Some of the new information involves investigators on the case. But perhaps the most interesting angle, at least to us, involves the mainstream press in Alabama.
We will examine investigative aspects of the case in a moment. But first, let's consider recent actions of The Birmingham News, long a cheerleader for Republican Governor Bob Riley and Bush-appointed federal prosecutors.
Alabama Democrats, who tend to favor a bill that would allow a statewide vote on electronic bingo, say the investigation is the handiwork of Governor Riley and his allies. Those allies include Leura Canary, a Bush appointee who remains as U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama more than a year into the Barack Obama administration.
Riley, who reportedly received major financial backing from Mississippi gaming interests, has been trying to shut down bingo facilities in Alabama through the use of a law-enforcement task force and predawn raids. When asked about the legislative investigation, Riley professed ignorance, claiming it was controlled by federal officials in Washington.
But let's consider the recent actions of Riley's buddies at The Birmingham News. And we'll start by looking at a timeline:
* On Tuesday, March 30, the Alabama Senate approves the bingo bill on a 21-13 vote. That means the bill is set for consideration by the Alabama House of Representatives.
* On Wednesday, March 31, Birmingham News columnist John Archibald writes a column titled "Corruption is Public Enemy No. 1." Like much of Archibald's work, the column is inane. But this one is even worse than usual. The column essentially has no point, making almost no reference to any Alabama corruption matter that was going on at the moment.
* On Thursday, April 1 (April Fool's Day) federal law-enforcement officials meet with leaders of the Alabama Legislature to say they are conducting an investigation of possible corruption connected to the bingo bill.
When I finished reading Archibald's column last Wednesday--why I still read his tripe is beyond me--my first thought was, "What a waste of newsprint. This is horribly written, has no discernible point, and doesn't seem to connect to anything that is going on in Alabama at the moment."
How bad was the Archibald column? It would have needed major improvement to reach the "sophomoric" level. He makes references to John Dillinger, Al Capone, and Bonnie and Clyde. He throws in one or two generic quotes from Joyce White Vance, Obama appointee as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. And he closes with this pearl:
It's not a game. It's not business as usual. It's not acceptable just because it was done in the past. Public corruption is . . . Public Enemy No. 1.
"If they fail to get the message," Vance said, "they will likely find out to their great misfortune."
So drop your weapons, dirty rats, and come out with your hands up.
At the time, I thought to myself, "This might be the stupidest column Archibald has ever written--and that's saying something."
But upon further review, I think there was a hidden point to Archibald's column. I suspect he and the higher-ups at The Birmingham News knew the meeting with legislators was coming the next day. And this was the newspaper's weak effort to lend some legitimacy to the proceedings.
What point should we take from all of this? If The Birmingham News knew about this investigation in advance, that's a pretty sure sign it was instigated by people in Alabama, not Washington. As we noted yesterday, the Public Integrity Section (PIN) of the U.S. Justice Department has been a leaderless, corruption-driven mess since news of wrongdoing in the prosecution of former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) broke last October.
It probably would have been easy for Leura Canary to enlist the help of one or two "friendlies" in the dysfunctional PIN to help lend a Washington imprint to her skulduggery on behalf of Bob Riley.
That leads us to the investigators in the Alabama bingo case. And what an impressive bunch they are!
Joe Palazzolo, of mainjustice.com, reports that they include Brenda Morris, the lead prosecutor in the botched Ted Stevens case. Who else was involved in the meeting with Alabama legislators? Palazzolo tells us:
At the April 2 meeting in which the probe was disclosed, Morris and Peter Ainsworth, senior deputy chief in the Public Integrity Section, represented the Criminal Division. Canary’s Criminal Chief, Louis Franklin, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Feaga were also present, according to an April 2 letter from C.E. Higginbothan, FBI supervisory senior resident agent, to the Alabama Department of Public Safety.
What a cast of characters! You've got Louis Franklin and Steve Feaga, fresh from their starring role in the Don Siegelman political prosecution. And Morris, believe it or not, is involved in a corruption case while she herself is under investigation for corruption. What a country! Writes Palazzolo:
The letter is the first sign that Morris has continued investigating corruption since April 2009, when a federal judge appointed a special prosecutor to investigate whether she and five other Justice Department lawyers violated criminal contempt statutes in their handling of evidence in the Stevens case.
That's not all. Peter Ainsworth was heavily involved in the Paul Minor case in Mississippi, which ranks with the Siegelman case as perhaps the two best-known political prosecutions of the George W. Bush era.
And the foul odors from the investigative team in the Alabama bingo matter don't stop there.
TPM Muckraker reports that two Alabama lawyers--Brett Bloomston, representing lobbyist Jarrod Massey, and Doug Jones, representing the Democratic Party Caucus--have written letters to the Justice Department, voicing numerous concerns about the investigation.
Consider a passage from Jones' letter. Paraphrasing a lawyer from the PIN, Jones says lawmakers were told, "I don't think you would want the citizens of Alabama to be voting on legislation brought about by a corrupt process."
Jones understandably writes: "It is clear to us that the disclosure was designed to influence the action of the House of Representatives."
The Birmingham News reports today that two state senators say they were offered money in exchange for a yes vote on the bingo bill. So it remains possible that the investigation will unearth legitimate federal crimes.
But right now, it looks like a fraud designed to keep Alabamians from voting on electronic bingo in November. Even if the investigation does turn up wrongdoing, are the feds acting in an evenhanded fashion? Are they examining possible corruption on the anti-bingo side, as well as on the pro-bingo side? Are they driven by true law-enforcement concerns or by the concerns of Bob Riley and Leura Canary?
Jay Walker, a spokesman for the Country Crossing development near Dothan, cut to the heart of the matter. Reports The Birmingham News:
Walker then attacked Gov. Bob Riley and what he called a legal double standard.
"However, when Gov. Riley takes money from an Indian lobbyist to support an organization that is actively running a campaign against the people's right to vote, neither he nor the Indian lobbyist have the ABI/FBI come and knock on their door. The legal double standard reeks of political rigging and I hope will be given the same scrutiny that the governor and his political allies have wielded on us."