Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Siegelman and Scenes from the Republican Playbook

Reading today about travel restrictions placed on former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman made this schnauzer want to scratch his beard and shake his head.

It reminded me of so many events I've seen in my own story of dealing with a justice system controlled by Republicans.

First, we learned that Siegelman has been classified a "special offender" for travel purposes and is no longer able to travel without receiving prior approval. Then a Justice Department official says, "Oh no, nothing has changed. Siegelman's under the same travel restrictions that applied when he was awaiting sentencing." Then Siegelman fired back with the following statement:

In this afternoon's Associated Press story, a representative of the federal probation office in Montgomery, Alabama, stated in effect that my travel conditions had not changed form what they were before sentencing.

Here's what happened. On April 29 I was informed by my parole officer that he had received instructions from his superior in Montgomery that I was to be considered a "Special Offender" for travel purposes. I am now required to have permission to travel to any place out side of the Northern and Middle Districts of Alabama. Also, that additional information will be required of me before I travel. For example, I will now have to fill out and file a formal written detailed request to travel with my PO two weeks in advance of travel even if I want to travel to see my lawyers who live in Mobile, Alabama. That request, then has to be forwarded to the federal district into which I seek to travel. Some districts, require an additional 30 day notice before they will even consider my request to come there.

This is contrary to what I had previously been required to do, and, seems to be in contradiction of the 11th Circuit's order for release on bond pending appeal. (See attached order of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.)

Probation restrictions from conviction to incarceration were that I could travel anywhere within the state of Alabama without requesting permission and traveling outside the state did not require that I request travel any specific number of days in advance.

* Mobile trips to see attorneys, and numerous trips outside of the districts but within Alabama, were permitted without any oral or written requests;

* A family vacation to the Virgin Island trip;
* Washington DC trip;
* A trip to California were all handled by an oral or email request to my PO who then emailed the Judge and he responded to the PO.

There is a vast difference in the conditions for travel, as of yesterday, and the conditions that I was under before sentencing and for over one month after I was released on March 28th by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

1. I am now classified as a"Special Offender", placed in the category of a" Potential Terrorist" or member of "The Mafia" requiring additional scrutiny by the district into which I seek to travel. The definition of "Special Offender " that I was given reads as follows: "Individuals identified or associated with . . . organized crime such as the Mafia . . . persons identified as potential terrorists, kidnappers, members of a supremacy group . . . offenders of high notoriety, or cases of similar nature." The only reason my case is of "high notoriety" is because of misconduct of the government which the U.S. Congress and the Inspector General of the DOJ are now investigating. It is not my behavior that gave this case notoriety; it was that of the government.

2. I have been given a new form that I have not been required to fill out previously, that I must now fill out and give to my PO at least two weeks in advance for any trip, including requirements of criminal registration and reporting in the district into which I seek to travel.

3. I must seek written permission weeks in advance even to travel into the Southern District of Alabama if I want to see my lawyers.

4. If I am seeking out of state travel, in addition to the two weeks notice I must give my PO, some districts require an additional 30 days notice, however, there is no way for me to know what the rules are in any particular district before I make my request to my PO.

This all sounds so familiar. Let's examine some of the themes we've addressed in our Legal Schnauzer tale, themes that also seem to be playing out in the Siegelman case. In a justice system dominated by GOPers . . .

* If you don't happily accept their abuse, they will try to make you pay--In my case, I start blogging about corrupt Republican judges in Alabama, and next thing I know, the Shelby County Sheriff's Department is threatening to unlawfully seize my house. While I was quiet about my experiences for three-plus years, all was well. But within a few months of starting this blog, by golly, someone wanted to "collect" on a bogus judgment against me (in the grand sum of $1,525)--and they wanted to do it by seizing my house. Same thing seems to be happening with Siegelman. As his national media appearances piled up, someone decided suddenly that he needed travel restrictions. The folks at Left in Alabama put it nicely.

* They'll make you think you are Eddie Murphy in Trading Places--You remember the scene where the old dudes explain to Murphy what goes into a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich? (Think I'm channeling Chris Farley here.) That's evidently the way GOP justice folks see normal people--they think we are all stupid. In my case, they never dreamed I could figure out that a properly supported motion for summary judgment has to be granted when the other party does not respond. It's "black letter" law, and common sense would tell you that is the case, but I guess the GOPers never dreamed a member of the "great unwashed" could actually look it up. And that's only one of dozens of such examples I could cite. I've lost track of how many times my wife and I have received some ridiculous motion or ruling in the mail and looked at each other saying, "How dumb do they think we are?" In fact, we just had several new examples, and I'll be writing about those soon. It's heartening, in a macabre way, to know that a former governor gets the same treatment. These people don't think Don Siegelman knows what his own probation conditions were?

* Lying, or at least highly creative spinning, is second nature--Of the voluminous lies I've been told, perhaps my favorite came from Shelby County Circuit Judge Dan Reeves. It's well settled Alabama law that when a plaintiff is claiming malicious prosecution, any of his prior wrongs (criminal convictions etc.) are admissible as evidence. It's common sense. By definition, such a plaintiff is claiming his reputation was stained by being prosecuted for a crime. The defendant is entitled to show that the plaintiff's reputation already sucked because he had been convicted of crimes umpteen times before. But Reeves would not allow evidence that my troublesome neighbor Mike McGarity had been convicted of at least eight crimes previously, including one involving violence and one of a sexual nature. I printed out the case law and handed it to Reeves, with the pertinent stuff underlined. "Nice research," he said, and excluded the evidence. Jurors, I'm sure, couldn't figure out why I was having problems with such a nice man as Mike McGarity--a veritable suburban soccer dad (but with a far more colorful past than most soccer dads). Reeves didn't want the jury to stray from an outcome that probably was preordained, thanks to creative jury striking, iffy jury instructions, and evidentiary decisions like this one. Siegelman is facing the same thing. Who are we to believe: this justice official quoted by Associated Press or a former governor who ought to know a thing or two about his own probation conditions?

* Incompetence is second nature to these folks--I'm aware of a recent case where a defendant in small-claims court showed up to contest a lawsuit that had been brought against her. The plaintiff, the party who brought the lawsuit, didn't bother to show. The judge dismissed the case against the defendant, finding for her on the merits (duh!). But when she got the order in the mail, it said the case was dismissed on a motion by the plaintiff. Turns out the plaintiff had filed a motion to dismiss the case without prejudice (meaning they could bring it again later) five days after the case was over--and the judge granted it! The defendant had to write a motion asking that the court pull its head out of its you-know-what and get the order correct. After a couple of followup phone calls, the court seemingly got it right. The probation officer's statements about the Siegelman case sound so familiar. "Well, some of our officers do this and others don't, blah, blah, blah." Sweet Jehovah, have I heard that kind of stuff before?

* Law? What law?--These people have utter disdain for the actual law. They would rather make it up as they go along. We already have presented examples of this at Legal Schnauzer, and many more are coming. But what about the Siegelman case? His order for release pending appeal couldn't be more clear: "Siegelman shall be released on the same terms and conditions as those governing his release pending sentencing."

The Birmingham News: Stupid, Lazy, or Both

The Birmingham News is coming off one of the worst weeks in the history of American journalism. And that's saying something because the News has had a lot of bad weeks since connections started to form about a year ago between the Don Siegelman prosecution and the firings of U.S. attorneys by the Bush Justice Department.

I didn't think the News could sink any lower after Brett Blackledge's reporting on a motion to dismiss in the Sue Schmitz case. Blackledge was in such a rush to cover Karl Rove's back side, and to trash Jill Simpson, that he completely ignored the main point in Schmitz motion that federal charges against her should be dropped. Blackledge also screwed up several clear facts, which the News had to address with corrections.

In Sunday's paper, editorial writer Robin DeMonia follows up the Blackledge debacle with an editorial that . . . says . . . absolutely nothing.

Actually, DeMonia's column says something, just nothing of any substance. Her main point seems to be: "We don't want prosecutors to go after public officials for political reasons, but we also don't want public officials to cheat us."

Gee, that's profound.

DeMonia also seems to be saying that Alabamians targeted in the two-year colleges scandal are following Siegelman's lead by claiming they are the victims of political prosecutions.

But she gives the impression that Siegelman, and the two-year colleges targets, are merely engaged in public-relations efforts to safe face after cheating the people who elected them.

If DeMonia had bothered to do a little legwork, she would have found that Siegelman's claims of political prosecution are supported by substantial issues of fact and law. Simply reading U.S. Judge Mark Fuller's memorandum opinion of a few months back would have shown her that the jury instructions in the Siegelman case almost certainly were unlawful.

And had DeMonia bothered to read the Huntsville Times and Associated Press accounts of the Schmitz motion, she would have learned that federal prosecutors are being accused of bullying and harassing grand-jury witnesses. And these allegations are supported with examples from transcripts. And all of this lends support to the idea that the federal investigation of Alabama's two-year colleges has not been handled properly.

So we are left to ask this question about both Blackledge and DeMonia: Are they stupid, lazy, or both? Either way, it doesn't paint a pretty picture for Alabama's largest newspaper.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Are Alabama Voters Ignorant?

I cringe every time I see one of these polls of Alabama voters regarding the 2008 presidential race.

