The latest evidence of that came Thursday when federal investigators met with members of the Alabama Legislature and said they are looking into corruption surrounding an electronic-bingo bill that passed the Senate earlier in the week.
Democrats, who tended to favor the bill, immediately pointed a finger at Republican Governor Bob Riley, who has been using a task force and predawn raids to try to shut down bingo facilities in the state. Democrats say Riley's crusade has been driven by the desires of Mississippi Choctaw gaming interests, who reportedly spent $13 million to help get him elected in 2002.
An FBI agent based in Alabama said the bingo investigation is being driven by prosecutors in Washington. But a close examination of the circumstances surrounding the inquiry indicate that almost certainly isn't true. And it shows that President Barack Obama, now that health-care reform has passed, needs to exert control over a Justice Department that remains alarmingly dysfunctional.
Experts in criminal justice said the meeting on Thursday with legislative officials was "virtually unprecedented" and violated standard FBI procedures. "I can't think of a legitimate law-enforcement purpose to do something like this," one said.
That's because the meeting almost certainly was not held for a legitimate law-enforcement purpose--it was designed to intimidate.
Consider a couple of key factors surrounding the latest bizarre events in Alabama:
* The bingo bill passed on a 21-13 vote in the Alabama Senate on Tuesday;
* Federal investigators arrived at 8 a.m. the following day at the home of Jarrod Massey, a lobbyist for the Country Crossing development near Dothan, which includes an electronic-bingo pavilion. Massey, according to his attorney, was harassed and threatened with arrest and told he had until the end of the day to cooperate and "save" himself.
* The bill is set to go to the Alabama House of Representatives, and if OK'd there, would allow voters to go to the polls in November to decided whether to allow electronic bingo.
* According to press reports, representatives from the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama played a key role in Thursday's meeting. Bush appointee Leura Canary, who oversaw the prosecution of former Democratic governor and Bob Riley opponent Don Siegelman, remains in the charge of that office. Alabama's two Republican U.S. Senators, Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, have scuttled various Obama nominees for the position, and the White House, so far, has chosen not to fight for the two candidates (Michel Nicrosi and Joseph Van Heest) favored by Democrats.
Canary's lingering presence in office almost certainly is driving the bingo investigation. Angela Tobon, an FBI special agent in Mobile, Alabama, told The Birmingham News that the Public Integrity Section (PIN) of the Justice Department is leading the inquiry. Tobon refused to elaborate when contacted by a reporter from the Montgomery Advertiser.
PIN was a notorious cesspool during the Bush years, playing key roles in the political prosecutions of Don Siegelman in Alabama and Paul Minor in Mississippi. Six lawyers from PIN have been under investigation for failure to turn over evidence in the prosecution of former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK).
To make matters worse, PIN has been without a permanent leader since last October, when news broke of probable misconduct in the Stevens case. Jack Smith, a career federal prosecutor out of Brooklyn, New York, was named on March 11 to become permanent head of PIN.
News of Smith's appointment drew positive reaction in the justice community. But he has been serving with the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, and is not likely to take over full-time at PIN for a while.
Does that mean Leura Canary was able to take advantage of a leaderless organization, contacting "loyal Bushies" still embedded in the Justice Department to help get PIN involved in a bogus Alabama operation?
It sure looks that way.
And that appears to be the thinking of lawyers for Jarrod Massey, the targeted lobbyist. They already have filed a complaint with the Office of Professional Responsibility and asked that Canary be prohibited from taking part in the probe. Reports mainjustice.com:
“We strongly agree that, if there is any evidence of wrongdoing in regards to SB380, then it must be investigated,” Jarrod Massey’s lawyers wrote in a letter to the DOJ, according to The Birmingham News. “However, the investigation should not be performed under the direction of the current U.S. attorney, with her close political ties to Gov. Bob Riley, but rather by Main Justice in order to remove any hint of political influence.”