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Monday, April 26, 2010

Obama's Shame: Alabama Bingo Battle Reflects Failure on Justice Issues

How could the failure of an electronic-bingo bill in the Alabama Legislature have national implications? Because it reflects the Obama administration' utter failure to repair the colossal damage done to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) under George W. Bush. In fact, the Alabama episode makes us wonder if Obama is even trying to fix the DOJ.

A bill that would have allowed citizens to vote on a plan to regulate and tax electronic bingo died in the Alabama House of Representatives late last week when a count showed it did not have the 63 votes needed to pass. The bill had passed the Alabama Senate, but shortly after that vote, federal authorities informed legislators that they were investigating possible corruption connected to the bill.

The investigation almost certainly was triggered by the ongoing presence of Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney Leura Canary in the Middle District of Alabama. Canary, who oversaw the prosecution of former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman, is a staunch ally of current GOP Governor Bob Riley. And Riley has been leading a highly visible crusade against gambling in Alabama, driven apparently by the support he received from Mississippi gaming interests and disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Did the federal investigation have the desired chilling effect on the bingo legislation? Oh yes, said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Marcel Black (D-Tuscumbia). Here is how The Gadsden Times reported it:

Black said the announcement that the FBI was investigating the Senate bingo vote had a “chilling effect” on enough House members who wouldn’t commit to vote for the amendment.

“You just pick up the paper and read the FBI, and you read you were offered a campaign contribution for your vote, and that is effective,” Black said.

Two days after the bingo bill died, word came that federal authorities were serving subpoenas on state lawmakers and lobbyists. A federal grand-jury apparently is looking into possible corruption surrounding gambling.

Is this a legitimate grand-jury proceeding, considering that the bingo bill already has died? Or is it just more grand theater from Bob Riley and Leura Canary, designed to threaten anyone who might consider supporting a bingo bill in the future?

And here are the bigger questions: How in the world is this happening on Barack Obama's watch? Is Eric Holder as brain dead as a department-store mannequin? Are Obama and Holder going to allow Leura Canary to serve as "U.S. attorney for life" in Montgomery?

It's hard to say whether the investigation is legitimate or not. But here is one sign that it might be bogus: The Birmingham News, the official mouthpiece of the Republican Party in Alabama, does not say in its report who authorized the issuance of subpoenas.

My understanding is that subpoenas usually have to be authorized and signed by somebody. So who was it in this case? Was it Leura Canary? Was it federal prosecutor Brenda Morris, who already is under investigation for her role in botching the Ted Stevens case in Alaska? The News doesn't tell us.

Doug Jones, an attorney representing Democratic lawmakers, provided some perspective:

"Serving dozens of subpoenas would be typical of the kind of investigation this appears to be," Jones said. "The feds recently sent out absurdly broad subpoenas for documents seeking 'all gambling records of any kind from a number of sources that cannot possibly be complied with until the request is more defined. That's what this sounds like to me. They are trolling."

We suspect Jones is being kind. This sounds worse than trolling to us. It sounds like a huge waste of taxpayer dollars on a grand charade. And if federal funds are being used for a fraudulent, politically motivated witch hunt, that sounds an awful lot like criminal activity.

A reporter from The New York Times recently spent several days in Montgomery and produced a story about the bingo fiasco. As the story makes clear, this is happening on Obama's watch. You would think that might make somebody in the administration take notice, maybe even ask, "What on earth is our Justice Department doing?"

If anyone in ObamaLand has asked such a question, we've seen no sign of it yet.


theBhc said...

"Is Eric Holder as brain dead as a department-store mannequin?"

Yes. In fact, he is considerably less of presence than Gonzales, if that is possible to imagine. But you don't have to imagine it, you've got Eric PlaceHolder.

Anonymous said...

So what is it about Alabama? I think Obama did not want to make the appearance that he was wreaking a well deserved revenge on republican appointees by just firing the lot of them. It just looks too much like a banana republic form of government. Saving the appearance, however, leaves us stuck with the reality, because this story truly sounds like a report from a banana republic somewhere. The only thing missing is opponents gunned down in the street.