I like a lot of things about my adopted home state--I wouldn't have stayed here for almost 30 years if I didn't. In fact, I'm finishing up a post about some of the many things I like about Alabama in general and Birmingham in particular. But every time someone does a voter survey in Alabama, at least lately, we come off looking like a bunch of dolts.

The latest poll, by the Capital Survey Research Center, shows that Republican John McCain would beat either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama by 19 percentage points in Alabama if the election were held today.

The same poll shows that 49 percent of Alabamians say the war in Iraq was a mistake, and almost 45 percent of them want to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq. McCain, of course, is the candidate among the remaining three who steadfastly supports keeping U.S. troops in Iraq.

And get this? By a 2-1 margin, Alabama voters said McCain would do the best job of protecting and restoring U.S. jobs lost as a result of passage in the mid 1990s of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Voters support McCain on this issue even though he voted for NAFTA and has been a strong supporter of free trade.

Birmingham News reporter Charles J. Dean says the survey produces "puzzling" results. The results aren't puzzling, they are stupid.

We can see only one conclusion to reach from this poll: Large numbers of Alabama voters are ignorant.

Actually, they aren't ignorant across the board. But on politics, large numbers of white middle-class Americans have become what I would call Dead Armadillo Republicans. They would vote Republican if the GOP candidate was a dead armadillo that had been scooped up off the road.

Why is this? Well, as we reported the last time one of these surveys came out, Republicans have been reaping an electoral windfall ever since Ronald Reagan so slyly played the race card in 1980. As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has stated, the race card touches voters across the country. But its impact is particularly strong in the Deep South.

A recent Leonard Pitts column makes me think something else might be at work. I have a feeling that many white Americans go to church on Sunday morning and hear all manner of toxic garbage coming from pulpits--stuff that has nothing to do with the New Testament.

Pitts addresses this in his column, "Modern Christianity out of step with Jesus' teaching." Pitts notes a Naples, Florida preacher who addressed the issue of gay marriage. "This is a tremendous social crisis," Rev. Hayes Wicker said, "greater even than the issue of slavery."

Yes, a man of the cloth actually said that. And Pitts goes to the Rev. James Lawson for a response. Lawson has long been involved in human rights issue, and here is his response to Wicker's remarks:

"Obviously," said Lawson, "he does not know anything about the 250 years of slavery or the 143 years since slavery as the nation has largely failed to deal with the issue of slavery and its consequences. ... And he knows even less about the gospel of Jesus. ... Jesus broke all the social etiquette in terms of relating to people and bringing people into relationship with himself. He acknowledged no barriers or human divisions ... no category of sinners from who he would isolate himself."

Did "Friendlies" Have Impact on Siegelman and Minor Prosecutions?

We now know that former Justice Department official Robert Coughlin has pled guilty to criminal conflict of interest for improperly assisting the lobbying team of disgraced Republican booster Jack Abramoff. What we don't know is this: Just how important will this story become and what light might it shine on the prosecutions of Don Siegelman in Alabama and Paul Minor in Mississippi?

Much is still to be learned about the Coughlin case. As part of his plea deal, Coughlin has agreed to cooperate with an investigation by the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General. That makes me think a number of Republicans, some in Alabama and Mississippi, might be doing serious squirming right about now. It also makes me think that a massive coverup effort is probably in the works.

Republicans have done a masterful job, so far, of limiting damage from the Abramoff affair. But will their luck hold out? That probably depends, to a great extent on First Assistant U.S. Attorney Stuart Goldberg, a 19-year Justice Department veteran who is leading the investigation. If Goldberg is a tough and honorable public servant (and press reports indicate that he might be just that) and if Congress girds its loins to look into the matter, the Coughlin story could prove to be huge.

It's also encouraging that the press, so far, is doing big-time work on this story. Marisa Taylor, of McClatchy Newspapers, broke the story. Susan Schmidt, of the Wall Street Journal, wrote an expansive piece (not available online). James Grimaldi of the Washington Post followed with a major story. And perhaps the most comprehensive report so far comes from reporters Joe Palazzolo and Pedro Ruz Gutierrez at Legal Times.

The Legal Times story is a splendid piece of journalism. It says that Coughlin and at least two other unnamed Justice officials helped secure a $16.3 million grant for a jail for an Abramoff client, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

And here is what's really disturbing from the article:

Court documents filed in Coughlin's case and e-mails released through congressional investigations are explicit about Team Abramoff's line into the Justice Department: Coughlin was one of many "friendlies," as they are identified in Coughlin's statement of offense.

The article states that attention, till now, had focused primarily on Abramoff's influence in Congress. "Little attention, however, focused on Team Abramoff's sway in the Justice Department," Palazzolo and Gutierrez write.

And then there is this regarding Abramoff's lobbying team at Greenberg Traurig:

A review of e-mails released by Greenberg Traurig to congressional investigators four years ago shows that (Kevin) Ring, (Tony) Rudy and other Abramoff associates had friends throughout the (justice) department.

Try to wrap your minds around that, folks. One of the most corrupt political figures in modern American history had a direct pipeline into our justice department. And he was seeking political favors.

What could this mean for the Siegelman and Minor prosecutions in Alabama and Mississippi, respectively? Hard to answer that question definitely at this point. But let's consider some of the issues the Coughlin case raises in our neck of the woods:

* National press reports have said Coughlin resigned recently as deputy chief of staff in the Justice Department's criminal division. He also worked in the department's legislative-affairs office in 2001-02. It's unclear what role Coughlin might have played in prosecutions. But the Jackson Free Press, an independent weekly in Mississippi, has reported that Coughlin served in the Public Integrity Section and was part of the prosecution team in the Paul Minor case. The Free Press quotes Bill Minor, a longtime Mississippi journalist and father of Paul Minor, saying that Coughlin was among the prosecutors in his son's case.

* E-mails referred to in the Legal Times story show a clear pattern of communication between Abramoff and Karl Rove. Does that lend support to the idea that Rove was involved in pushing the Siegelman prosecution, and perhaps the Minor prosecution, too?

* What would it mean if Coughlin, an Abramoff "friendly," was serving on the prosecution team against Paul Minor, a well-known supporter of Democratic candidates and causes? What does that say about the political nature of the Minor prosecution?

* Was Coughlin involved, in any way, in the Don Siegelman case in Alabama? What would that mean, given that it has been reported that Abramoff funneled huge amounts of campaign dollars to Siegelman's opponent, Bob Riley, in the 2002 governor's race?

* Speaking of Bob Riley, his name always comes to mind when you hear the words "Abramoff," "Mississippi Choctaws," and "cash." Did Riley and his Alabama compadres (Bill Canary, Dax Swatek, Rob Riley, Steve Windom, others) have involvement with Coughlin?

* What became of that $16.3 million that was supposed to go for a jail for the Mississippi Choctaws? Isn't that an awful lot of money for a jail? Hasn't Abramoff confessed to taking Choctaw money and deflecting it to political purposes? What did he do with that jail money? Did anyone from Justice follow up to make sure the grant was used for its intended purposes? Is it possible that folks at Justice knew all along the money was going to be used for political purposes?

As you can see the questions are voluminous and dense. But Robert Coughlin could provide a major window into the world of "justice" in the Age of Rove.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Brett Blackledge and a Strange New Form of Journalism

Let's return to the subject of WHNT reporter Greg Privett and his Sunday night report on coverage of the Don Siegelman case.

Privett produced three solid, balanced pieces last week, all generated from a lecture by Harper's Scott Horton at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). Privett's Sunday night piece can be viewed here, by scrolling down to "NewsChannel 19 Special Report: Don Siegelman and the News Media."

It's refreshing to see an Alabama journalist taking a serious look at issues connected to the Siegelman case. As Horton correctly points out, the story has been driven so far by national journalists. But with Privett's help, perhaps that is about to change.

Privett's first two pieces centered on Horton's criticisms of the Alabama press, particularly the ink-stained wretches at The Birmingham News and the Mobile Press-Register. In his Sunday piece, Privett gave the News' Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Brett Blackledge a chance to fire back at Horton.

I was expecting Blackledge to come out with both barrels blazing. Instead, he's like one of those cartoon characters who fires a gun only to have a little flag pop out, with the word "bang" on it.

Privett reports that Blackledge contacted NewsChannel 19 and asked for a chance to respond to Horton's criticisms. That's an act from the Eddie Curran School of Journalism, so I was expecting Blackledge to be all slobber and spit and foam.

Instead, Blackledge is strangely subdued. In fact, he evidently would not submit to an on-camera interview; WHNT didn't use one anyway. What the viewer gets is a written statement from Blackledge, focusing mainly on the Jill Simpson component of the Siegelman story:

"The Alabama media and many other national media approached by Simpson, Siegelman, and others are challenging the more fantastic, and as yet unproven, claims of White House interference in Siegelman's case and asking for proof to substantiate such claims. It may exist, and if it does, it should be offered to help everyone understand the issue."

Regular readers know that I enjoy playing dime-store psychology from time to time (OK, almost every day), so allow me to engage in a little analysis of our guy Brett. I propose that Blackledge is engaged in some serious passive-aggressive behavior. Or in his case, maybe it would more accurately be called aggressive-passive. He aggressively seeks an opportunity to respond to Horton's critiques. But then he goes all soft and passive, delivering up a prepared statement that has all the consistency of mush.

What message is Blackledge sending? I can think of a few:

* He says Simpson, Siegelman, and "others" have approached the Alabama and national press, apparently in an effort to "sell" their stories. How does Blackledge know this? Given that 60 Minutes, The New York Times, Time magazine, and others have covered the story, Simpson and company must have done quite a selling job. But how does Blackledge know that these news outlets did not approach Simpson & Co.? That's the way it usually works--reporters go after news, not the other way around. By the way, how would Siegelman approach anybody about the story? He just spent most of the past 10 months in federal prison?

* Blackledge says the press is challenging the more "fantastic" claims made by Simpson/Siegelman? Don't know what "press" Blackledge is talking about, but consider 60 Minutes. That august news outfit evidently "challenged" the claims by doing something called "reporting"--conducting research, interviewing subjects, checking facts, etc. The folks at 60 Minutes, who have participated in a few big stories in their day, found the claims compelling enough to devote one long piece and one shorter piece to the subject. How is Blackledge challenging the Simpson/Siegelman claims? How does he know the claims are "fantastic?" Has he done any reporting? Has he done anything, other than call Karl Rove on speed dial?

* I thought newspaper reporters, especially those who win Pulitzer Prizes, were supposed to be aggressive cusses. Blackledge seems to want stories dumped at his feet. Is that the way he approaches all stories? Or just the ones that don't fit his desired ideological profile?

* Isn't it interesting that Blackledge never actually addresses Horton's criticism at all? Instead, his entire statement revolves around Jill Simpson. From Karl Rove's recent interview with GQ, we know the former White House adviser is borderline obsessed with Simpson. Isn't it interesting that Blackledge is obsessed with Simpson, as well?

* And isn't it interesting that Blackledge seems blissfully unaware that there is a Don Siegelman story out there, beyond anything involving Jill Simpson and Karl Rove? A little legwork regarding the backgrounds and actions of the prosecutors and the judge in the case would reveal volumes of information that point to political and unlawful prosecution. Heck, just checking the jury instructions alone, along with Judge Mark Fuller's pathetic memorandum opinion regarding Siegelman's imprisonment pending appeal, would clearly show the political machinations going on in the case. While Simpson certainly is a key player, her story goes way beyond Karl Rove. In fact, her story would be important, and compelling, even if she had never mentioned "Karl." The crux of her story is this: That Alabama Republican operative Bill Canary said he was working with two U.S. attorneys, his "girls" Leura Canary and Alice Martin, to ensure that Don Siegelman would be taken care of. If Blackledge can't see a story in that, one worth digging for, he needs to turn in his press badge and start selling insurance.

McCain, Alabama, and Hypocrisy

Does Republican presidential candidate John McCain have a hypocrisy problem? If you read the pages of Alabama newspapers last week, you saw the answer is yes.

On page B1 of Thursday's Birmingham News, we learn that McCain remains opposed to spending federal tax dollars to repair Vulcan, the statue that sits atop Red Mountain and is perhaps Birmingham's most famed landmark. So McCain is opposed to so-called pork spending on public facilities such as Vulcan.

But maybe public facilities wouldn't need so much federal support if well-heeled customers paid their fair share when using those facilities--customers like the John McCain for President Campaign.

On page A1 of that same day's paper, we learn that the McCain campaign received a cut rate for use of a public facility in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood. The McCain campaign received a discount of about 80 percent for use of Rosewood Hall last week. Jefferson County Democrats used the same facility in September 2007 and were charged the full rate.

McCain's campaign was charged $250 for two rooms in the hall, which normally would book for $1,200 for a weeknight. The campaign also was provided free labor from Homewood City Jail inmates.

Homewood Mayor Barry McCulley clearly has stepped in some serious doo-doo with this one, but he continues to try to spin it so as to appear to be fair to all comers. So far, McCulley's efforts seem to be falling flat.

"I think it's outrageous," said Robert Yarbrough, chair of the Jefferson County Democratic Party and a Homewood resident. Members of the Homewood City Council also are questioning McCulley's handling of the matter.

But I'm more interested in what this says about McCain and his followers. On the one hand, McCain is opposed to spending federal dollars on public facilities. But he has no problem with stiffing a public facility.

Of course, McCain leads either Democratic presidential candidate by 20 percent in polls of Alabama voters. So why should he care if he screws Alabama cities out of much needed income?

As for McCulley, I understand he issued a statement today, saying that he would ask the McCain campaign to pay what should have been the regular rate. If the McCain campaign refuses, McCulley says he will reimburse the city himself.

Seems like an honorable thing for the mayor to do. Will be interesting to see how the McCainites respond.

Horton and Blackledge Tussle

Your humble blogger jumped the gun a bit when I posted this item on Saturday. Scott Horton had not intended for his comments to be published until after WHNT had been able to run its report on Sunday night. WHNT has run its report--and it was interesting, by the way--so let's put this baby back up. More coming on WHNT's Sunday evening piece from reporter Greg Privett.


I miss the heck out of Scott Horton's No Comment blog at Harper's. The blogosphere without Horton is kind of like the Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger. (Don't know that Horton has ever been compared to Mick Jagger before; I wanted to be the first to do it.)

Actually, Horton still does an occasional post at No Comment. But he is spending most of his time on longer form magazine pieces and, I hope, a book or two that will educate the American public about the Bush Department of Justice--at least those Americans who are willing to be educated.

Fortunately, thanks to Pam Miles' e-mail list, we still have access to Horton's thoughts from time to time. And today, we get his thoughts about efforts by Birmingham News hack Brett Blackledge to call Horton's professionalism into question.

This all comes because a member of the Alabama press apparently has awakened and decided its time to start covering justice-related issues in our fair state. We are talking about Greg Privett, an investigative reporter at television station WHNT in Huntsville. Privett provided excellent coverage of Horton's lecture last week at UAH--plus issues surrounding that lecture--and apparently plans an interview with Blackledge that I believe will air on Sunday evening.

Privett sought comment from Horton about Blackledge's statements, and Horton provides an update for readers of Miles' e-mail list. Here is what Horton wrote:

Interesting discussion with Greg Privett of WHNT. He asked me for a reaction to Brett Blackledge's comment on my "lack of professionalism." Brett's devastating criticism is--get this--that I write about him and never call for his reaction!

I explained to Greg that there is a difference between a news story and a media critique. I criticize Brett's reporting of a news story. This is not a news story; it's my opinion about what's wrong with his reporting. There is no rule of journalistic ethics I know of that requires a critic to call the person criticized and publish his reaction to the criticism--check Howard Kurtz, or any other media critic for that matter. (This exact point is in the news today, in fact, as Keith Olbermann complains about Rachel Sklar's coverage of a recent segment that he did with Howard Fineman and says she didn't call him for comment--as other media critics quickly pointed out, that's not the way the game is played). Moreover, this is done in blog format, and one of the distinctions between this and print format is that blog postings are done in real time, and people with comments or criticisms are welcome to put them in and have them printed (which we do, with regularity), so the opportunity for comment takes a different form. But aside from this, Brett doesn't call me for comment when he criticizes me either (as in his last piece, in which I am a "partisan blogger" that the Judiciary Committee foolishly relies on in its latest report). I'm fine with that. Nothing the matter with it, in fact.

The problem with Brett's last piece is that it's riddled with factual mistakes--in fact the News had to run a retraction on it this morning (below). But their retraction only begins to hit the mistakes in the article. Here are some others:

The whole theme of the article is that the Judiciary Committee's Majority Report on Political Prosecutions was "proof of politics in the two-year college affair." But that's like a gnat on the back of a dog imagining it's the center of the known universe. Ridiculous. Only in the mind of Brett Blackledge, for whom the two-year college probe is the universe.

He then discusses the Sue Schmitz defense motion arguing a case for political prosecution, and he grossly distorts and miscites the motion. Go look at the Legal Schnauzer on this--Roger has done a side-by-side comparison of the way the Huntsville Times and AP reported the same story. You'll see the difference between professional, responsible journalism, and crude political hackery.

And we find this gem: The House Judiciary Majority Report

"frequently cites Internet postings by partisan bloggers working with Siegelman and his allies as evidence of growing public outrage, noting one blogger's concerns about the "aggressive and ongoing prosecution effort" in the two-year college investigation."

Note: I am a "partisan blogger working with Siegelman and his allies. . ." That's interesting. Exactly what party do I work with? Can't recall having been involved with a political campaign at any point in my life. And the first time I met Don Siegelman was Tuesday night at the function in Huntsville. This is BB engaging in unfounded character assassination. Oh, and by the way, he never called me for a comment! I forgot, for BB this rule applies only when *he* is the subject of criticism.

He states:

"Former White House adviser Karl Rove's connection to the case, for example, relies on Rainsville lawyer Jill Simpson's statements, which have changed at least twice."

This statement is false. It rests on a complete fraud: BB's claim to have comprehensively interviewed Simpson. He did not. He called her, spoke for 105 minutes, asking only for one thing: her comments on a particular group of lines from an affidavit. He never asked her about any of the underlying facts and he never asked her the perfectly obvious question: did she understand "Karl" as a reference to "Karl Rove." His questions were all explicitly within the confines of the affidavit and were answered on that extremely limiting premise. Of course, I, Scott Pelley of CBS, Adam Zagorin of TIME, Glynn Wilson, Larisa Alexandrovna and the House Judiciary investigator--unlike BB--had interviewed her thoroughly, which is why we know his editorial comment is a pile of crap.

He states:

"And months later, Simpson went even further in a television interview, saying Rove hired her to follow Siegelman in 2001 to find dirt on the Democrat. Simpson did not make such claims in her sworn statement or congressional testimony."

This is a false statement in multiple respects. The interview was broadcast months later; it was conducted very early in the process, so BB's chronology is twisted, as usual. And Simpson never made a statement to the effect that Rove "hired her" to do anything. Here BB is quoting that wonderful source that he seems to follow closely, the blog Powerline. (Karl Rove's blog of choice.)

He states:

"Rove again denied involvement in the Siegelman prosecution, which Simpson and bloggers argue occurred in 2001 and 2002, after Rove started work as a top adviser to President Bush. To make their point, Simpson and others have said Rove secretly worked behind the scenes to help Gov. Riley's 2002 gubernatorial campaign."

Really? As I told Dan Abrams in the broadcast that seems to have given Rove (and his favorite 'Bama scribbler, BB) a fit, Rove was involved in financing and strategizing for the financing of the Riley campaign in 2002. Was this "secretly" and "behind the scenes"? Only in the mind of BB. Just go look at the White House website. You'll find that the key event in the course of campaign fundraising for the Riley 2002 effort was a fundraiser conducted on July 15, 2002 in Birmingham. The organizers were Karl Rove and Bill Canary. The featured speaker was George Bush. There was nothing remotely "secret" about it. It netted $4 million for the Riley campaign. And what, I ask, does BB think that Karl Rove did as political director at the White House? Networking with local Republicans and using the clout of the White House to bolster the position of the president's party is an essential piece of the job description. But we forget, BB lives in an alternate universe, in which anyone who thinks Karl Rove is involved in local politics also believes in "black helicopters."

And note throughout: BB mangles, misstates and distorts the charges contained in the House report, and then presents rebuttal from prosecutors who curiously won't speak on camera to the national media, or appear and testify in Congress, but love to speak with BB. And that's the most revealing fact of all.

Corrections and Clarifications
Birmingham News, Saturday, April 26, 2008
A Page One story Tuesday stated Rainsville lawyer Jill Simpson said former White House counselor Karl Rove hired her to find dirt on Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman in 2001. Simpson said she was asked by Rove to follow Siegelman, but did not use the word "hired." Rove has denied meeting or working with Simpson. The News article also stated Gov. Bob Riley's former chief of staff, Toby Roth, has said Simpson lashed out at him and other Republicans with her Rove allegations after she failed to win a state contract. Simpson was representing a client who sought a state contract.

Unlike his compadre Eddie Curran, Blackledge has been smart enough (until now) to not engage in public debate with Horton. Even Blackledge, I suspect, knows that's an intellectual mismatch.

But it looks like our guy Brett is stepping into the deep end of the pool without his flotation device. Hope the lifeguard is paying attention, because Brett is likely to be flailing about and calling for help soon enough.

Here's another thought about Curran and Blackledge: Numerous e-mailers have noted that they called the Mobile Press-Register to complain about Curran's behavior at the UAH event on Tuesday night. It seems almost all of those callers were told they were the only person who had called to complain. Hmmm.

It seems as if there is nothing Curran could do that would be so heinous as to get him fired at the Press-Register. And the same seems to hold true for Blackledge. I've known a few newspaper editors in my day, and I know more than one that would have given Blackledge his walking papers--Pulitzer Prize or not--for an article as biased, sloppy, inaccurate, and poorly reported as the one he did on the Schmitz case.

Do the Press-Register and News just have brain-dead managers who don't discipline wayward staffers and don't care about the images their reporters present to the community? Certainly possible. Or are Curran and Blackledge safe because they have well-heeled supporters who are external to the newspaper and make sure these reporters are free and safe to pursue politically slanted coverage?

It almost seems to me that Curran and Blackledge have what you might call "sugar daddies," people who provide them cover and support (financial or otherwise) to "report" in a partisan manner.

That's the only explanation I can think of for the Mobile paper to consistently turn a blind eye to Curran's bizarre and unprofessional behavior. (On most newspapers I'm familiar with, he would have been fired a long time ago.) If that's not the case, then the Mobile Press-Register has the most inept managers in the history of the newspaper industry. And the Birmingham News' managers are not far behind.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Minor Prosecutor Had Abramoff Ties

A major story is breaking in the Paul Minor case in Mississippi, and it is a classic example of the alternative press' ability to piece stories together that have been largely ignored by mainstream news outlets. This story also could have major implications for the Don Siegelman case and the overall Bush Justice Department scandal.

Robert E. Coughlin II, the former deputy chief of staff of the Justice Department's criminal division, pleaded guilty last week to accepting thousands of dollars worth of meals and sports tickets in exchange for helping clients of disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

What does this mean to the Minor case? We can thank the Jackson Free Press, a weekly independent paper in Mississippi, for helping to answer that question.

The Free Press took information about Coughlin's legal woes and interviewed Bill Minor, a veteran Mississippi journalist who is well known for his courageous reporting during the civil rights era. Bill Minor also happens to be the father of Paul Minor, a highly successful attorney and Democratic supporter who is in federal prison (along with two former state judges) for convictions in a trial that might be even worse than the Siegelman case when it comes to the issue of political prosecution.

We learn from the Free Press that Robert Coughlin was one of the federal prosecutors in the Paul Minor case. We also learn that while Coughlin was involved in the Minor case he was helping to cover up crimes committed by Abramoff. Consider this quote from Bill Minor:

"It is clear from recent events that the U.S. Department of Justice was corrupt. Just yesterday, the former deputy director of the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice, Robert Coughlin who prosecuted Paul, was accused of taking bribes to go easy on an investigation of the notorious Jack Abramoff, the prominent Republican lobbyist who is now in jail for paying off several members of the US Congress."

Bill Minor also has some choice words for U.S. Judge Henry Wingate, who ramrodded the Minor prosecution in a grotesque example of judicial misconduct--which probably rises to the level of criminal activity. We have reported extensively here at Legal Schnauzer on Henry Wingate's butchery of the Minor case. But let's give Bill Minor the floor:

"Knowingly or not, Judge Henry Wingate became a tool for the corrupt DOJ, rejecting use of 80 percent of the evidence used in Paul’s first trial when he, along with Justice Oliver Diaz was acquitted, and refusing to allow evidence from expert witnesses who could have shown that the judge’s decisions and rulings in the two earlier cases of so called bribery of judges John Whitfield and (Wes) Teel were exactly correct. I had a high regard for Wingate when he was first appointed to the bench 25 years ago, but I do not anymore. I hate to be so blunt."

Actually, Bill Minor is being polite. There is no way Wingate acted in an unknowing manner. The judge's unlawful actions, which resulted in three innocent men going to federal prison and untold grief for another (Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz, who was acquitted twice), had to have been done intentionally. And the facts indicate that Wingate did it to gain favor with the Bush White House, apparently so they would appoint him to a coveted seat on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals--a seat Wingate did not get, in spite of all his shenanigans.

Speaking of the alternative press, the Hissyspit journal at Democratic Underground has an excellent recap of the latest on the Paul Minor case.

What does this mean for the Siegelman case? That remains fuzzy. The Jackson Free Press reports that Coughlin worked in the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section, which means he served under Noel Hillman, former head of that section.

Scott Horton, of Harper's, has reported extensively on Hillman's prominent role in the Siegelman case. Perhaps more importantly, Horton has noted the critical role Hillman played in keeping the Abramoff matter under control. While the Abramoff case has been a troublesome brushfire for Republicans, it could have turned into a forest fire of epic proportions. Horton has reported on Hillman's vital role in keeping the blaze to manageable size.

Now we know that one of Hillman's associates was actively helping to provide cover for Abramoff's unsavory activities. And we have known for some time that one beneficiary of Abramoff's dirty money was Bob Riley, who used it to eek out a slim victory over Siegelman in Alabama's 2002 race for governor.

When Siegelman tried to make a run at Riley in 2006, he wound up the subject of a federal investigation. And this came from a Justice Department that we now know had prosecutors actually providing cover for Jack Abramoff.

How much dirtier can all of this get? My guess is that we are only beginning to comprehend the level of sleaze that has been present in the Bush Justice Department. And before it's done, I bet we learn much more about how Jack Abramoff and his "friendlies" influenced the fate of Don Siegelman.

Folks who are interested in the Siegelman case would be wise to pay close attention to the Robert Coughlin case.

Alabama to Illinois: Rove's Tentacles are Spreading

Much has been written about Karl Rove's role in both state and federal justice-related issues in Alabama. Now, it looks like Rove's tentacles might have reached into Illinois--at the time Chicago U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald was investigating the Valerie Plame CIA leak case.

Newsweek's Michael Isikoff is reporting that Rove's name has surfaced in the trial of Chicago developer and political fixer Antoin "Tony" Rezko. The trial has been closely watched for any mention of Rezko's onetime friend, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. But Rove's name turned up instead.

A former Illinois state official is expected to testify that Rezko told him Rove was "working with" a top Illinois Republican to remove Fitzgerald.

