Thursday, July 9, 2009

Was Fired Siegelman Whistleblower Really a Security Risk?

A whistleblower in the Don Siegelman case was fired from her job in the U.S. Department of Justice because she was considered an "unreasonable risk to operational security."

Scott Horton, of Harper's magazine, reports that the DOJ terminated Tamarah Grimes' security clearance as a prelude to firing her--and as an end run around the No Fear Act of 2002.
Is there anything in the public record to indicate Grimes was a security risk? No.

What does her firing say about the DOJ in July 2009? It appears to say that Karl Rove loyalists still have remarkable sway on justice matters, almost sixth months into the Barack Obama administration.

Horton reports that Terry Derden, of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys, formally denied that Grimes' dismissal was connected to her whistleblower status. And a DOJ spokesman provides the usual "we can't comment further on a personnel matter" quote. But Horton, an adjunct professor at Columbia University School of Law, doesn't seem to be buying it. He calls Derden's denial "pretty thin gruel." And after describing an after-hours meeting in a hotel bar, where the decision to fire Grimes apparently was made, Horton writes: "The appearance of an act of retaliation could not be stronger."

Meanwhile, the Grimes story is gaining national attention.

John Schwartz reports on the matter in today's edition of The New York Times. Schwartz notes that an internal Justice Department investigation and a review by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee came to very different conclusions about Grimes' allegations:

The department investigated Ms. Grimes’s accusations, and in its report last October said the Alabama prosecutors had not “violated any law, rule or regulation” or engaged in mismanagement. The report said the evidence “strongly supports” the positions taken by management in the dispute.

The House Judiciary Committee, however, released a report the next month criticizing the Justice Department report as incomplete and “one-sided.”

Farhan Dareda, of, provides a solid overview of the Grimes case, noting a strong critique of the DOJ report from John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee:

The Justice Department’s investigation into these accusations concluded that Alabama prosecutors had not “violated any law, rule or regulation,” in this October 2008 report. The report went so far as to say that the evidence “strongly supports” the positions taken by the prosecutors. But then, three days after then-Sen. Barack Obama’s victory in the presidential election, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) responded with a letter to then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey criticizing the DOJ report as “one-sided” and urging him to revisit the allegations made by Grimes:

[W]e have recently learned that this issue and others raised by Ms. Grimes was referred by the Office of Special Counsel to your office for evaluation. In response, an initial report has been prepared by two Assistant United States Attorneys which essentially concludes that, despite the plain statement to the contrary in this email chain, no messages were actually sent by any members of the jury to the prosecution through the US Marshals.

We are troubled, however, that the investigators appear to have reached this conclusion without interviewing the US Marshals who supervised the Siegelman jury and who are described in the email as having been the conduit for jury messages to the prosecution. Nor do the investigators appear to have interviewed any member of the jury.

Conyers, Dareda reports, also included a warning about the importance of treating whistleblowers in a lawful manner:

It’s also worth noting that Conyers ended the letter by giving Grimes a huge thank you, and throwing in a footnote reminding Mukasey that you can’t just fire whistle-blowers:

We appreciate Ms. Grimes providing this information, which she apparently has previously presented to several executive branch offices. It is no easy thing to speak up in these circumstances, but we in Congress and all Americans depend on whistleblowers like Mr. Grimes taking action when they learn of troubling facts like those described above.

Any employee who has the authority to take, direct others to take, recommend, or approve any personnel action, shall not, with respect to such authority– take or fail to take … a personnel action with respect to any employee … because of any disclosure of information … which the employee … reasonably believes evidences a violation of any law, rule, or regulation, or gross mismanagement… an abuse of authority.

In an in-depth analysis at Huffington Post, Andrew Kreig notes the curious juxtaposition of the Grimes firing and Rove's recent testimony behind closed doors before staff members of the House Judiciary Committee.

Perhaps no state has been infected with the Rove mindset to such an extent as Alabama. And that Alice in Wonderland mindset is best on display in Montgomery and the Middle District of Alabama, where Grimes worked.

In "Roveland," the innocent become guilty, the legal becomes criminal (for Democrats and unloyal Republicans), and the dedicated employee becomes a "security risk."

Grimes became nationally known last November when Adam Zagorin, of Time magazine, broke a story about her allegations of misconduct by the prosecution team handling the case against Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy.

Zagorin's investigative piece indicates that Grimes filed her allegations through Congress and internal Justice Department channels. Here is a key paragraph:

The documents, obtained by TIME, include internal prosecution e-mails given to the Justice Department and Congress by a whistle-blower during the past 18 months. John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which investigated the Siegelman case as part of a broader inquiry into alleged political interference in the hiring and firing of U.S. Attorneys by the Bush Justice Department, last week sent an eight-page letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey citing the new material.

It's unclear how Time obtained the documents. But it appears Zagorin, practicing that ancient art known as journalism, tracked them down through Conyers' letter to Mukasey. There is no indication that Grimes did anything improper.

So why is she now considered a security risk? Based on Kreig's reporting, it appears that Grimes might have been a risk to the professional security of Leura Canary, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama.

Grimes tells Kreig that she took considerable care to raise her concerns in the proper manner:

In today's interview, Grimes said she tried her best to use legally protected channels to assure justice. "I am a Republican. I believe in the U.S. Constitution, and that what happened in Montgomery, Alabama with the Siegelman/Scrushy prosecution is a travesty of justice."

She said the prosecution's misconduct included contact with jurors during their deliberations without advising the defense, and pressuring two key witnesses to change their testimony. She said Canary continued supervision of the prosecution while publicly claiming that she was recused because of her husband's longtime political opposition to Siegelman.

"In July 2007, I filed whistleblower disclosures with several agencies," she said. "My thought was to get the word out to as many oversight agencies as possible.

Grimes describes how Canary ran the Middle District like a dysfunctional sorority house:

"When Leura Canary found out what I had done, she was livid. She called me into her office to threaten and intimidate me. It went downhill from there." Grimes said that she was repeatedly threatened with criminal prosecution on bogus charges of denying that she had made secret tape recordings, and then was placed on administrative leave. She was fired after writing a nine-page letter June 1 to Attorney General Eric Holder outlining prosecution misconduct against Siegelman.

"Selective prosecution is a tool that Leura Canary uses at will," said Grimes of Canary. "She has enjoyed a great deal of success thus far. No one has been able to overcome what she calls 'powerful friends' in Washington. My question is: Who is still pulling the strings almost six months into a new administration?"

Anyone who supports Barack Obama--and cares about justice--should be asking that same question.


Robby Scott Hill said...

Security risk? I'm not aware that Ms. Grimes was ever approached by foreign intelligence agents, that she ever revealed a classified document or conversation, that she was ever convicted of a felony or that she was ever a member of The Communist Party. What kind of shit are they smoking? I want some.

Dog Knows said...

The DOJ is a poisoned well as long as one 'Rovian' is left roving it's halls . . .