John Aaron, an attorney in Alabaster, Alabama, filed a Freedom of Information request in early 2006 seeking information about the recusal of Leura Canary. The Justice Department, then under the control of George W. Bush, turned over almost no information, so Aaron filed a federal lawsuit in 2009.
Barack Obama appointees, of course, now oversee the Department of Justice (DOJ). But Aaron's lawyer says the department continues to stonewall and has asked a judge to throw out the lawsuit.
Reports the Mobile Press-Register:
"It seems to me that transparency is not a priority," said Scott Hodes, a Washington, D.C.-area attorney representing Shelby County resident John Aaron in a lawsuit seeking the records. "They'd rather hide things, obviously."
Canary, a Bush appointee, remains the top federal prosecutor in central Alabama. Her husband, Bill Canary, is head of the Business Council of Alabama and a close associate of former White House strategist Karl Rove. Jill Simpson, an Alabama lawyer and whistleblower, has testified under oath before Congress that Bill Canary played a central role in initiating a politically driven prosecution of Siegelman, a popular Democrat.
Canary announced in 2002 that she was stepping aside from the Siegelman investigation. But supporters of the former governor have claimed that she remained involved with the case. Reports the Press Register:
In a court filing, however, Aaron said he believes the documents would show that Canary remained in touch with members of the team that prosecuted Siegelman and former HealthSouth Chief Executive Richard Scrushy despite her official recusal from the case.
Aaron also said that he thought the records could provide "critical evidence" in Scrushy's bid for a new trial.
The Justice Department, so far, has turned over little more than newspaper clippings, according to court filings. The DOJ admits it is withholding 259 pages of documents. What is its rationale? It sounds pretty flimsy to us:
Among other reasons for withholding the records, the Justice Department argues that they involve communications between Canary and agency legal staff that are covered by attorney-client privilege.
While Canary is a high-level public official, the Justice Department also says that releasing the information could result "in harassment in her private life" and expose her to "derogatory inferences ... in connection with the underlying criminal case."
This raises several obvious questions:
* How on earth could Leura Canary's communications with her own staff members be protected by attorney-client privilege? Since when are Canary's staff members "representing" her?
* One innocent man (Richard Scrushy) already is in federal prison and another (Don Siegelman) could be returning to federal prison, but the DOJ is mostly concerned about "derogatory inferences" that could be drawn about Canary's conduct?
* If the DOJ is concerned about "harassment in her private life" and "derogatory inferences," is it more or less admitting that Canary engaged in misconduct? Why would those be issues if Canary had acted properly?
* Is the DOJ aware that Canary is a public official, who is paid by public funds, and taxpayers have a right to know if she acted in a lawful fashion? Why would the DOJ be concerned about Canary's "private life" more than a possible abuse of the public trust?
Just when you think the Obama administration can't look much worse than it already does on justice issues, something comes along to tell you, "Oh yes, it can."