This could have major implications for the U.S. House Judiciary Committee and its investigation of the firings of U.S. attorneys at the Justice Department in 2006--and its inquiry into Rove's role in selective prosecutions by federal prosecutors.

Why did Rove want Fitzgerald out? The Newsweek story indicates Rove wanted a new U.S. attorney who would not pursue a corruption probe in Illinois.

But the timing of the alleged conversation is curious. It came in November 2004, weeks after Fitzgerald had subpoenaed Rove to testify for the third time in the Plame matter.

Is it possible that Rove actually had a highly personal reason for wanting Fitzgerald out of office?

Perhaps the Rezko trial will provide some answers.

Inside the Siegelman Appeals Process

In today's Tuscaloosa News, Tommy Stevenson presents probably the most in-depth account so far of Don Siegelman's strategy for appealing his conviction on corruption charges.

The appeal is not due to be filed until May 23, but Stevenson gives an inside account of where the Siegelman legal team is headed. No one can predict what will happen when it comes to justice in the Age of Rove. But from here, it appears that the Siegelman appeal is built on sturdy legal legs.

Stevenson notes that, by law, the appeal will deal only with matters that are part of the trial record. But the record appears to include a number of inviting targets for attack.

Vince Kilborn, Siegelman's Mobile-based lead attorney, says he thinks he can find things in that transcript--especially in what he says was evidence not allowed to be presented to the jury, evidence withheld from the defense by the prosecution in the "discovery" process, and in jury instructions by federal Judge Mark Fuller--that could get the verdict overturned or at least get Siegelman a new trial.

If an appeal to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals is not successful, Kilborn says Siegelman "definitely" will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"On appeal, we can bring in some of the issues that weren't allowed in Judge Fuller's courtroom, but which are in the overall record," (Kilborn) said. "Selective prosecution, the larger plot to get Don, those sorts of things - things the jury never heard about but that are in the record because of our arguments.

"It's like cases where DNA evidence has been found that exonerates someone who has been convicted after the trial, or where someone else confesses to a murder after there has already been a conviction. We feel good about our chances both in Atlanta or in Washington, if we have to go that far."

Stevenson reports that Lanny Young, one of the witnesses who testified against Siegelman on federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act charges, will be central to Siegelman's claim that his right to equal protection under the law was violated. Siegelman was exonerated of the RICO charges, which constituted more than half the counts against him. But he was found guilty on one count of obstruction of justice involving the receipt and sale of a motorcycle, about which Young testified

"This is the government's key witness in their case against me on criminal RICO charges," Siegelman, released on bond last month after serving nine months in federal prison, said in an April 17th interview. "The jury found him not credible, but the judge also did not let us introduce evidence while Lanny was on the stand which would have shown that I was being singled out for prosecution."

Siegelman also points out the curious circumstances surrounding Young's claims that he had given possibly illegal campaign contributions not only to Siegelman but also to Republicans Jeff Sessions and William Pryor.

Siegelman said the Young deposition was also attended by people who had worked for Sessions and Pryor.

"Lanny was questioned under oath by FBI agents, by a representative of the DOJ, by Assistant U.S. Atty. Julia Weller, who worked for to U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, who had to recuse herself from the case because her husband, Bill, had worked for Karl Rove, [Gov.] Bob Riley and other prominent Alabama Republicans," Siegelman said. "There were also FBI agents in there who had worked for Sessions when he was a U.S. attorney and moved to Montgomery to work for Bill Pryor when he was attorney general. Julia Weller is also the wife of Bill Weller, who was Pryor's campaign manager.

"Every one of those people had a conflict of interest," Siegelman insisted, slapping his hand on his desk. "They should have all said to the FBI agents present who had no conflicts, 'Excuse us, we have got to recuse ourselves, he's just implicated our bosses, our husbands or people we raised money for. We've got to walk out of here.'"

Even more curious is the matter of Young's whereabouts:

Although he was sentenced to two years in prison, Young was released last December after serving 11 months. "As soon as the Time magazine story came out, when he was naming names about Republicans, he was immediately let out of prison and hasn't been heard from since," Siegelman said. "I don't know that anybody knows where he is, but I know Time magazine has been looking for him, as well as some other people. But they can't find him."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Alice Martin: Outlaw Woman

How would you define an outlaw? I would say it's a person who operates outside the law and gets away with it.

By that definition, Alice Martin, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, is an outlaw. Comforting thought for those of us who live in Martin's district.

(By the way, this discussion reminds me of a great song, "Outlaw Man," from the Eagles classic Desperado album. You can read the lyrics here. That song was about a fictional character, a dude, in the old west. Alice Martin, unfortunately, is real, and she's a woman operating in the here and now.)

Let's revisit our recent post about Martin being cleared of perjury charges related to an employment case at the U.S. attorney's Huntsville office. This episode points up all kinds of things that are wrong with our justice system. It also shows what is horribly wrong with a person like Alice Martin having anything to do with justice.

As we stated in our previous post, Martin clearly made false statements under oath. But the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) in the Bush Justice Department cleared her of the allegations. What can we learn from this?

* The Power of Perjury--Perjury is rampant in our justice system and is very rarely punished. From my own experience, I can say this: If I had known how easily people can lie under oath and get away with it, I would never have sworn out a criminal trespass complaint against my neighbor, which led to the lawsuit I am still fighting. When we get into details about both the criminal case I initiated and the lawsuit that was filed against me, I will show you numerous examples of outrageous lies under oath. Talk about having the scales fall from your eyes. When my tale of travail started back around 2000, I assumed that people swore on the Bible and told the truth in court. Of course, I also assumed that a lawyer would never lie in the middle of a deposition, and I certainly assumed that judges always ruled according to the law. Boy, what a dunce I was. Here's the ugly truth: If you are a child of the legal culture, it's probably going to become second nature for you to lie. And if you have considerable experience as a defendant in criminal courts, as my neighbor does, you are going to know how the game is played--unlike a ding dong like me, who had never been involved in a court case of any kind before.

* Another Press Cover Up--Once again, The Birmingham News provides cover for a corrupt Republican in Alabama. In it's story on Martin being cleared, nowhere does the News give any indication of the overwhelming evidence against Martin. It merely says the case was investigated, and the charges were dismissed. If you didn't know about Scott Horton's coverage at Harper's, you would think Martin was the real victim. No mention of the two written documents that proved Martin lied under oath. (By the way, since our original post on this subject, Horton has weighed in at his No Comment blog. He raises a number of troubling questions about the OPR's ruling and includes a link to an e-mail that erases all doubt about whether Martin lied under oath.)

* The GOP and Jurisdictional Issues--We drew on Scott Horton's reporting at Harper's on the Martin perjury case, and it's interesting to note that the OPR initially claimed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) should have heard the charges against Martin. Horton points out the blatant absurdity of this claim, but jurisdictional hocus-pocus is old hat for Martin and modern-day Republicans. When I filed detailed allegations of wrongdoing by Alabama GOP judges and lawyers, Martin told me she had sent my information to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Never mind that the postal inspection service does not have authority to investigate the kind of crimes (honest-services mail fraud, conspiracy) I was alleging. These GOPers are a shrewd bunch. Sending criminal allegations to an agency that has no authority to investigate them is a surefire way to make sure such allegations never see the light of day.

* The Arrogance of Alice--After being cleared, Martin went out of her way to say the claims against her had been "frivolous." And no one in the Alabama press evidently has questioned her about that claim. In fact, Martin's statement is further evidence that she lies like she breathes; it's second nature. She knows good and well the charges against her were not frivolous. The claims went to the heart of the employment matter, and the evidence was overwhelming that Martin indeed lied under oath. It's slightly possible that she was cleared on a technical defense to perjury. But more likely, she was cleared because the Bush Justice Department doesn't want further trouble for one of its "homies."

* Lawyers Overseeing Lawyers--This is a huge issue, one we will deal with in much detail later. The law is a self-regulating profession. Discipline of lawyers generally is left up to other lawyers. It's a classic example of "fox-guarding-the-henhouse" syndrome. And it's maybe the single biggest reason our justice system is so corrupt. Consider the Martin case: The OPR is a bunch of lawyers; they cleared Martin. The Alabama State Bar is a bunch of lawyers; they cleared Martin. Jethro Bodine ("I done gradjeated sixth grade, Uncah Jed!") could read Scott Horton's post on the Martin case and see she lied under oath. But a bunch of lawyers let her off. Heck, I've seen this stuff firsthand. I sent a lengthy complaint--I think it was 10 pages or so--about William E. Swatek to the Alabama State Bar. Swatek is the dirtbag who filed a bogus lawsuit against me, and he already had been "disciplined" multiple times by the Bar. By the Bar's own rules, prior discipline is supposed to be one factor in considering future discipline. In other words, if you've been a bad boy before, you are more likely to be found to be a bad boy again. But the Bar did not even investigate my complaint against Swatek. Cheryl Rankin, a Bar lawyer, pretty much admitted to me that the Bar gets so many complaints against sleazy lawyers that it can only act on cases filed by a lawyer's own client. The Rules of Professional Conduct clearly state that a lawyer owes a duty to be truthful and fair with the opposing party. But the Bar evidently does not enforce that rule. And get this: My complaint included undisputed evidence of Bill Swatek lying in a deposition! I have a transcript and a tape recording that prove it, but the Bar didn't even look at it. Now, Swatek was not under oath during the deposition--his client was. But it appears that a lawyer who lies during the course of an official legal proceeding is violating Bar rules. Does the Alabama State Bar care? Not in the least.

