Sunday, March 2, 2008

On Siegelman, 60 Minutes, and History

Schnauzer thoughts on a historic week . . .

Update on Siegelman Court Reporter

A source tells me that Jimmy Dickens, the original court reporter on the Don Siegelman trial, died of cancer. We have wondered in a couple of posts about the cause of death for Mr. Dickens, and this seems to provide the answer.

Evidently Mr. Dickens had been stricken with cancer for some time, which makes you wonder why Judge Mark Fuller didn't have a backup plan in place that would have prevented the current delay with the trial transcript.

Scott Horton, of Harper's, noted that the transcript delay is one of four reasons MSNBC's Dan Abrams cited when he called for Siegelman's release from prison pending appeal. Horton also said court reporters have told him that there is no excuse for the kind of delay that has occurred in the Siegelman case:

The appeal is delayed because the court has yet to produce a trial transcript even though the trial was held more than a year and a half ago. (Court reporters I have interviewed have a consistent analysis of this: it’s a sham. Those transcripts could have been completed by any competent court reporter in a matter of a couple of weeks. This was a conscious effort to deprive Siegelman of an appeal, involving Judge Fuller.)

Robert A. Kezelis, of Capitol Hill Blue, also shined light on the matter, noting that modern technology should make production of a transcript relatively simple, even in circumstances such as those in the Siegelman case:

With today's modern technology, the death of a court reporter makes no difference. The computer readout of the court reporter's machine is easily downloaded to any PC and the spell-checking and name correction can be done in a day. Perhaps two. Not months. Not many months.

Having dated a sweet, smart and really cute former federal court court reporter, trust me. They have NO LACK of technology, software, or ability to create a transcript at will. Ah, that is what is missing - "the will".

History in the Making?

This time a week ago many of us were gearing up for the 60 Minutes story on Don Siegelman. But I, and perhaps many other viewers, did not fully grasp the historic nature of the broadcast.

I am not a lawyer--although that doesn't keep me from playing one on the Web--and I certainly am not a historian. But I have a feeling no major U.S. news organization ever has reported on a story quite like the Siegelman case before. Perhaps that is because it's hard to remember the issue of politically motivated prosecutions ever being raised in the United States before.

Two of the most cherished concepts upon which are country is built are "freedom" and "the rule of law." And yet we have powerful evidence that our current Justice Department is abusing the rule of law in order to rob innocent people of their freedom.

If someone had told me 10 years ago that this could happen in the United States, I would have said they were daffy. Perhaps that is why the 60 Minutes story seems to have hit such a nerve with the viewing public. The story's central premise: What once was unthinkable can actually happen in the United States.

As a followup to the 60 Minutes piece, I would love to see a panel of historians discuss the unfolding Justice Department scandal and provide some historical context. Has our nation ever experienced anything remotely like this before? What previous government scandal would come closest to matching it? Has there been a similar scandal on the international stage? And from a press standpoint, has there ever been a story quite like this one in American history?

Setting a Trap for "Turd Blossom"

Perhaps the most delicious notion to come out of the past week is the possibility that Republican whistleblower Jill Simpson and 60 Minutes essentially have set a trap that might snare Karl "Turd Blossom" Rove in a painful way.

Scott Horton reports that Mike Hubbard, chair of the Alabama Republican Party, is well aware of the trap. In fact, that awareness almost certainly is behind Hubbard's demand that CBS present corroborating evidence for its Siegelman story or run a retraction. Without knowing what evidence is lined up against him, Rove doesn't know how to tailor his lies to get out of the corner he is in. And Mike Hubbard appears to be more interested in protecting Karl Rove than he does seeing that justice is done. Writes Horton:

Karl Rove is desperate to know exactly what evidence Simpson and CBS have before he is compelled to give sworn testimony. Why? Armed with this, he hopes to walk through the minefield ahead of him, lying and avoiding being caught. It’s about that simple.

I absolutely believe that CBS should put its corroborating data on the table. After Karl Rove has given sworn testimony about this affair.

