A U.S. magistrate judge has ruled that former Governor Bob Riley must be available to testify in the retrial of the Alabama bingo case, which is set to begin on January 30, 2012.
That raises all sorts of questions that have profound implications, not only for Alabama but for our nation. And it comes as GOP strategist Karl Rove faces a possible deposition in an ongoing legal battle over alleged vote theft in Ohio during the 2004 presidential election. Could Riley's unvarnished testimony, in conjunction with a possible Rove deposition, be the key to breaking open the scandals that rocked the George W. Bush years?
I'm not holding my breath; Riley and Rove have shown a remarkable capacity for slithering out of tight spots. And the Obama Justice Department has shown appalling weakness on justice issues. But in theory, at least, we are seeing signs that someone might finally be held accountable for rampant abuse of our justice system under Bush.
Consider just a few of the questions that come to mind now that U.S. Magistrate Judge Wallace Capel has ruled that Riley will be subject to giving testimony in the bingo case: Will Riley be forced to answer questions under oath about the $20 million Jack Abramoff admits he funneled into Alabama to help Mississippi Choctaw gaming interests? Will Riley be forced to answer questions about the $13 million his colleagues bilked out of Milton McGregor, supposedly to help fund a Russian lottery? Will Riley be forced to answer questions about the role Karl Rove, Bill Canary, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Bush White House played in spearheading the Don Siegelman prosecution and befouling Alabama politics almost beyond repair? Will Riley be forced to answer questions about his ties to GOP thugs such as Michael Scanlon and Dan Gans? Will Riley be forced to answer questions about the Siegelman votes that disappeared overnight in Baldwin County, giving Riley the 2002 election in what appears to be a blatant case of voter fraud?
Those are profound questions, with all sorts of regional and national implications. But they might not even be the most important questions connected to Riley's possible testimony. Consider these:
* Will the U.S. Justice Department move forward with the retrial if it looks like Riley will be forced to testify?
* Will Rove, Canary, and/or U.S Chamber president Thomas Donohue--three of the most corrupt figures in American political history--take steps to make sure Riley does not air dirty laundry that could send them to federal prison?
* Is it possible that the Obama administration, facing re-election in November 2012, finally will get serious about justice issues and push for Riley to unload secrets that could reveal the Republican Party to be a glorified organized-crime outfit?
The stakes could not be much higher. And we are guessing that Bob Riley, despite his public posturing to the contrary, is developing a distinct tightness in the sphincter.
What else could explain some of the laughable statements Riley and his legal team have made in the wake of Capel's ruling?
Riley said on Tuesday that he does not want to testify at the bingo trial mainly because he wants to protect "the dignity of the governor's office." If you can stop laughing long enough, get a load of this from an article by Paul Gattis, of The Huntsville Times:
Speaking late this afternoon at former legislator Tom Butler's announcement of seeking the District 2 seat on the Madison County Commission, Riley described the subpoena from the defense as a "distraction" from the Jan. 30 re-trial.
"This has never been about me testifying," Riley said. "It's about whether or not you can call the governor when the governor has no knowledge of anything and put him on trial. It's something I won't have to worry about but the next administration will."
Calling the governor when the defense does not have evidence of knowledge the state's chief executive may have in a case is dangerous, Riley said. Riley drew the analogy of setting a precedent of calling the governor in most any case.
"If you ever get it down to the point that there's an automobile accident out here on the highway and you can get the governor to testify about whether enough money was spent on that highway, it's never ending. That's the principle that we've said all along. We've told the judge every time, if they have anything that implicates that I know anything about what they are doing, we're there.
"The last time, the judge heard the same evidence and said they don't have any idea what you guys are even talking about. Don't go."
Actually, that's not what U.S. Magistrate Judge Terry Moorer found when the issue of a Riley subpoena first was raised back in June. Here is how we described Moorer's ruling at the time:
Moorer quashed a subpoena from gambling magnate Milton McGregor, seeking to have Riley and three other current or former state officials called as witnesses. Moorer's finding, however, was "without prejudice," meaning the issue can be raised again later in the trial. And Moorer indicates that McGregor might indeed have a strong case for seeking testimony from Riley and the other state officials at some point in the proceedings.
Riley is practicing his usual not-so-subtle form of deception. And he really is concerned about the dignity of the governor's office? Perhaps someone should tell Riley that he isn't governor anymore. Someone also might want to remind Riley that, as a U.S. Congressman, he voted for the impeachment of Bill Clinton. That probably means that Riley was OK with Paula Jones' lawsuit against Clinton moving forward--while Clinton was in office!
So Riley is concerned about the dignity of governorships, but he's perfectly fine with a president facing a lawsuit while in office? Riley seems to have a never-ending capacity for acting as if Alabamians are complete simpletons.
And get this from Riley lawyer Matthew Lembke, of the august Birmingham firm Bradley Arant:
Lembke said this ruling goes beyond this case and has relevance to future governors "and the extent to which they can be called to testify about any issues related to their service as governor."
"You could have future governors spending all their time in court if there aren't strict limits on when a former governor can be called."
Was Lembke similarly concerned when another former governor, Democrat Don Siegelman, was forced to spend years of his life and much of his personal wealth defending himself against charges related to a standard campaign contribution that clearly was not criminal? I don't seem to recall Lembke weighing in on that issue.
|Wallace Capel Jr.|
There's no question that Capel ruled correctly under the law, and that's a rarity for a federal judge in Alabama. Here's how we described the legal issues in a previous post, showing how Moorer botched the original ruling:
Moorer cited United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683, 698, 94 S.Ct. 3090, 41 L.Ed.2d 1039 (1974) in finding that McGregor did not have sufficiently specific grounds for compelling Riley's testimony. But Moorer conveniently ignored the finding in Nixon about a criminal defendant's rights under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. From the Nixon opinion:
The right to the production of all evidence at a criminal trial has constitutional dimensions. The Sixth Amendment explicitly confers upon every defendant in a criminal trial the right to be confronted with the witnesses against him and to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor. Moreover, the Fifth Amendment also guarantees that no person shall be deprived of liberty without due process of law. It is the manifest duty of the courts to vindicate those guarantees, and to accomplish that it is essential that all relevant and admissible evidence be produced.
That's basic U.S. Constitutional law. Milton McGregor and the other bingo defendants have a right to confront relevant witnesses. Bob Riley, who led the campaign against a bingo-related bill that McGregor supported, could not be more relevant.
Will he actually take the stand? I wouldn't be surprised if the government drops its case rather than let Riley testify. It's also possible that Riley will take the stand and simply lie his posterior off. People lie under oath all the time in court cases--and 99 percent of them get away with it--so why should Riley be any different? The feds have shown they will go after baseball stars like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens on perjury charges. But go after a devout Bushie like Bob Riley? I doubt it.
It's possible that McGregor's lawyers--Joe Espy and Bobby Segall--are too shrewd to let Riley get away with lying. It's also possible that they've done their homework--one source tells me they conducted depositions of Mississippi Choctaw officials--and will be able to back Riley into a corner.
That thought must terrify Riley, and those whose secrets he could reveal. One political observer, whose opinion I value greatly, said Riley's physical well being might be in danger if it looks like he will testify truthfully. This observer reminds us that one GOP insider, Mike Connell in Ohio, had a mysterious plane crash when he was facing possible court testimony.
How will it unfold in Alabama? The nation should be watching.