Those are among numerous revelations from Department of Justice whistleblower Tamarah Grimes in a fascinating interview with attorney/journalist Andrew Kreig at OpEd News.
Grimes wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on June 1, 2009, about prosecutorial misconduct in the Siegelman case. She was fired on June 9 from her position as a legal aide in the DOJ's Middle District of Alabama office in Montgomery.
Grimes provides numerous insights into the dysfunctional environment that surrounded the prosecution team in the Siegelman case. And she makes it clear Canary remained intimately involved, long after she had supposedly recused herself.
Canary lavished perks on those who were working what the office called "The Big Case." Grimes tells Kreig:
The victory-at-all-costs mentality of the prosecution of The Big Case pervaded the office. Every question was answered with, "This is the most important case in the office." Every milestone in The Big Case was rewarded with a personal acknowledgement from U.S. Attorney Leura Canary. When the superseding indictment was unsealed, Mrs. Canary hosted a party at the Marina to celebrate. This pattern of special recognition by Mrs. Canary was repeated throughout the case. Eventually, there was new office furniture, premium office space in the new building, plum appointments and assignments, conferences and seminars, new titles, generous time-off and no supervision, all-related to the work on The Big Case. FBI Agents also received perks and rewards for their work on the case.
How special was The Big Case in the Montgomery office?
We were told dozens of times that The Big Case was the most important case in the office, and that U.S. Attorney Leura Canary would grant the prosecution virtually unlimited latitude to obtain convictions. This message created a victory-at-all-costs mentality within the prosecution. This mindset was regularly reinforced by “victory” celebrations hosted by Leura Canary at every milestone in the prosecution. As you know, Leura Canary was alleged to have recused herself during this time.
Victory celebrations? Most Americans probably did not realize that federal prosecutors worked that way. They also probably did not realize this:
The Big Case prosecution team did not work within the U.S. Attorney's Office. Instead, it was in an isolated off-site location accessible only to the prosecution team. There was a complete lack of normal managerial and peer oversight at the offsite.
Was this special location for the prosecution team a minor detail? Not in Grimes' view. She says it was a breeding ground for dysfunction and improper conduct:
In my personal experience, these circumstances created a perfect storm. It was an environment not at all conducive to self-control, personal or professional responsibility or accountability. In that isolated off-site location, away from any managerial oversight, the situation quickly deteriorated into a false sense of invulnerability and omnipotence among the prosecution.
What was it like to work in the Montgomery office during the Siegelman case? Grimes provides disturbing details:
The prosecution of The Big Case divided the employees along ethical and ideological lines. The first group, comprised of those willing to do whatever it took to succeed, received extraordinary rewards and preferential treatment with the full support of Mrs. Canary. The second group, comprised of those who opposed unethical and sometimes unlawful conduct, were subjected to harsh retaliation. The third and final group simply sought to keep their heads down and make it through the day without getting on the wrong side of the "right" people and losing their jobs.
This is the reality of life in the Montgomery U.S. attorney's office for dozens of DOJ employees. As a consequence of observing harsh retaliation, it is difficult to find a single employee willing to risk his or her job to honestly discuss the matters without fear of reprisal. This is particularly true since they have seen me and the other employees who were willing to stand up for principles and ethics escorted from the building and terminated.