The same Republican plot that sparked the Don Siegelman prosecution might also have led to the downfall of former California Governor Gray Davis. Siegelman, the former Democratic governor of Alabama, raised the issue in interviews after last week's ruling from the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld most of his convictions from a 2006 corruption trial.
We have reported that the Eleventh Circuit ignored U.S. Supreme Court precedent by holding that a campaign-related transaction between Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy amounted to bribery, even though no "explicit agreement" was involved. McCormick v. Unites States is the binding case on a charge of bribery in the campaign context, and that requires that prosecutors prove that an "explicit agreement" existed. Mark Fuller, the Bush-appointed judge who oversaw the Siegelman trial, did not hold prosecutors to such a standard, and the Eleventh Circuit essentially said, "Ah, that's OK . . . close enough."
So much for the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard that supposedly applies in American criminal law.
Siegelman and I appeared on The Peter B. Collins Show to discuss the latest twists in a case that has become perhaps the best-known political prosecution in American history. You can listen to a podcast of the interview by clicking here.
Collins is based in San Francisco, and Siegelman noted parallels between his own experience in Alabama and the experience of Gray Davis in California. Davis was elected governor in 1998, held strong poll numbers throughout his first term, and was re-elected in 2002. But his approval ratings began to sink when a budget crisis and deregulation in the electricity industry led to widespread instability in California.
Davis' opponents spent some $66 million to stage a recall election in 2003, and Davis wound up being removed from office. He was replaced by Republican and film star Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has been in the news lately for events that have nothing to do with politics.
Why would Republicans target both Siegelman and Davis in 2002-03? Siegelman told Peter B. Collins that it all had to do with presidential politics. "Al Gore had decided he was not going to seek the nomination in 2004, and Gray Davis was the leading Democratic candidate for president at that time," Siegelman said. "I was a friend of Gray Davis, and I was thinking about entering presidential primaries in the South, to challenge George W. Bush.
"An interesting parallel is that one of Karl Rove's best friends, Grover Norquist, was at work in California to do in Gray Davis--and also was at work in Alabama to cause me trouble."
Both Siegelman and Davis had been involved in litigation against the tobacco industry, which also might have helped make them targets for Rove and his allies at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Rove and others who were planning Bush's 2004 re-election campaign apparently were concerned about facing popular Democratic governors from the West and the South. After Davis and Siegelman went down, Bush wound up facing U.S. Senator John Kerry, of Massachusetts.
Siegelman picked up on this theme in an interview with Thom Hartmann. "The common thread between Gray Davis and Don Siegelman being taken down is Grover Norquist, who was one of Karl Rove's best friends from college. Rove wanted Gray Davis and me out of the way, so they could have a field of other Democratic candidates to contend with."
Siegelman expressed frustration at the Obama administration's refusal to hold Rove and others accountable for using the U.S. Justice Department as a political weapon during the Bush years. "The White House let Rove off the hook when they worked a deal with Congress that didn't require him to testify under oath. We've got to hold these people accountable. If they can prosecute me for a non-crime, they can do this to anybody in the country. We need to get it straightened out for the security of our democracy, as well as for my own freedom."
I told Collins that last week's ruling from the Eleventh Circuit indicates politics still is playing a leading role in the Siegelman case, almost five years after the trial. "In my view, Governor Siegelman and his codefendant, Richard Scrushy, were convicted of a crime that doesn't exist under the law. . . . It appears the Eleventh Circuit is trying to keep a thread of the conviction out there, to give some legitimacy to what happened in Montgomery, Alabama."
I also said that the Eleventh Circuit's failure to uphold Supreme Court precedent could signal a far more serious crime than anything alleged in the Siegelman case. "If this three-judge panel is being influenced by someone external to the process, that amounts to obstruction of justice. (18 U.S.C. 1503.) There also is a statute about interference with governmental operations that might apply. (That statute actually is 18 U.S.C. 371--Conspiracy to Defraud the United States.) That's where the real crime is here.
"It's clear that what Governor Siegelman and Mr. Scrushy did is not a crime under U.S. law. I hope the public will examine this 65-page document (from the Eleventh Circuit) and see what a joke it is compared to the actual law. Then, someone should look at these judges, their e-mails and external communications. Someone is pulling their strings."
You can view the full Siegelman-Thom Hartmann interview below: