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.