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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Siegelman Appeal Shines Spotlight on Obama's Dismal DOJ

Don Siegelman

Attorneys for Don Siegelman and codefendant Richard Scrushy will present oral argument this afternoon before the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing their clients' convictions on corruption charges should be reversed.

Siegelman, the former Democratic governor of Alabama, was at the heart of the most notorious political prosecution of the George W. Bush era. A three-judge panel will hear oral argument at 1 p.m., CST, today at the federal courthouse in Jacksonville, Florida.

It's fitting that the Siegelman hearing comes as a former U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) official launched a blistering attack on the Obama administration's "look forward, not backwards" approach to the apparent crimes of the Bush administration. J. Gerald Hebert said former Bush officials had received "get out of jail free cards," meaning those responsible for the Siegelman prosecution and other legal atrocities have not been held accountable.

Hebert, who served in multiple supervisory roles in a 20-year career with the Justice Department, says the Obama administration has a "disturbing pattern" of failing to pursue corruption cases. In a wide-ranging interview with Raw Story, Hebert said the current DOJ has disregarded its fundamental mission:

The 20-year DOJ veteran also criticized the administration's refusal to investigate or prosecute any serious criminal activities from the Bush-era, such as sanctioning the waterboarding of military detainees and directing the political firings of US Attorneys. These “at a minimum deserve complete investigation,” he said.

The Obama administration’s excuse “to look forward and not backward” fails to fulfill the agency’s “duty” to investigate, he said--a charge that includes “any federal office holder who violates the Constitution or federal law."

Hebert now serves as executive director of the Campaign Legal Center and is an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University Law School. He points to the conviction of former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay in Texas state court as an example of the Obama DOJ's weakness:

On the heels of the successful prosecution of DeLay for money laundering and conspiracy in Texas, Hebert said he hoped it was clear that the Department of Justice had nothing to do with that conviction.

Rather, the Obama administration's Justice Department in August closed down a six-year investigation into DeLay--without filing a single charge.

He said that the success of the Travis County District Attorney’s office, which had DeLay sentenced to three years in jail, not only highlighted the Justice Department’s “unfathomable” failure in one prosecution, but also a “disturbing pattern” of less vigorous pursuit in congressional corruption cases since Obama took office.

Federal prosecutors are "gun shy," Hebert says, in the wake of a botched prosecution involving the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens in Alaska:

“It is unfathomable for me to believe that after all was said and done, and knowing as much information that was out there about what DeLay and his high-level cronies had done, that there wasn’t a single prosecution,” Hebert continued.

“So my hats are off to the Travis County prosecutors who were able to at least bring some amount of justice to this,” he said.

The Obama DOJ, inexplicably, failed to use information from convicted GOP felon Jack Abramoff in a case against DeLay:

Hebert noted that his disbelief also rests in the fact that the Justice Department had given convicted former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff a deal to delay his sentencing for months in exchange for providing information.

“They delayed his sentencing so they could take advantage of that,” he explained, expressing shock that Abramoff's information did not result in a DOJ indictment of DeLay.

“In the arrogant world that Tom DeLay lived in, he was kingpin,” Hebert said. “He did a lot of damage to people, and to the democracy ultimately, when he tried to undermine and circumvent important rules about corporate funding and clean money.”

“DeLay basically put Congress up for sale,” he continued. “He went down and stood on the corner of K Street and tried to sell it.”

As for Siegelman, he is confident about the outcome of today's hearing. The judges are not expected to release an opinion for about three months. But Siegelman sees hopeful signs, reports Glynn Wilson of The Locust Fork News:

The U.S. Supreme Court vacated the convictions of Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy back in June of last year and ordered the appeals court to review them again, in light of a recent high court ruling questioning the application of a vague honest services fraud law in the case of former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling.

“I believe that the U S Supreme Court vacated the earlier ruling of the Eleventh Circuit and sent my case back because the court wants a different result,” Siegelman said. “That’s good news for me.”

What could be at stake for the country in general, considering that the Siegelman/Scrushy case involved a standard political transaction that generally has not been seen as a crime?

“If I do not win,” Siegelman said, “every governor, every member of Congress and Presidents Bush and Obama should be subject to prosecution.”

A subplot to the Siegelman story involves the Obama administration's utter lack of spine on matters of justice. Hebert said Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have violated their oaths of office:

“When [Obama and Holder] took over they made it clear that they weren’t going to get caught up in the past,” Hebert said. “They were going to look to the future and make it a brighter day and full of hope.”

But this view is inconsistent "with the Constitution, federal law and what the Department of Justice is sworn to uphold," he insisted.

Hebert said he believed that in wanting to appear nonpartisan, they instead weakened the Justice Department, sending a consequential message to the American people.

“It’s one thing to want to appear like you’re above the political fray and your cases aren’t motivated by politics,” Hebert pointed out. “But it’s another to not hold people accountable and to not bring justice.”

By allowing George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and others to escape scrutiny, Obama and Holder are sending a dangerous message:

“Bush and Cheney are not above the law," Hebert concluded. "Whether it’s the president, the vice president or any federal office holder who violates the Constitution or federal law, or there are serious allegations suggesting that such violations may have existed, then the Department of Justice has a duty and an obligation to fully investigate that.

"And if there are no consequences to any of the actions that violated the federal law in the last administration, then why would anybody think that they would ever be prosecuted for doing it in the future?"

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