* Would Martin retaliate against someone--We learn from this case that the answer is yes. The EEOC found that Martin had fired Deirdra Brown-Fleming for retaliatory reasons. Which makes me wonder: Not long after I wrote on this blog about an e-mail exchange I'd had with Martin, an exchange which shows her intentionally deep-sixing my complaint and lying to me about it, I started receiving threats to unlawfully seize my house. Do I suspect Martin has something to do with what my wife and I are currently going through? You're darned right I do.

Before we go, I just discovered a video from YouTube of the Eagles performing "Outlaw Man." Think the performance is from 1976. Let's check it out.

Siegelman and the Alabama press

Tommy Stevenson, of the Tuscaloosa News, was surprised to read in the Huntsville Times yesterday that Don Siegelman has been keeping a low profile in his home state, denying interview requests from Alabama journalists.

No wonder Stevenson was surprised because last week he ran a major story on Siegelman, including video of the interview. In fact, Stevenson was the first Alabama print journalist to interview Siegelman since the former governor's release from federal prison pending appeal.

Guess that news hasn't made it to Huntsville.

But here's what is interesting. Stevenson, writing in his Time is Spherical, Not Linear blog, says the Associated Press did not pick up his story.

I've taken a journalism class or two in my time, and this one is hard to figure. The state's former governor gives his first major in-state interview since his release from prison and the AP's Montgomery bureau doesn't pick it up?

Stevenson checked with AP about why his original story was not picked up and also about why the wire service did not cover Tuesday night's event in Huntsville, featuring Harper's magazine's Scott Horton, plus an appearance by Siegelman, Jill Simpson, and other key figures in the Siegelman case. (Heck even "Bulldog" Eddie Curran was there.) AP's explanation? Well, they didn't really give Stevenson one--at least so far.

Here is what Stevenson has to say about that:

This is curious: both stories are sympathetic to Siegelman, yet they don't run the first one and then don't mention the second because, well, I guess as they say on South Park, "Nothing to see here, move along."

Stevenson notes that he has more coming on the Siegelman story in the next few days. Will AP pay attention?

Before we go, I owe an apology to bulldogs. I love bulldogs, and to compare them to Eddie Curran is uncalled for and unforgivable. So, bulldogs, please accept my apologies.

That means we need another nickname for Eddie Curran. How about "Gila Monster" Eddie Curran? Other ideas?

The Civil Side of the Siegelman Saga, Part II

Let's ponder other possible civil issues connected to the Don Siegelman case in Alabama. I suspect similar issues could be raised about the Paul Minor case in Mississippi:

* Where are Bill Pryor's records from his tenure as Alabama attorney general? Why couldn't an organization or a group of individuals bring a lawsuit to ensure that Pryor's records are brought to light? Aren't Pryor's records from his time as a state officeholder supposed to be in the State Archives, where they could be viewed by citizens? Are Pryor's records where they are supposed to be? A source tells me that Pryor's AG records are stashed away under lock and key at an improper location. Isn't this state property? It is well known that Pryor instigated an investigation of Siegelman before the former governor's fanny had barely hit his new chair. What would records from Pryor's investigation show?

* Where are the ballots from the 2002 election, particularly the ballots that produced "funny numbers" in Baldwin County, giving Bob Riley a "come-from-behind" victory over Siegelman in the governor's race? Did Bill Pryor order those ballots sealed? Why are they still sealed? Couldn't an organization or group of individuals bring a lawsuit to ensure that those ballots are unsealed and inspected?

* Why couldn't a group of concerned Alabama citizens file a lawsuit claiming that they were deprived in 2002 of the services of a duly elected governor, Don Siegelman. If that election was indeed "stolen," didn't Alabama citizens suffer damages? Seems to me probable grounds already exist for bringing such a lawsuit. And there is no telling what information might come once the discovery process in such a lawsuit started. Where exactly was Dan Gans on the night of that election? Isn't it time Democrats started getting some answers?

* Why couldn't a group of concerned Alabama citizens file a lawsuit against Governor Bob Riley, essentially claiming that he has been unlawfully serving as governor for approximately six years? Could such a lawsuit get at the source of Riley's campaign financing in 2002? Could such a lawsuit reveal exactly how much felon Jack Abramoff influenced the outcome of Alabama's election?

These are just a few questions that might be answered if the right people, with the right lawyers, filed lawsuits related to matters in the Siegelman case.

Are there legitimate reasons why such lawsuits have not been brought--and perhaps never will be brought? Perhaps, and I welcome input from knowledgeable folks on the subject.

But here is one reason I suspect these lawsuits have not been brought? Democrats simply do not know how to fight like Republicans do. If a Republican candidate had appeared to be the victim of a stolen election in 2002, I suspect a lawsuit would have been filed pronto. Do Democrats not have the will? Do they not have the resources?

Isn't it interesting that Republican operatives had the audacity to file a lawsuit against Bill Clinton, while he was sitting president, over a relatively minor matter that allegedly occurred long before he was president? Meanwhile, think of all the matters involving George W. Bush, many of great importance, that could be the subject of lawsuits. And yet, not one has been brought.

Think of all the support someone like Paula Jones received from right-wing organizations. How much support have Don Siegelman and the Paul Minor defendants received from left-wing organizations? How much support has Jill Simpson received from progressive groups? I hope the answer is some. But is it enough?

Seems to me Democrats have many fronts upon which they could wage war against the Republican crooks who have hijacked our justice system. But for the most part, I haven't seen Democrats take any substantive action.

I thought Democrats were supposed to be the ones with the support of trial lawyers. If that's the case, why haven't trial lawyers filed some lawsuits to get at the civil side of the Siegelman saga?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Deconstructing Brett Blackledge

An alert Legal Schnauzer reader had an excellent idea today: He suggested that I compare certain press reports on the Sue Schmitz case to those we spotlighted yesterday by Brett Blackledge of The Birmingham News.

And what do we learn? That Blackledge's reporting is even more biased and fishy than we thought.

How did Bob Lowry of the Huntsville Times handle the story of a motion to dismiss in the Schmitz case? And what about Bob Johnson of the Associated Press?

Both Lowry and Johnson tell us up top that the motion to dismiss is based largely on claims of misconduct by prosecutors in grand-jury proceedings. Blackledge never mentions this.

Hmmm, wonder why Blackledge would ignore what clearly was the main point of the Schmitz motion in favor of trashing last week's U.S. House Judiciary Committee report on selective prosecution? That was the report, of course, that called for sworn testimony from former White House adviser Karl Rove.

Isn't it interesting that Blackledge would write his story in such a "Rove-centric" way, ignoring the main point of the Schmitz motion? It was almost as if a certain bespectacled and doughy "birdie" was whispering in Brett's ear as he knocked out his "objective" report.

When I said Blackledge's story sounded like it was written by the Republican National Committee, I was semi joking. Heck, I might have understated things! Maybe Turd Blossom himself was behind it.

But back to Lowry and Johnson. Both provide examples from transcripts of prosecutors badgering and harassing witnesses in the grand jury. Lowry's story is particularly illuminating--and downright frightening.

Here is where all of this hits close to home for your humble blogger. Read Lowry's account of the bullying tactics by prosecutors who work for Alice Martin, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. Then read this recent account of my suspicions about who might be behind efforts to unlawfully seize and auction my house.

Pick up the "police state" tone in one? Pick up the "police state" tone in the other? I sure do.

And here's another interesting point. A central character in Lowry's story is Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Hart, who sounds like a glorified thug as he tries to pound the "truth" out of witnesses.

Well, Mr. Hart has played a bit part in our Legal Schnauzer story. You can read the entire post involving Mr. Hart here. But here is the key part:

I sent an e-mail to Matt Hart, white-collar crime director in U.S. Attorney's office in Birmingham. No reply. So I called one day and managed to catch Hart on the telephone. He blew me off. Said he "kicks" cases all the time, and he was "kicking" mine. Funny he would "kick" it when I wasn't even aware he had looked at it yet.

Compare Hart's handling of alleged wrongdoing by Schmitz, a Democrat, to his handling of my allegations of wrongdoing by state judges in Alabama, almost all Republicans.

When the "bad guy" is a Democrat, Hart is aggressive to the point of bullying and intimidating witnesses. When the "bad guys" are Republicans, Hart kicks the case, evidently without even looking at it. This came, by the way, after Hart had blown copious amounts of smoke up my fanny about honest-services mail fraud, the primary crime in the material I had sent. When I made it clear that I had researched the relevant law--and that his efforts to "snow" me weren't going to work--Hart just cavalierly kicked my case. Didn't matter whether a crime had actually been committed or not. So much for justice in the Age of Rove.

By the way, which is a more serious matter? Alleged wrongdoing by a retired school teacher who represents one district in the Alabama Legislature? Or wrongdoing by multiple judges, including about a dozen who hold statewide offices on our highest courts?

I'm assuming Matt Hart is a career justice department employee. And it's possible that, under normal circumstances, he is a fine and noble public servant. But we have considerable evidence to suggest that there is nothing normal about working under Alice Martin.

