A charitable grader might have given the Obama Department of Justice a "D" roughly 20 months into the administration. But that grade surely would fall to an "F" after yesterday's arrests of 11 individuals connected to an investigation of gambling-related activities in the Alabama Legislature.
How bad does the Obama DOJ look in all of this? Let us count the ways. The investigation was initiated by two of the most corrupt U.S. attorneys from the George W. Bush era. The prosecution team includes at least four prosecutors who have been involved in dubious cases. The indictments clearly were timed to have an impact on the November elections. To top it off, U.S. Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL), an Obama buddy, piped up and revealed himself to be even more of a weasel than we already thought he was.
Most importantly, however, the investigation covered only one side of a two-pronged controversy, and DOJ officials flatly lied to the public about the scope of their handiwork.
In short, yesterday's charade in Alabama almost makes you yearn for the good old days of the Bush administration. At least you expected them to act like crooks--and were rarely disappointed. But what is Team Obama thinking? The federal anti-gambling probe in Alabama has been positively Rovian in its execution. And that's about as shameful as it can get.
Yesterday's arrests were the culmination of a two-year campaign, led by Governor Bob Riley, to make sure that Alabama does not have taxed and regulated gambling. The evidence is overwhelming that Riley is trying to protect the market share of Mississippi Choctaw gaming interests who funneled some $13 million into Alabama to help Riley beat Don Siegelman in 2002.
That money reportedly was funneled through GOP felons Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon. But did the Obama DOJ look into that side of the equation? Evidently not. And one can only conclude that side of the story was ignored for political reasons. In fact, it appears political considerations are the whole reason the Obama DOJ has inexplicably left Bush holdover Leura Canary as U.S. attorney in the Middle District of Alabama. (Canary's Bush-appointed buddy, Alice Martin, initiated this probe before leaving office in the Northern District of Alabama.)
To be sure, the 65-page indictment that was unsealed yesterday includes plenty of information that appears to be damaging to the state senators, lobbyists, and casino figures who were arrested. As TPM Muckraker reports, the indictment includes snippets of phone conversations that include salty language and talk of highly questionable actions by some parties. It's certainly possible that pro-gambling forces committed criminal acts.
But what about the anti-gambling forces? Did anyone wear a wire around Riley or his associates? Did anyone listen in on their phone conversations, track their phone records, or check their e-mail accounts? To a great extent, this controversy started when Riley took it upon himself to initiate raids on gambling facilities, actions that he did not have authority to take under Alabama law at the time. On whose behalf was Riley acting? Who was pulling his strings?
Did anyone in the Obama DOJ even consider these questions, much less ask them? Apparently not.
While the indictment looks bad for some of the defendants, consider the "all star" prosecution team that has been gathered for this enterprise. It includes Brenda Morris, who is being investigated for her role in the botched Ted Stevens case in Alaska. It includes Louis Franklin and Stephen Feaga, who are infamous for their many questionable actions in the Don Siegelman case in Alabama. And it includes Peter Ainsworth, who was involved in the Paul Minor fiasco in Mississippi.
The U.S. Public Integrity Section (PIN), which has become a cesspool of corruption itself, is at the heart of the Alabama bingo case. Multiple PIN lawyers are under investigation for misconduct in the Stevens case, and one of its members recently committed suicide as the findings were nearing a release. In other words, a corrupt organization has been assigned to investigation corruption in Alabama. That, folks, is how our justice system actually "works."
USA Today already is generating a multi-part series on prosecutorial misconduct in the DOJ. The reporters on that series might want to send a special unit to check out the dubious crowd on the Alabama bingo case.
Want hard evidence that this investigation was a sham? In early May, we reported that former Riley insider Bill Johnson had written a letter to Canary, asking to testify before the grand jury about the governor's anti-gambling activities. Here is part of Johnson's letter, which focused on the early days of the Riley regime:
During the governor’s 2002 campaign, I was personally told by the governor’s former chief of staff and then campaign staffer that he was in charge of managing million of dollars in campaign contributions from Mississippi Choctaw Indian casino operators. I voluntarily took and passed a polygraph examination on this information.
Paul Camp, an Alabama media consultant working for Mississippi Indian casino interests (and who has since filed an affidavit) told me that, with the election of Governor Riley in 2003, the Mississippi Choctaws said they “now own Alabama.”
Then Johnson focuses on much more recent events:
In February and March 2010, $342,000 of funds raised by Gov. Riley and the Alabama Republican Party for “Campaign 2010,” raised for the stated purpose of electing candidates, went instead to fund anti-gambling initiatives in the 2010 legislative session.
Additionally, you should investigate “Campaign 2010” and the possible use of these unreported campaign contributions to threaten or entice legislators relative to opposing gaming legislation in the 2010 legislative session; be especially vigilant of any “loan repayments” post the June 1 primary.
Johnson goes on to give the names of more than a dozen Riley associates who should be called to testify and provide documents related to the gambling probe. (You can read Johnson's letter at the end of this post.)
Did Leura Canary and the Obama DOJ allow Johnson to testify? Apparently not. Did they call any of the Riley associates or seek documents from any of them? Apparently not.
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Lanny Breuer said the bingo scheme was "astonishing in its scope." It's ironic that Breuer would say that because his team only investigated half of the potential problem--probably the less criminal half.
And then Breuer proceeded to tell a flat-out lie to the American People:
I have said before that we will follow the facts where they lead and root out corruption wherever we find it.
Well, Bill Johnson provided all kinds of leads about wrongdoing connected to Gov. Bob Riley, and Breuer's bunch apparently did not follow those facts at all. In other words, Lanny Breuer is not a whole lot better than Bush toady Alberto Gonzalez.
Finally, we have Artur Davis, who just one day earlier had indicated he was pretty much through with Alabama politics. But Davis could not resist releasing this gem of a statement:
"Once again, the State of Alabama is the subject of an embarrassing spectacle that only confirms the worst suspicions about Alabama politics. The indictments announced today are a sad commentary on the grip that gambling interests have on Alabama politics and the extent to which they have sought to corrupt this year's elections.
"Any candidate for high office this year, including my party's candidates for Governor and Attorney General, need to do the right thing and return any contributions they have received from any of the defendants named today," Davis said. "Voters who are wrestling with their choices will be watching to see if the people who would lead our state have the independence and the integrity to separate themselves from corruption."
Davis apparently is unfamiliar with the concept that a government indictment does not make a person guilty of anything--and therefore no candidates have any reason to return campaign funds. Davis says voters will be looking to see if candidates have the "integrity to separate themselves from corruption." Again, this is an indictment, produced by a department that itself faces charges of corruption. It hardly is proof of wrongdoing on anyone's part.
But enough about Artur Davis, who should be barely a blip on the political radar. The major issue, one day after the Alabama bingo arrests, is this: Bill Johnson gave investigators plenty of leads about wrongdoing connected to Bob Riley and virtually begged to testify for the grand jury. His testimony apparently was not allowed, and his leads apparently were not followed.
On top of that, as we reported on September 8, a source told us these indictments in the bingo case were coming on October 1 in order to affect the November elections. Our source hit the date right on the nose.
All of that should cast serious doubt on the integrity of this investigation. And it makes the Obama DOJ look like a reprise of the Bush years. How's that for "change we can believe in"?
Bill Johnson Canary Letter