In many ways, Fuller was the face of a "justice system" that went badly off the tracks during the George W. Bush administration--and has remained off track under Barack Obama and his hapless attorney general, Eric Holder. Our system is designed to prosecute crimes, but under Bush, it began to prosecute people--especially those who happened to be Democrats.
Fuller played a central role in the most notorious political prosecution of the period--and perhaps in American history--when he presided over the case of former governor Don Siegelman in the Middle District of Alabama. Siegelman remains at a federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana, for a crime he did not commit--for a "crime," in fact, that does not exist under U.S. law.
But this is where the Mark Fuller story becomes breathtakingly dark. Under judges like Fuller, and prosecutors of the Bush Department of Justice, it's not just a matter of innocent people winding up behind bars. Such a broken system allows individuals who have genuine ties to criminality to operate with impunity.
Take, for instance, another former Alabama governor--Republican Bob Riley. He has indisputable ties to GOP felon Jack Abramoff, the architect of perhaps the most brazen political crimes to ever take place on U.S. soil. In fact, Abramoff admitted in his book that he helped funnel $20 million of Mississippi Choctaw gambling money into Alabama to help Riley "beat" Siegelman in the 2002 governor's race--an election marked by the mysterious overnight disappearance of Siegelman votes in heavily Republican Baldwin County. This supposedly was due to a "computer glitch," but retired Auburn University professor and researcher James Gundlach said a technical problem could not produce such a result without human intervention.
Have Bob Riley or his associates been seriously investigated for any of this? Doesn't look like it. The signs of criminal activity are everywhere, but we no longer prosecute crimes--we prosecute people. And Bob Riley is the kind of white, conservative insider who has been allowed to operate above the law.
How do we know? In 2008, Huffington Post's Sam Stein wrote an article about U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and his investigation of the Abramoff scandal. The article, titled "McCain Withheld Controversial Abramoff Email," shows how McCain took steps to protect one of his political allies. That ally's name was Bob Riley. From the Sam Stein piece:
On the stump, Sen. John McCain often cites his work tackling the excesses of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff as evidence of his sturdy ethical compass.
A little-known document, however, shows that McCain may have taken steps to protect his Republican colleagues from the scope of his investigation.
In the 2006 Senate report concerning Abramoff's activities, which McCain spearheaded, the Arizona Republican conspicuously left out information detailing how Alabama Gov. Bob Riley was targeted by Abramoff's influence peddling scheme. Riley, a Republican, won election in November 2002, and was reelected in 2006.
What was that information? It was an e-mail from Abramoff to fellow GOP felon Michael Scanlon. And it shows that they didn't "target" Riley to be harmed by their criminal scheme; they "targeted" Riley to take part in it. (The e-mail can be viewed at the end of this post, along with an on-target cartoon submitted by reader Michelle Looney.) Writes Stein:
An official with the Mississippi Choctaws "definitely wants Riley to shut down the Poarch Creek operation," Abramoff wrote, "including his announcing that anyone caught gambling there can't qualify for a state contract or something like that."
The note showed not only the reach of Abramoff, but raised questions about Riley's victory in what was the closest gubernatorial election in Alabama history.
The impact on Alabama politics did not end with the controversial 2002 race. Writes Stein:
Siegelman soldiered on after the 2002 loss, running again for governor against Riley in 2006. By then, the extent of Riley's connection to Abramoff was still unknown. Moreover, Siegelman was still under investigation for allegations of bribery. The inquiry, detailed in an extensive 60 Minutes report last night, raised many ethical red flags, mainly over political interference from the Bush administration, specifically Karl Rove. On June 22, McCain issued his Senate report without mentioning Riley's name. And one week later, Siegelman was convicted without the Abramoff email ever being made public.
"If you had a document that showed something that had not been reported about the financial reports and the direct expectations for that money," said a source familiar with the case, "that certainly would have called into attention the government's case against Siegelman."
The bottom line? Riley had John McCain, in the U.S. Senate, covering up his ties to Jack Abramoff. And he had Mark Fuller, on the federal bench, taking care of his prime political opponent--Don Siegelman.
This is the real story behind Mark Fuller. Yes, he is a bad guy who beat his wife in a private setting. But his behavior in the public setting was just as bad--and much more far reaching. That's where he used taxpayer dollars and a lifetime appointment to trample the U.S. Constitution.
Did Mark Fuller abuse his wife? Yes. Did he also heap abuse on our democracy? Absolutely.
He should pay for both crimes, not just one. But we see signs that his resignation largely is designed to short circuit any inquiry that could shine much-needed light into dark corners of the federal judiciary.
|(Cartoon submitted by Michelle Looney)|