More Republicans Speak Up

Another prominent Republican has raised serious questions about the Siegelman case. This time it is Paul Craig Roberts, former assistant secretary of the treasury under Ronald Reagan and former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal.

Conservative credentials don't come much stronger than those. But Roberts heaps criticism upon the prosecution, calling it a "frame-up" that is "crystal clear" and "blatant." Roberts has particular scorn for prosecutor Stephen Feaga:

Federal prosecutors claimed that Scrushy’s charitable contribution was a bribe to Siegelman in exchange for being appointed to the Certificate of Need board. In the words of federal prosecutor Stephen Feaga, the contribution was "given in exchange for a promise for an official act."

Feaga’s statement is absolute nonsense. It is well known that Scrushy had served on the board for years, felt he had done his duty, and wanted off the board. It was Siegelman who convinced Scrushy to remain on the board. Moreover, Scrushy gave no money to Siegelman. The money went to a charitable foundation.

As a large number of attorneys have pointed out, every US president appoints his ambassadors and cabinet members from people who have donated to his campaign. Under the reasoning applied in the Siegelman case, every president, cabinet member and ambassador should be in federal prison.

How in the world did a jury convict two men of a non-crime?

Cynthia Tucker Weighs In

Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, weighs in with a balanced view of the Siegelman case. On the one hand, Tucker writes:

The prosecution's case centered around one disputed point: When Siegelman took out a loan to fund the advocacy group, was he personally on the hook to repay the money? Prosecutors said he was, making the $500,000 contribution of personal benefit to Siegelman -- i.e., a bribe. Defense attorneys argued that Siegelman saw no personal benefit from the contribution; they also pointed out that Scrushy had served on the same board under previous governors.

Either way, there's no confusing Siegelman's little deal with textbook good government. It was a tawdry affair, and no governor has any business engaging in such acts. Advocates of stricter ethical standards -- like me -- harrumph over such transactions with regularity. But they are, nevertheless, pretty common, rarely inspiring much beyond raised eyebrows. It is highly unusual for the Justice Department to target public officials who have not personally benefited from their connections with contributors.

On the other hand, Tucker writes:

There are some fundamental premises of American democracy that we take for granted. Among them is this: Political rivals who threaten the status quo are imprisoned in Russia, in Malaysia, in Zimbabwe, but not in the United States. No president or prosecutor ought to be allowed to use his office to go after political enemies.

Right-Wing Bloggers in a Lather

The 60 Minutes Siegelman story has stirred up folks on the right side of the blogosphere. It's as if they all got together and came up with the same talking points. The Gateway Pundit blog has a pretty good wrapup of right-wing response here.

Probably the most common theme among right-wing bloggers is that the 60 Minutes Siegelman story is a gaffe on par with the Dan Rather story about President George W. Bush's military service. A number of righty bloggers say that, coming on the heals of the Rather story, the Siegelman piece might be the end of 60 Minutes.

Of course, there is a slight problem with this line of thinking. No one has ever proven that Rather had the Bush story wrong. And no one has proven that the documents CBS used were inauthentic. Rather hopes to prove he had it right, and therefore was wrongfully dismissed, in a lawsuit that is pending against CBS.

Another common component of the right-wing response is Mobile Press-Register reporter Eddie Curran, who is credited with breaking the Siegelman story and sparking the federal investigation. Curran has written a lengthy missive to 60 Minutes, claiming it got major chunks of the story wrong. The Curran letter is showing up on numerous right-leaning blogs.

Even Powerline, one of the more respectable right-wing blogs, touts the Curran letter. Writing at Huffington Post, Larisa Alexandrovna has a splendid reply to the Powerline post. My favorite line is this:

Why go on an attack against 60 Minutes (see my latest post on smear jobs regarding this story) when you yourself have implied that you have no clue what you are talking about?

Your open letter, sadly, can be seen only in one of two ways: 1). you are either unable or uninterested in obtaining facts before you go into political Rambo mode; 2). or you are simply firmly lodged inside Karl Rove's colon. Which is it?