So what do we learn from comparing the Schmitz case to the Schnauzer case? We learn that Matt Hart's boss is extremely interested in one and not remotely interested in the other. What's the difference in the two cases? The political affiliations of the alleged "bad guys."

That's why they call it political prosecution. And that's why, when the book is written on this ugly chapter in American history, Alice Martin will be front and center.

Horton and History in Huntsville

A slice of Alabama history took place in Huntsville last night. Let's hope that slice turns into a huge tasty pie, filled with heaping gobs of justice.

Scott Horton, of Harper's magazine, spoke at a meeting of North Alabama Media Reform on the campus of the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).

I hate that I was not able to attend. But that makes me extra grateful to the fine folks at Left in Alabama, who provided outstanding coverage.

You can check out a clip from Horton's lecture here. You can check out comments by former Governor Don Siegelman here. And the evening would not have been complete without an appearance by Mobile Press-Register reporter Eddie Curran. Our guy Eddie was in full rude, bull-headed mode, and you can get an eyeful of his act here.

What made this rather intimate gathering historic? We are on the verge of learning about what might prove to be the worst scandal in American history. If the scandal truly is unearthed, and the whole story told, its origins will be placed in Alabama. And the Paul Revere of this tale--the guy who sounded the alarm on the national stage long before anyone else did--will be Horton.

I'm not aware of any coverage of the event in the Birmingham press. The Huntsville Times did have a reporter on hand, and you can read her story here.

Horton took issue with The Birmingham News and the Mobile Press-Register and their coverage of Siegelman's administration and subsequent prosecution. Horton noted that prosecutors might have committed crimes by feeding confidential information to those papers.

Here's an interesting quote from Press-Register Editor Mike Marshall. He said he was proud of the paper's coverage, "beginning with stories about that administration's considerable achievements but ending with coverage of activity that certainly seemed corrupt."

Certainly seemed corrupt? That statement gives the impression that leaders at the Mobile paper did not grasp the legal component of a story that had huge law-enforcement issues.

Curran's statements at the event give the same impression. Curran rattled on about warehouse deals and motorcycle deals etc., but never provides any context. And neither did his stories. Were these alleged actions by Siegelman actually corrupt and unlawful? Did the Mobile paper make any attempt to understand the relevant statutory and case law? Did the paper ever make an attempt to explain how Siegelman's actions differed from those of previous governors--or those of current governor, Republican Bob Riley? Did the paper make any effort to educate itself--or its readers--about honest-services mail fraud, which made up roughly two-thirds of the charges against Siegelman and five of the seven counts on which he was convicted? Has the paper made any effort to report on U.S. Judge Mark Fuller's unsavory background and his clear conflicts in the case? Has the paper made any effort to determine if the jury instructions Fuller presented coincided with actual law?

The answers are no, no, no, no, no, and no. Those are just a few of the questions that should make any coherent reader roll his eyes when he hears Marshall say, "Our news stories have been objective throughout."

Even prosecutors evidently did not think quite a few of Siegelman's actions amounted to crimes because those events were not included in the indictment. And the jury that heard the case essentially rejected everything except the alleged deal with former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy.

Horton was right on target when he said the Alabama press "fell down in its responsibility" to accurately investigate and report the story behind Siegelman's prosecution. And he provided important historical context, noting that Alabama newspapers in 1878 vilified Chief Justice Thomas Minott Peters for trying to promote racial equality.

But I hope Horton will eventually go a step further. The dismal performance of the Alabama press goes beyond the Siegelman case and federal courts. Alabama state courts are a cesspool, with Republicans dominating at the appellate level and trial-court judges getting away with blatant abuse of many citizens who come before them.

In Shelby County, one of the state's fastest growing counties, I have a front-row seat to a modern Alabama police state. Local GOP authorities are threatening to unlawfully seize and auction my house because they don't like the inconvenient truths I'm reporting on this blog.

Horton praised small-town Alabama papers such as the Anniston Star and the Decatur Daily, and they certainly deserve a seat at the head of the journalism class in our state. But that's not saying much. Have those papers done anything to inform their readers about the police state that exists just south of Birmingham, our largest city? Nope. Have they taken a cold, hard look at the Alabama Supreme Court's ExxonMobil ruling and explained how the court acted unlawfully and intentionally cheated the state out of a $3.6 billion judgment? Nope.

Let's hope that last night's event proves to be a significant stop on what promises to be a long, tough road to justice. Corruption in Alabama is deep seated, and the story only begins with the Don Siegelman case. It certainly does not end there.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Abrams Sends Rove Reeling

Don't know what response Karl Rove was expecting when he fired off a letter to MSNBC's Dan Abrams, unleashing a laundry list of criticisms regarding Abrams' coverage of the Don Siegelman story.

But if Rove was looking for a timid, chastened reply, he didn't get it.

No, Abrams fired back with a letter that surely put Turd Blossom on his heels. And he presented Rove with a challenge that the Republican guru almost certainly will not be willing to answer.

Hmmm, maybe writing Dan Abrams a letter and spreading it around the Web wasn't such a good idea.

Abrams hammers Rove right from the outset:

You accuse me of "diminishing the search for facts and evidence," yet thus far you have refused to answer any questions under oath or even from me that would aid in that very search.

In that respect, I want to be very clear that we repeatedly sought, through your lawyer, your presence on my program to respond to allegations made about you. I repeated that invitation on the air last week. I repeat it again by this letter.

If this were a boxing match, Turd Blossom would need a standing eight count. And it's only the first round! But Abrams has more body blows on the way:

It was my considered conclusion -- and my only conclusion -- after assessing a number of troubling aspects about the case and the prosecution of it, that the Federal Court of Appeals in Atlanta should order the release of the former Governor pending his appeal. The appeals court did just that over the objection of the trial judge. The appellate judges cited "substantial questions of law and fact."

I too have substantial questions of law and fact about the case and some of them involve you.

Ow, that hurts! Another standing eight for Turd Blossom. This match is getting ugly in a hurry. But Abrams isn't letting up:

You seem particularly incensed that I interviewed Dana Jill Simpson, a Republican who had volunteered for the campaign of Siegelman's opponent and claimed, in sworn testimony, that she heard conversations about you and your involvement.

You ask why only later did she claim that you asked her to follow the Governor to attempt to take compromising photos. Specifically, you wrote, "Did it not bother you Ms. Simpson failed to mention the claim she made to CBS for their February 24, 2008 story, that you then repeated on February 25th?"

Fair question. Which is why I asked her the following on February 25, 2008:

ABRAMS: And why have you never mentioned before the allegations of Rove and the pictures?

SIMPSON: Oh, I mentioned it to people. They just did not use it. Because nobody wanted to go into the fact that I had been following Don Siegelman trying to get pictures of him cheating on his wife.

ABRAMS: But some of your critics have said, "You know, in front of Congress she had a lot of opportunities. Why didn't she mention this before?"

SIMPSON: Well let me explain something to you. I talked to congressional investigators, Dan. And when I talked to those congressional investigators I told them that I had followed Don Siegelman and tried to get pictures of him cheating on his wife. However, they suggested to me that that was not relevant because there was nothing illegal about that and they'd just prefer that not come up at the hearing that day.

We repeatedly offered your attorney a chance to rebut the claims. Dana Jill Simpson testified under oath about this case while thus far you have refused to do so. If she is lying, she should be prosecuted. But as a journalist isn't it fair to ask why you don't welcome the opportunity to testify as well? With sworn false testimony, there are repercussions. Without it, there is no accountability.

Down goes Turd Blossom, down goes Turd Blossom! Will he get up? Yes, he will, but his corner can't let this go on much longer! Oh dear God, here comes Abrams with eight questions that he would like Turd Blossom to answer, either on Abrams show or in writing! And look at questions number 5 and 6!

5) Do you know why your lawyer told us that you would testify about this case if you were subpoenaed but now, after you have been invited to do so, he states that there are issues of executive privilege: "Whether, when and about what a former White House official will testify ... is not for me or my client to decide" he said.

6) You have said you never spoke with the White House about the case. If true, what is the possible "executive privilege?"

Thud!! That sound you hear is Turd Blossom hitting the canvas. And he's not getting up! He's not getting up!

Who said that this guy was a smooth political operator? Didn't look so smooth under the Abrams assault.

Now, let's all hold our breaths while we await Turd Blossom's reply to those eight questions.

The Birmingham News Has No Shame

Any notion that The Birmingham News is a real newspaper, making even the slightest effort to report the news in an objective fashion, can officially be pitched out the window today.

Regular readers of Scott Horton's No Comment blog at Harper' almost certainly decided some time ago that the News is little more than a right-wing mouthpiece. Anyone with lingering doubt needs to check out today's Brett Blackledge special in the "Riley/Rove Gazette."

The headline says "Siegelman report cited by defense in two-year college case." At the heart of the story is this: Lawyers for State Rep. Sue Schmitz, who faces fraud charges, have moved that her case be dismissed on the grounds that she, like former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, is the victim of a political prosecution. Schmitz' lawyers cite last week's report from the majority staff of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, which called for further investigation into the Siegelman case and other federal prosecutions that appear to have been driven by politics.

This seems to throw our guy Brett into some sort of spasm. His story devolves into a trashing of the U.S. House report that sounds like it was authored by the Republican National Committee.

