While many Americans were preparing to eat barbecue and shoot fireworks for the Fourth of July, the U.S. Senate engaged in an extraordinary act of cowardice--not to mention neglect of duty.
The Senate approved by voice vote on June 30 the appointment of George Beck as U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama. Beck replaces Leura Canary, the Bush appointee who helped turn the Don Siegelman case into perhaps the most notorious political prosecution in American history.
But here's the kicker: Beck also played a prominent and highly questionable role in the Siegelman case. Beck's nomination was an opportunity for senators to grill a key figure in the Siegelman prosecution, to help determine how the U.S. justice system went badly off track in the Bush years.
The Senate, however, elected to punt, giving Beck a free pass into his new position and throwing an extra load of dirt onto a coverup of Bush-era criminality. For progressives who once had hope for the Barack Obama administration on justice matters, consider this: Beck is an Obama nominee, and the Senate is controlled by Democrats.
Have Democrats come to "own" Bush/Rove scandals that made a mockery of the U.S. constitution? It sure looks that way from here.
Why does the Beck "confirmation hearing" emit such a foul odor? Andrew Kreig, director of the D.C.-based Justice Integrity Project, provides answers in a splendid overview piece out today:
The U.S. Senate approved by voice vote June 30 a new U.S. attorney for Alabama, thereby extending a series of disgraces blighting the federal justice system in that state and nationally. The Senate voted to approve George Beck, 69, to run the Middle District office in Alabama’s capital city of Montgomery. The Senate failed to require that Beck, right, appear at a hearing to answer questions about a host of pending issues.
The most important question is how he could supervise personnel in that office who framed former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman after Beck himself represented the main witness who helped secure convictions. It remains as the nation’s most notorious political prosecution of the past decade. In 2008, CBS 60 Minutes reported that DOJ’s prosecutors coached and threatened Beck’s client Nick Bailey in up to 70 interrogations without required disclosure to the defense. Our Justice Integrity Project's four-part investigative series cited below explains further why Beck’s role is especially disturbing.
Is the Senate interested in actually serving the public, making sure that citizens understand how the justice system they fund went so haywire? Apparently not. Writes Kreig:
Confirmation hearings and trials are two of the rare moments when the public has a chance to learn the secrets of powerful figures in law enforcement via cross-examination. But the Senate shirked that process and rubber-stamped Beck. Siegelman’s 2006 conviction on corruption charges was enabled by the flagrant bias of a partisan Republican trial judge, Mark E. Fuller. He is the chief federal judge in the district. . . . As the trial and appeal moved forward, Fuller secretly obtained $300 million in Bush contracts for Doss Aviation, Inc., a closely held company the judge controls as by far its largest shareholder. The company primarily refuels Air Force planes and trains Air Force pilots, but also makes uniforms for military and civilian federal personnel. . . .
We and others have published countless stories about scandals associated with the Siegelman prosecution and his trial judge, Fuller. Among my investigative reports was one in 2009 describing sworn testimony that Republicans picked Fuller to frame Siegelman. We reported also that Republicans had a plan to steer a $35 billion Air Force contract for mid-air tanker refueling planes to Europe’s EADS, manufacturers of Airbus.
Beck was smack in the middle of the Siegelman fiasco, as lawyer for chief government witness Nick Bailey. Beck surely is aware that the entire process had alarming ties to the military-industrial complex. Writes Kreig:
Now 65, Siegelman is temporarily free on appeal bond, but faces resentencing by his nemesis Fuller. The paramilitary undercurrents in the Siegelman case are especially disturbing. The federal government created a special anti-Siegelman strike force headquartered at an Air Force base and led by an Air Force colonel in the reserves. The prosecution took Bailey there for interrogation, helping foster an unusual climate of fear. That climate is especially powerful if one reads 2009 affidavits by Bailey and his friends describing how federal prosecutors pressured Bailey, in serious legal jeopardy because of crimes unrelated to Siegelman, by offering him leniency as well as threatening to expose his sexual partners if he did not do what they wanted. To be fair to Beck, one can argue that he sought and obtained the best deal possible for his client and has remained silent since for those reasons. But the immense discretion and powers of a U.S. attorney require more vetting on overall notions of justice than mere loyalty to one client.
Why did Obama nominate Beck in the first place? Apparently it's because he's been listening to so-called Democrats such as Birmingham lawyer G. Douglas Jones. Jones perhaps has been Beck's most outspoken supporter, and it's curious that both men have clear ties to Republican elites, as we outlined in a previous post:
Jones' public statements about the Beck nomination reflect significant foot shuffling and dissembling. Could that be because George Beck represented chief government witness Nick Bailey in the Siegelman/Scrushy case and reportedly allowed prosecutors to browbeat and coach his client? Could it be because Beck comes from the Montgomery law firm of Capel and Howard, which has strong ties to GOP strategist Karl Rove and Bill Canary, who is president of the Business Council of Alabama, husband of Leura Canary, and confidant of U.S. Chamber of Commerce chief Tom Donahue?
Doug Jones supports a lawyer from a firm that has ties to Karl Rove, Bill Canary, and Tom Donahue? Sheesh, with "leaders" like that, the Alabama Democratic Party surely will continue to spiral right down the toilet. To top it off, Jones worked with Homewood attorney Rob Riley, son of former GOP governor Bob Riley, on a federal HealthSouth lawsuit that raked in more than $50 million in attorney fees. Has that been good for the cause of justice in Alabama? Almost certainly not:
This scenario becomes particularly troubling when you consider that the other co-liaison counsel in the HealthSouth case--Jones' chief local assistant--was Rob Riley, the son of former Republican Governor Bob Riley. Why did Doug Jones need Rob Riley on the lawsuit team? Probably because Riley had inside information about former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy. And that information probably came from Riley's involvement in a Republican conspiracy to conduct a political prosecution against Siegelman and Scrushy, a scheme that Alabama attorney and whistleblower Dana Jill Simpson revealed to the world.
Should progressives be concerned about Doug Jones' willingness to make money by jumping in bed with a member of the Riley clan? What about Jones' apparent determination to now push tainted nominees to a Democratic administration?
Obama has a background as a constitutional scholar. But the Beck nomination, and the Senate's unquestioning acceptance of it, indicates our leaders (of both parties) do not give a rip about such concepts as "due process" and "equal protection" under the law.
How ugly was Beck confirmation and the process that led up to it? We encourage readers to examine Andrew Kreig's recent four-part series on the subject. And it's important to keep a key point in mind: This no longer is just a Bush/Rove production; Obama and other Democrats now are engaged in what appears to be a coordinated effort to ensure that the public is kept in the dark about unsavory matters connected to the U.S. Justice Department.
Here are links to the Justice Integrity Project series:
Part One: Senate Must Grill Tainted Alabama DOJ Nominee
Part Two: Bailey, Beck and Siegelman Frame-Up
Part Three: Beck's DOJ Backers Make Their Case
Part Four: What To Do About Obama's Alabama Snafu?