A federal grand jury yesterday began hearing from witnesses in an investigation of possible corruption connected to an electronic-bingo bill in Alabama. Some legislators reportedly wore wires in an effort to capture inappropriate offers from lobbyists. The targets appear to be individuals who were pro-bingo, which means the investigation probably is driven by GOP Governor Bob Riley, an anti-gambling zealot, and Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney Leura Canary--who, inexplicably, remains in office under Obama.
But that is not the only troubling sign that the Obama administration is out to lunch on justice issues. Consider the news from back in March about the FBI's seizure of computer files from Alabama Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham).
No new developments have been reported on the Rogers front in recent weeks, but it remains one of the most alarming stories we've read in 2010. Why? Without knowing anything about the rightness or wrongness of John Rogers' activities, the move screams of political investigation/prosecution. And it's happening on the watch of a Democratic president.
We should note that John Rogers was targeted not long after he spoke out about the Obama administration's failure to appoint a replacement for Leura Canary as U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama.
Does this have national implications? Scott Horton, of Harper's, writes that the traditional separation between the White House and the Justice Department seems to have been breached--under both George W. Bush and Obama.
What could be political about the FBI seizing computer files from John Rogers' office at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), where he works as director of minority affairs? Well, let's consider other questionable activities we know about at UAB, which apparently have drawn little or no interest from government investigators.
* Massive Medicare Fraud--It's a matter of public record that UAB has admitted to engaging in research-funding fraud, much of it involving federal Medicare dollars. The university settled a whistleblower lawsuit with the government for $3.4 million in 2005, even though a forensic accountant estimated the actual fraud at about $600 million. In other words, UAB got off with paying way less than 1 percent of the fraud in which it engaged. That kind of "penalty" should have quite a deterrent effect, shouldn't it?
* Rob Riley's UAB-Related Hanky Panky--It's a matter of public record that a company partly owned by Rob Riley, son of Governor Bob Riley, has been accused in federal court of engaging in health-care fraud, again involving Medicare dollars. Two of Riley's partners in Performance Group LLC, Dr. Thomas Spurlock and Dr. Francois Blaudeau, are associated with UAB.
So here we have at least two examples of major financial fraud connected to UAB. But has the federal government seized anyone's computer files regarding either of those two case? We've seen no signs of it.
Could that be because most of the folks involved in those two cases, unlike John Rogers, are not black and are not Democrats? We would say the answer to that question is probably yes.
On the $600-million fraud case, there is little reason to think the puny penalty changed UAB's behavior. In fact, the university announced a few weeks back that it had reached $485 million in annual research funding, a new record. Given that previous high-water marks almost certainly were aided by fraud, is there any reason to think that UAB's new "record" was reached in a clean fashion?
As a practical matter, one that takes human nature into account, consider this scenario: If you had stolen $1,000 from someone and was caught and forced to pay 50 cents as a penalty, would that stop you from stealing money in the future? Probably not, especially if you got to keep the $1,000.
Sources with ties to the Justice Department have told us the government never even conducted an investigation in the $600-million fraud case. UAB hired some high-powered Washington lawyers who stipulated that the university would plead guilty to fraud in one case--never mind more than 100 others that were ignored--and the government actually agreed to that.
Did that close the case? Not exactly. The settlement states that the government can reopen a criminal, civil, or administrative investigation at any time. But don't hold your breath waiting for new U.S. attorney Joyce White Vance to do that. Why would an Obama appointee go after a $600-million problem when she can go after John Rogers?
As for the Rob Riley case, Vance's predecessor--Bush appointee Alice Martin-- chose not to join the case, essentially leaving the whistleblower out to dry. But the case, and the allegations, are still out there. Will Joyce Vance take up the charge? Again, don't hold your breath.
Rob Riley is white and Republican, and his daddy is part of the conservative elite who have turned Alabama into a corrupt slush pit. Joyce Vance claims to be a Democrat, but she also is part of Alabama's elite, so she is likely to look the other way while Riley Jr. has his hand in the UAB cookie jar.
But John Rogers? Hey, that's a different story. Let's grab those hard drives!
As for Rogers' statements regarding Leura Canary and the Middle District of Alabama, let's return to a post titled "Is Another Fix In Place on the Siegelman Case?" Let's focus on the following passage from July 14, 2009:
Word in Alabama political circles is that a fix might be in--again--on the case of former Governor Don Siegelman.
What kind of fix is it this time? Word is that Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby, Alabama's two Republican U.S. senators, have struck a deal with the Obama administration that would allow Bush-appointed prosecutor Leura Canary to remain in control of the Siegelman case.
Is this for real? Alabama Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham) reportedly spoke openly about the deal at a civil-rights breakfast on Sunday and asked those present to contact Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Siegelman is taking it seriously; he sent an e-mail to supporters, urging them to contact Emanuel and demand that Canary be removed from office.
So John Rogers spoke out about the machinations of Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby and urged citizens to contact Rahm Emanuel about it? Roughly eight months later, Rogers has FBI agents knocking on his door?
Coincidence? We doubt it.
Scott Horton probably would doubt it, too. Horton writes that White House Counsel Robert Bauer seems to be playing along with Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's desires to interject politics into prosecutorial decisions. Building on the reporting of Huffington Post's Dan Froomkin, Horton says Bauer and Emanuel seem to be singing from the same hymnal. Bauer's predecessor, Greg Craig, clashed with Emanuel on a number of issues.
We expressed our concerns about Craig's performance a number of times while he was in office. But Horton writes that it probably is Emaunel, not Craig, who is playing politics with justice matters:
Today, Huffington Post editor Dan Froomkin digs deeper into the issues that Bauer is facing and offers a more critical take on his game plan. Froomkin’s bottom line: with Greg Craig gone, expect that legal decisions will have far more political content. The dynamics are plain enough. Craig clearly was at cross purposes with chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel on a number of legal issues, with the President’s commitment to close Guantánamo topping the list. Craig took the campaign pledge seriously and objected to the notion that legal policy questions surrounding the criminal justice system generally and decisions to prosecute individuals in particular could properly be part of the political give-and-take. Emanuel viewed them as a platform for bargaining with Republicans.
What could this mean for the country? It isn't good:
It’s still early to be making any judgments about Bob Bauer’s performance as the president’s lawyer. But it’s definitely time to be concerned. The firewall between the criminal justice system and the White House was dismantled and hauled out during the years when Karl Rove sat at the president’s right. Today, there is every reason to fear that that change is being made permanent.
Is such change one reason John Rogers now finds himself a target in Alabama? It certainly looks that way.
And what about the e-bingo grand jury investigation, which reeks of political gamesmanship? Those proceedings are taking place in private, so it might be awhile before we know the results.
But we have reason to ask these question: Is anyone on Team Obama minding the Justice Department store? Or is it possible that, as one investigative journalist recently reported, that Obama and Emanuel are being blackmailed by Bushies into ignoring abuses in our justice system?
Is that why Republicans still are doing about anything they please in Alabama?