Joseph Siegelman, the former governor's son and an attorney with The Cochran Firm in Birmingham, is suing the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), seeking documents about his father's prosecution. Multiple lawyers, using a variety of legal routes, have sought such documents for roughly 10 years. But the government, which seems particularly sensitive about items related to the supposed recusal of U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, has refused to turn them over.
The new effort from Joseph Siegelman focuses heavily on a letter that the DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) prepared for U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI). Adam Zagorin, of the Project on Governmental Oversight (POGO), wrote an article that mentioned the letter--and we reported on it in December 2014 and January 2015. The title of Zagorin's article is "Justice Department Downplays Evidence of Politics in Probe of Governor."
The government might have downplayed evidence of a political prosecution, but the Conyers letter makes clear the evidence is there. (See full letter at the end of this post.)
In his federal complaint, Joseph Siegelman states that the DOJ admits in the Conyers letter that several of its officials "acted improperly" in the Don Siegelman case. The complaint goes on to state:
Among those officials was the Assistant U.S. Attorney (“AUSA”) in charge of the Siegelman prosecution who communicated directly with the campaign manager of Mr. Siegelman’s gubernatorial opponent. The letter discusses an email from the AUSA to the campaign manager informing him that the AUSA “and a small group of like-minded conservative prosecutors” within the U.S. Attorney’s office were pursuing Siegelman.
The identity of the assistant U.S. attorney remains unknown, for now. But the campaign manager in question was identified more than a year ago as Rob Riley. From our original report on the subject:
A federal prosecutor communicated with prominent Alabama Republican Rob Riley during the investigation of former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman, according to a report released yesterday.
Riley was serving as campaign manager for his father, Bob Riley, who was Siegelman's chief political opponent at the time. The revelation seems to support claims that Siegelman supporters have been making for years--that unlawful political motivations played a pivotal role in the prosecution.
Adam Zagorin wrote the article, titled "Justice Department Downplays Evidence of Politics in Probe of Governor," for Project On Government Oversight (POGO). The information about Rob Riley is included in a letter, dated June 3, 2010, from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich to U.S. Representative John Conyers (D-Mich.), who was then chair of the House Committee on the Judiciary. (See full letter at the end of this post.)
A Justice Department internal affairs unit, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), was critical of several government attorneys involved in the Siegelman case, but concluded that the evidence "did not establish that political motivation played a role" in the case.
OPR's conclusions do not square with evidence that a chief prosecutor was communicating with Rob Riley during the Siegelman investigation. From our report:
Here is Zagorin on the communications between a member of the prosecution team and Rob Riley:
"In 2002, during the Justice Department’s investigation of Siegelman’s administration, a federal prosecutor emailed the son and campaign manager of Siegelman’s principal Republican opponent updating him on the confidential probe, according to a Justice Department document obtained by the Project On Government Oversight and reported here for the first time.
"In the email, the prosecutor said he had been “thwarted” after starting an investigation “into the Siegelman administration.” He added that it was “frustrating for me and a small group of like minded conservative prosecutors” to “fight the tide in order to do the job we are sworn to do.”
Perhaps most disturbing is this: It does not appear OPR bothered to interview Rob Riley--or the prosecutor. Was OPR interested in getting at the truth? Doesn't look like it, as Zagorin makes clear:
In listing the people OPR interviewed, the Justice Department letter summarizing the probe does not name Rob Riley, the son of and campaign manager for Siegelman’s political rival Bob Riley and the recipient of the “like minded conservatives” email. As a result, it is unclear whether OPR contacted him.
The DOJ letter also offers no indication of why the prosecutor emailed Riley in the first place, and on whose instructions, if anyone’s. Nor does it say whether Riley replied or took any subsequent action. It does not explain how the “small group of like minded conservative prosecutors” fit into the picture, or why the prosecutor injected his own political leanings and those of his colleagues into the matter.
“I do not recall receiving the email in 2002, but I had nothing to do with the U.S. Attorney’s Office pursuing charges against Don Siegelman,” Rob Riley told POGO, noting that the contact would have occurred more than a decade ago. “I also do not recall being contacted by OPR one way or the other.”
Rob Riley has a habit of issuing such oily, limp-wristed responses when he is pressed with tough questions. Let's see, where have we heard them before?
Maybe Joseph Siegelman's lawsuit will put Rob Riley under the kind of pressure he's never experienced before.