Monday, November 24, 2008

The Siegelman Whistleblower: Did a Notorious Bushie Sweep Her Charges Under the Rug?

An examination of records in the Tamarah Grimes whistleblower case indicate that a controversial Bush appointee might have played a role in protecting Leura Canary, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama.

Scott J. Bloch, head of the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), appears to have limited the scope of the investigation into Grimes' allegations of wrongdoing by prosecutors in the Don Siegelman case.

Federal agents raided Bloch's office in May as part of an investigation into political bias and obstruction of justice. Just one month ago, the Bush White House fired Bloch.

Before that happened, did Bloch take steps to protect Canary and her top assistants in the office that directed the Siegelman prosecution?

David Margolis, associate deputy attorney general, issued a report in which he found no violations had been committed by management officials in the Middle District of Alabama, led by U.S. Attorney Leura Canary.

But Columbia University law professor Scott Horton, writing at The Daily Beast, quoted a Congressional staffer as saying Margolis had not conducted much of an investigation at all, not even interviewing key players. Another source told Horton that Margolis was intent on "sweeping everything under the carpet."

Doesn't sound like Grimes got a fair hearing does it? And as we noted in a previous post, she was rewarded for her efforts by becoming the target of a criminal investigation.

What was Margolis determined to sweep under the carpet? And did he receive assistance from Scott J. Bloch?

Let's take a look at some of the key allegations Grimes' leveled at Leura Canary and her staff at the Middle District of Alabama (MDAL):

* Obstruction of an investigation--Assistant U.S. Attorney Randolph Neeley had been arrested for drunk driving while working on government business in California, and an error by Neeley resulted in the dismissal of a case. The Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) conducted a review, but Grimes said Canary directed that the report be watered down in order to protect Neeley;

* Favoritism in the workplace--Canary routinely placed favored people in positions for which they did not meet the minimum educational or professional standards. Canary, however, refused to hire a qualified candidate for an assistant U.S. attorney position because the woman's husband had attempted suicide at the end of their marriage. Canary did not want someone "who would be married to a crazy person" in the office;

* A culture of gossip--Canary and other management types cultivated an office environment where vicious gossip was the norm. The sister-in-law of an assistant U.S. attorney had a case of vaginal warts, and that apparently was discussed openly in the office;

* Waste of government funds--During the Don Siegelman/Richard Scrushy case, known as the "Big Case" in the office, prosecutor Steve Feaga was allowed to keep a contract employee (Vallie Byrdsong) for more than three years, long after staff members could have performed his duties, according to Grimes. The government also paid all expenses for Byrdsong to attend the Siegelman/Scrushy sentencing, which included a "victory party" at the home of prosecutor Louis Franklin;

* Unethical Conduct--Justice Department employees removed documents from the Emelle landfill, even though landfill managers had said the documents could be copied but not removed from the premises. Grimes said DOJ employees loaded boxes into cars and removed them anyway.

* Abuse of Public Trust--Members of the prosecution team had improper contacts with jurors, and Canary remained involved in the case long after she had supposedly recused herself due to conflicts.

Was the Department of Justice serious about getting to the bottom of Grimes' allegations? Well, consider the following:

* Regarding obstruction of the Randolph Neeley investigation, OPR never interviewed Grimes. Patricia Watson, one of Canary's chief assistants, asked Grimes what she planned to tell OPR investigators. Grimes said she would answer any questions truthfully. When investigators arrived, they did not interview Grimes. When Watson was asked about this, she said that Grimes' name had been removed from the interview list.

* Regarding the removal of documents from the Emelle landfill, Margolis' report makes no mention of this at all.

* Regarding improper conduct between jurors and prosecution staff, investigators did not interview U.S. Marshals who allegedly were involved in passing notes back and forth.

* Regarding evidence that Canary remained involved in the case after she had supposedly recused herself, Margolis' report makes no mention of this.

Why would Margolis make no mention of the allegations regarding Canary's recusal and removal of documents from the Emelle landfill? Why were key parties not interviewed about certain events?

The Margolis report indicates that he received a request from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) that only five issues be investigated. These issues apparently did not include Canary's recusal and the landfill documents.

Who is the head of OSC? It's the aforementioned Scott J. Bloch, a 2003 George W. Bush appointee. In May 2008, federal agents raided Bloch's office as part of a criminal investigation over allegations of improper political bias and obstruction of justice. The New York Times reported that agents were trying to determine if Bloch had hired an outside firm to "scrub" his computer files.

Let's consider the following timeline:

* Bloch's letter, identifying five areas for investigation in the Grimes case, was dated April 28, 2008;

* Bloch's office was raided on May 7, 2008.

Did Bloch have time, prior to the raid on his office, to tailor the Grimes investigation so as to protect Leura Canary? If Bloch is being investigated for improper political bias and obstruction of justice, is his handling of the Grimes allegations part of that probe? It it's not, should it be?

Is Bloch a political hot potato? It certainly looks like it. He was fired by the White House on October 23.

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