Let's examine some of the contentions Blackledge makes in his piece:

* "The Democratic report issued last week on the Siegelman case frequently cites Internet postings by partisan bloggers working with Siegelman and his allies as evidence of growing public outrage . . . "--The overwhelming majority of citations in the report are to mainstream publications--The New York Times, Time magazine, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Huntsville Times, Mobile Press-Register, etc. Blackledge doesn't identify the "bloggers" he is referring to, so we are left to guess. But Scott Horton, of Harper's magazine, is the only "blogger" cited for more than one article in the report. So it seems safe to assume that Blackledge is referring to Horton. Blackledge evidently doesn't want his readers to know that Horton writes for Harper's, one of America's most respected periodicals. He doesn't want us to know that Horton is a law professor at Columbia University and a native of Alabama, who knows and cares about the territory. Bottom line? Blackledge has no evidence to support his claim that the report is driven by "partisan bloggers," so he doesn't present any. We can just trust Brett.

* "In raising concerns about politics affecting prosecutions, the Democrats committee report repeats disputed claims about Washington interference in Siegelman's case."--Disputed by whom, and in what forum? Have any of the key players disputed the claims under oath? Have any of them submitted to questioning under oath? I didn't think so.

* "Former White House adviser Karl Rove's connection to the case, for example, relies on Rainsville lawyer Jill Simpson's statements, which have changed at least twice."--Blackledge just can't resist dragging out this tired old chestnut. So let's get something straight: Simpson has told her story in three different forms or venues--a sworn affidavit, sworn testimony under bipartisan questioning from Congressional staff, and media interviews. She has given her story in three different forums. That doesn't mean she has changed her story. The truth? Simpson has made sworn statements and answered questions both under oath and the glare of media floodlights. Have any of her detractors done the same? I didn't think so.

* "(Bill) Canary and others Simpson said were on the 2002 conference call have denied discussing the case with Rove and have denied her allegations that Rove was discussed on a phone call with her."--Have these out-and-out denials come under oath? Nope. Is Blackledge going to mention the carefully hedged "lawyer's" language in the affidavits filed by Rob Riley and two others? Nope.

This one is good for a laugh, so make sure you don't have a mouthful of water:

* "The Democrats' report on Siegelman's case, which serves as the basis for a demand that Rove testify before Congress on the matter, states Rove publicly has not addressed 'the main charge that he had pressed the Justice Department to prosecute Mr. Siegelman.' But last month, Rove did just that in an interview with The News, stating, 'There is absolutely no evidence for that at all. I did not pressure the Justice Department on anything.'"--Oh well, gee, that settles it. Karl Rove gives an interview to our guy Brett, and that equals sworn testimony before Congress. And we can be sure that our guy Brett really pressured Turd Blossom with some serious followup questions. If the Pulitzer committee doesn't take away Blackledge's Pulitzer Prize for writing that paragraph, then there is no reason to hold much respect for that storied outfit.

What an embarrassment for the journalism profession. But, as we said, The Birmingham News has no shame.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Is Karl Rove losing it?

Given his shrill, nutty letter to MSNBC's Dan Abrams, one has to wonder if indeed Karl Rove is approaching the edge.

Rove fired off his missive after Don Siegelman appeared on Abrams' The Verdict and said Rove's "fingerprints were all over" the former Alabama governor's prosecution. Naturally, Rove has refused to appear on the Abrams program and answer questions himself.

But he sure can castigate the MSNBC host in a letter, which can be read here.

Melissa, at Left in Alabama, has an amusing take on Rove's fragile mental state. But she also provides links to articles that provide important background on Turd Blossom's nasty tendencies.

Mark Crispin Miller, of News From Underground, was looking for some perspective on Rove's letter. So he contacted Scott Horton, of Harper's, who has been a leading chronicler of the political nature of the Siegelman case and other prosecutions under the Bush Justice Department.

Horton's response? Here it is:

Rove has been described to me by several of my GOP sources in Alabama as being in a state of panic. He has been pressing senior Alabama GOP figures to speak out for him and to attack me and Jill Simpson, as well as CBS and MSNBC. But they're keeping quiet, which shows more political smarts than Rove, frankly. Of course Rove has a simple objective here. He wants to know all the underlying evidence that has been accumulated to make a case against him and he's desperate to know it before he speaks any more about it. Which is precisely why CBS, MSNBC and others will keep things close to the vest.

But just to show you how ridiculous his tantrum is, he asks how I "know" he was involved in strategizing and fundraising. Of course he wants the names of my sources in Alabama so he can have them pressured and pilloried. But his involvement is established just by looking at the White House website. The key fundraising event of the campaign was the July 15, 2002 fundraiser for Riley in Birmingham - it brought in $4 million. It was arranged by Karl Rove, working closely with Bill Canary. President Bush was the featured draw. How can he deny he was involved in fundraising and strategizing? The very effort is absurd.

The evidence linking him to the use of the Siegelman case as a technique is of course thinner. That's because this is a felony, and those involved in it are not going to speak voluntarily. Which is why his denial should be under oath and subject to crossexamination, just as Jill Simpson's was.

How About Some Probing Questions for McCain?

ABC News and moderators Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos have been roundly panned for their performance in last week's debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in Pennsylvania.

It got so bad at one point that the crowd started jeering the moderators, and Gibson said, "The crowd is turning on me." Perhaps that's because the debate was 45 minutes old before the moderators asked a substantive questions. Until then, it was all about lapel pins, "Bittergate," Bosnian "sniper fire," and the like.

Frank Rich, of The New York Times, has one of the best opinion pieces on the "debate." One major paper called it a "televised train wreck." And that was one of the kinder descriptions.

Jon Perr at the Perrspectives blog took the opportunity to present 10 questions Republican nominee John McCain will never be asked in a debate. You have to wonder about the soft treatment McCain receives, considering the press' supposed liberal tendencies. You also have to wonder if Alabamians, who apparently favor McCain by roughly 20 percent over either Democratic candidate, have bothered paying attention to the issues Perr raises.

The GOP and Infantilism

Regular readers know that I occasionally like to engage in dime-store psychology. When you are writing about corrupt Republicans, it's hard not to turn to various forms of emotional pathology.

My current theory is that many corrupt GOPers are afflicted with some form of infantilism.

The latest evidence comes from perhaps the most corrupt GOPer of them all, former White House advisor Karl Rove. Is false bravado a sign of infantilism? I would say yes.

And you will recall that after former Don Siegelman appeared on Dan Abrams' The Verdict, the former Alabama governor challenged Rove to testify before Congress about Siegelman's prosecution.

Rove's initial reaction? Oh sure, no problem. Rove's current reaction? You can read about it here.
Seems Turd Blossom isn't so brave after all. Oh, he's brave enough to write Abrams a letter and chastise him for not asking Siegelman certain questions. But is Rove brave enough to go on Abrams show and answer questions, as Siegelman had done? Not exactly.

If you think about it, Rove kind of looks like a pudgy, doughy baby--the ugliest baby I've ever seen, but a baby nonetheless.

Other signs of infantilism? How about hiding behind someone's skirt when you're in the process of being found out?

Good grief, the Bushies are experts at this. It's what their "executive privilege" claim is all about. And closer to home, our Legal Schnauzer case is filled with examples of "hiding behind the skirt." Corrupt Shelby County attorney Bill Swatek is a master at it. He calls out the county clerk and the sheriff's department to do his dirty work for him. He let's corrupt judges protect him from facing the consequences of his own unlawful actions. In short, Swatek acts like a baby--a puss might be another apt word.

If "childishness" is another word for infantilism, what other examples do we see from the modern GOP?

What do children try to do to someone they don't like or feel threatened by? They try to get a group together to gang up on that person. That's precisely what the GOP has done to Don Siegelman. They couldn't beat him fair and square, so they ganged up on him. Same with Paul Minor in Mississippi. Their corporate cronies couldn't beat Minor in a court of law, so they ganged up on him.

What do children do with language? They mangle it, mostly. They aren't capable of making serious arguments. I've seen this trait firsthand from modern conservatives. Since I started Legal Schnauzer last June, I can't remember receiving a single comment or e-mail in which a GOP partisan makes an intelligent argument or point about something I've written. Invariably, the partisan comments are of the "you are f *****g moron" variety.

How ironic is it that Mobile Press-Register reporter Eddie Curran is credited with "breaking" the Siegelman story? Curran is a veritable poster child for infantilism.

When Curran used the Montgomery Independent as a forum for a two-part attack piece on Jill Simpson and Scott Horton, we tore Curran's work to shreds here and here.

When Curran attacked 60 Minutes and tried to get the right-wing blogosphere riled up about it, we again left his work in tatters. And it was easy to do. The man appears to be incapable of taking facts, language, and logic and putting them together in a coherent style. And remember, these "works" were Curran unfiltered, without an editor to clean up his miss.

In short, Curran writes and thinks like a child. Don't believe me?

Check out his comments on a few of my early posts. You can read them here and here.

Does that sound like the work of a well-adjusted, adult mind? I didn't think so.

And since I took apart Curran's attacks on Simpson, Horton, and 60 Minutes, I've received a steady diet of vile, profane, threatening e-mails, some of which have indicated a willingness to commit crimes against me.

All of these have been sent anonymously. Wonder who they came from?

They won't say. Childish, indeed.