The authors of Powerline are connected with the Claremont Institute, a right-wing outfit. That might explain their myopia on the subject of the Bush Justice Department. Alexandrovna gives them their due and then provides plenty of information that they seem to be lacking.

You seem to be well respected among your readers and lawyers of various political affiliations. So I am willing to give you the benefit that you are indeed simply misinformed. I will, however, allow readers to decide for themselves which genre you fall into by addressing your "open letter" with my own. You see, you are not the first to jump on this band-wagon and sadly, likely not to be the last. You do, however, seem to be the most reasonable and open to new information, which is something I am more than happy to provide.

Alexandrovna chides the Powerliners for relying on Mobile Press-Register reporter Eddie Curran and his recent letter to 60 Minutes.

You then go on to cite a reporter who is seen by most people with whom I have spoken in Alabama (Republicans and Democrats alike) as a shill:

"Reading about the underlying controversy, I found the name of Eddie Curran. Curran is the Mobile Press-Register reporter whose stories played a role in initiating the investigation of Siegelman. Curran is on leave from the Press-Register writing a book on Siegelman's "administration, the trial, and the aftermath, including the 60 Minutes show on Siegelman." Curran has now written a letter to 60 Minutes."

There is a small problem with regard to Curran. You see, he built his entire reputation on an investigation into Siegelman (ironically, the prosecution did not use much of his evidence) and is alleged by many people in Alabama to have worked closely with the prosecution (a journalistic no-no).

He took an unpaid leave from the Mobile Press Register to pen a book on his exploits and now his entire reputation is on the line. He wrote a hit piece (read for yourself) against Scott Horton of Harper's too. Why do you suppose this man is so upset, so seething with hate when it comes to Horton?

Could it be that if Horton (and me, CBS, and Time) are right, then poor Eddie loses his reputation and book deal? He made his own bed, and he should now get used to it. I will say, however, that while I can understand Curran's feelings of frustration, I cannot condone him attempting to smear others in order to keep his pen in the business. Ask Eddie if his entire career depends on him being right on the Siegelman allegations.

Alexandrovna finishes by presenting 21 questions that should be asked, and answered, about the Siegelman case. It's good stuff. By the way, we have a detailed analysis of Eddie Curran's letter to 60 Minutes coming up:

So I ask that instead of attacking CBS, you consider the questions I want answered and perhaps, because you are an American first--before your politics--you will also ask these questions and demand answers too:
1. Was Mr. Canary (a consultant for Bob Riley, Don Siegelman's opponent during the 2002 election) involved in a conversation on November 18, 2002 in which he said that "his girls" (allegedly in reference to his wife, US Attorney Leura Canary and their friend, US Attorney Alice Martin) would "take care of" Mr. Siegelman? Who else was on that call? Is it appropriate for a US Attorney to be investigating the opponent of her husband's client? Is that not a conflict of interest?
2. Mrs. Canary claims to have recused herself from the Siegelman case. Where is the evidence of this from the DOJ?
3. Did Mr. Canary and Mr. Rove discuss how to "take care" of Mr. Siegelman at any point while Mr. Rove was working at the White House?
3. Did Mr. Rove meet with operatives for Bob Riley (Siegelman's opponent during the 2002 election) and discuss how to "take care" of Mr. Siegelman? Did Mr. Rove have these alleged meetings on street corners in DC, cafes, and at lobbying firms on K street throughout 2002 and later?
4. Did Mr. Rove ask William Pryor to seal the 2002 ballots before Siegelman's requested hand-recount could happen? Mr. Pryor's campaign for Alabama state Attorney General was run by Karl Rove in 1998. In 2002, Pryor sealed the ballots of the Riley-Siegelman campaign after a late-night glitch suddenly made Riley the winner. The following April, Pryor was installed on a recess appointment to the 11 Circuit Court of Appeals.
5. Why did Pryor seal those ballots?
6. Did Mr. Rove suggest that Mr. Pryor be appointed to the 11th Circuit? What were Mr. Pryor's qualifications and why was he installed on a recess appointment? Was he being rewarded for sealing the ballots.
7. Did Mr. Rove have any relationship with Mark Fuller, the judge who was appointed by President Bush and later, somehow, got the Siegelman case?
8. Did Mr. Canary ever say that Judge Fuller "would hang Siegelman," before Fuller had gotten the case? How about after?
9. Where is the court transcript of the trial, which is needed for Siegelman to file his appeal? It has been 30 months, already. How long does a court transcript take?
10. Why did Judge Fuller not let Siegelman report after he was indicted, instead having him shackled and brought in like a violent offender? The charges, after all, were bribery.
11. Why is Siegelman not allowed to be out of prison while he appeals his case? What is the reason for this?
12. Did Mr. Rove discuss the Siegelman case in 2002 or at any point after with then chief of the department's Office of Public Integrity at the DOJ, Noel Hillman? If so, what was the subjects of that/those discussion(s)?
13. Did Mr. Hillman's appointment to a federal judgeship have anything to do with the Siegelman case?
14. Did Mr. Hillman bury any evidence in the Jack Abramoff case connecting Mr. Rove and Jack Abramoff and/or Bob Riley and Jack Abramoff?
15. Michael Scanlon, the team-Abramoff member who bribed Republican members of Congress and laundered money for the GOP, was both an employee of indicted House Majority Leader, Tom Delay (R-TX) and then-Congressman Bob Riley (R-AL), who later went on to become Siegelman's opponent. He also did work for Congressman Bob Ney (R-OH).
Delay was indicted on money laundering charges and was forced to resign from Congress. Ney plead guilty to bribery and corruption and is now serving time in prison. The other two members of Congress involved with Scanlon - disgraced Montana Congressman Conrad Burns, and scandal-ridden California Congressman John Do0little - are or have been under investigation. How then is it possible that Bob Riley - Scanlon's one-time boss - was the only one of Scanlon's associates to never have been investigated for his ties to both Scanlon and Abramoff?
16. Did Mr. Rove have any contact with Hillman regarding Bob Riley, Tom Delay, Conrad Burns, and John Doolittle and their ties to Abramoff and Scanlon?
17. Did the US prosecutors on Siegelman's case threaten the brother of witness Nick Bailey if Bailey did not cooperate with the prosecution?
18. Why was the other prosecution witness in the Siegelman case - Lanny Young - seen as credible with regard to Siegelman, but dismissed as not credible when he also implicated Judge William Pryor and Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) in the same types of allegations? If he gets 2 of the 3 wrong, how is he still credible? Or is it that Jeff Sessions were not prosecuted because they are Republicans, while Siegelman is a Democrat?
19. Why won't the DOJ provide any documents to Congress regarding the Siegelman case or other selective prosecution cases?
20. And again, I ask, why won't Karl Rove testify under oath if he has nothing to hide?
21. Why did Judge Fuller not investigate the jury-tampering issues when they were brought to his attention?


Fred said...

mmmm, up near the beginning of your article you identified Mike Hubbard as being a Democrat. I do believe you should offer a correction.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all of the information. There is so much to go over.

The criminal deeds of this administration will be hunted down, step by step, by people like you and me. The groundwork needs to be laid, and then the right people need to step forward.

This Age of the Politics of Fear must come to light fully. What Karl Rove, George Bush, Alberto Gonzales et al have done through their insistence that others must be tortured, imprisoned and killed is prove that it has happened, is happening and will continue to happen in the United States. Unless.
Unless we fight back.
Unless we help one another.
Unless we band together and follow the clues of their crimes against our country.

legalschnauzer said...

Thanks for catching that. I have made the correction.


Anonymous said...

Preparation of the trial transcript was delayed by the death of court reporter Jimmy Dickens in August. Court reporter Risa Entrekin asked the 11th Circuit in November to extend the deadline for completion to March 31, citing her workload and the size of the transcript.


PEACE! avahome