paying attention for the past eight years? Paul Minor and his codefendants in Mississippi did "nothing wrong" in Mississippi--and they are in federal prison at this moment. Don Siegelman and Richard Scrushy didn't do "anything illegal"--but Scrushy is in federal prison, and Siegelman might be headed back there.
John Rogers reminds me of the man in the classic poem First They Came--the man who sat silently by while "they came" for others. And when they finally came for him, there was no one left to speak up.
My guess is that John Rogers' legislative career is over, and if he doesn't resign his position, he probably is headed for prison--whether he's done anything illegal or not. I further guess that the Barack Obama administration will not do a damn thing about it. (Which raises these questions: Has there ever been a more ineffectual attorney general than Eric Holder in the history of the United States? Does the man even exist? It's as if the person we see on TV from time to time is an apparition--or a mannequin--someone incapable of taking substantive action.)
And finally, I guess that the majority of Democrats will not wake up and realize what has happened--until it's too late, and the GOP is back in charge, running our country into the ground once again.