U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) is seen by many as the most confirmable of Joe Biden's possible nominees for U.S. attorney general. But the D.C.-based publisher of the Justice Integrity Project (JIP) hints that a thorough investigation of Jones' past might unearth ugliness that could turn his confirmation process into a lugfest.
Journalist-lawyer-author Andrew Kreig suggests Jones' background might include some unpleasantness that could make his confirmation more difficult than some might imagine:
If any senators from either party dared dig beyond the surface? A confirmation proceeding could well become more explosive than any other in modern times, making the Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh court confirmations seem tame by contrast, and might well tarnish top figures in the Obama-Biden administration for failures to clean up what are reliably reported as shocking levels of official corruption in Alabama in recent years.
It took many years until nearly the present even for [Tommy] Gallion and [Don] Siegelman to publish 2020 books that penetrate the inherent secrecy of the Justice Department in such sensitive matters.
So, it is no surprise or embarrassment that one of the major Washington Post stories, as of this writing, Biden narrows attorney general list, portrayed Jones as perhaps the most readily confirmable of attorney general candidates because of perceptions that he is a moderate who gets along with most Republicans.
Read further for a deeper view.
Alabama has been riddled with corruption since at least the mid 1990s -- for much of Doug Jones' professional life. And yet, the junior U.S. senator has done precious little to improve the situation, Kreig reports. In essence, Kreig writes, Jones saw the Alabama swamp and dove right in, splashing around with the swamp rats. That hardly seems to make him the kind of rock-ribbed reformer that likely will be needed for justice-related positions in the post-Trump era. That, Kreig writes, would make Jones a particularly poor choice as Joe Biden's nominee to be U.S. attorney general.
Here is more from a post dated 12/14/20 at the JIP -- under the headline "Sen. Doug Jones As ‘Confirmable’ Biden AG? Bad Idea!". Kreig notes that some Alabamans who have worked closely with Jones do not speak highly of him. That includes Montgomery lawyer Tommy Gallion. Writes Kreig:
Indeed, one of his former law partners, the prominent Alabama attorney Thomas T. Gallion III, published a book this year surveying nearly seven decades of official corruption in the state — and names Jones as part of a "Cabal" working with powerful Republicans in moneymaking schemes that flagrantly violate the law, legal ethics and other core values of justice and democracy.
The book, Shadow Government, Southern Style: A Saga of Political Corruption From DC to Dixie, was first published in May by Gallion, a partner in the Montgomery firm Haskell Slaughter. Among other posts, he has been County Attorney for Montgomery County (encompassing the state capital) since 1985.
Gallion identifies as a Republican. But his book is a non-partisan slam at those whom he regards as corrupt, including Jeff Sessions, President Trump's first Attorney General after decades as Republican senator and prosecutor in Alabama. Other targets of Gallion include the recent two-term Republican Alabama Gov. Bob Riley (2003-2011), and longtime Bush Family political aide Karl Rove, a White House senior advisor to President George W. Bush.
Regarding Jones (who failed to respond to our invitation this week to comment for this column), Gallion drew on his extensive study of the senator's career to pose near the end of his book a page-long series of questions that he challenged Jones to answer under oath.
Mentioning such allegations does not mean they are true, of course. Nothing like Gallion's allegations have surfaced in national reporting about Jones's unsuccessful campaign for Senate re-election this fall or regarding the Biden-Harris Transition Team appointment process to pick an Attorney General.
That lack of national coverage for allegations against Jones continues as of this writing. That's so, at least for now, even though the Gallion book is receiving good reader reviews and it reports about legal skullduggery of a kind often suspected in Alabama. That's a state where one-party domination creates lucrative opportunities for those close to office-holders and thwarts checks-and-balances, as evidenced by the ouster of the state's governor and House speaker for unrelated scandals in recent years.
More generally, Stealing Our Democracy: How the Political Assassination of a Governor Threatens Our Nation, published in June by former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, covers much of the same ground as the Gallion book.
Siegelman, a Jones client and a Democrat who served from 1999 until the Republican Riley took office in 2003, was imprisoned on corruption charges in 2007 in what became a notorious case worldwide because of allegations supported by whistle blowers and legal scholars that he and others had been framed for political reasons.
Kreig writes that Jones' power base has been built on a form of "go-along-to-get along careerism":
At first impression, the moderate and sometimes pro-Trump Jones voting record in the Senate confers confirmable status, especially coupled with Jones's former work as a Judiciary Committee Senate staffer.
But some in the Democratic base are already complaining about Jones as too moderate. That could escalate with wider recognition that he tilts to “go-along-to-get-along” careerism. It hardly helps that he is a white man and that reform pressures are coming most heavily from minorities and civil rights groups, including the NAACP.
Most relevant here is that Jones's connections failed to save his client in one of his biggest legal cases, aside from his duly-praised successes in leading a 1990s civil rights federal prosecution of 1960s Alabama church bombing murderers.
This case, the Bush Administration prosecution of Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, became a worldwide human rights scandal. A seemingly separate civil lawsuit enriched Jones with legal fees, helping make it possible for him to secure the support enabling his ongoing leadership in the fractured, cash-strapped and largely ineffective Alabama Democratic Party.
Jones thus ascended in 2017 to the Senate seat, which he lost in November’s elections. He is now positioning himself as a front runner for the AG post.
Does Jones merit front-runner status? No, says Kreig:
Vulnerabilities of Jones are well-documented and are likely to embarrass the Biden team if he is nominated.
That’s especially so because the Jones problems illustrate the concerns that Black and Hispanic criminal justice reformers are voicing already (albeit without the specifics below) about a need for a hard-hitting expert voice helming the Justice Department.
My conclusions endorsing those criticisms of Jones are based on more than a decade of in-depth investigation by the non-partisan Justice Integrity Project of mind-boggling abuses in Alabama where Jones built his career with only occasional demonstrations of extraordinary commitment to rectifying the state's massive official corruption. . . .
What could all of this mean for Joe Biden's presidency? Writes Kreig:
Before providing a Jones rebuttal to these allegations of defense shortcomings, let’s sketch some of the implications for the incoming Biden-Harris administration.
For one thing, the Obama-Biden Justice Department remained oblivious at best to the allegations and evidence, and at worst aggressively assisted the cover-up for reasons hard to explain, except at best a “don’t rock the boat” mentality.
Thus, Obama Attorney General Eric Holder fired Justice Department paralegal Tamarah Grimes in 2009 when she stepped forward to document what Grimes regarded as outrageous conduct by Leura Canary in supervising Siegelman’s prosecution and specific abuses on a near-daily basis. The conduct included vast spending at the Air Force base, according to Grimes, even though Canary supposedly recused herself. Siegelman, Scrushy and their attorneys have never been able to obtain the paperwork on Canary’s supposed “recusal” despite innumerable requests dating back to their trials.
For another thing, the Obama Justice Department vigorously resisted the appeals of Siegelman and Scrushy, just as it did for other obvious victims of the Bush-Rove “U.S. Attorney Firing Scandal” of 2006, whereby up to nine of the nation’s presidentially appointed U.S. attorneys were fired for failing to bring dubious cases and many others were retained under pressure to indict Democrats regarded as having promising futures.
Siegelman, the only politician in Alabama history to win election to all four of the state’s top political offices, had once been regarded as a future presidential contender, in part because his popularity bridged Black and white constituencies.
Remarkably, the Obama-Biden administration kept Alabama’s Leura Canary in her presidential appointed Justice Department post for more than two years after Obama took office, and long after the scandals broke on the 2008 CBS 60 Minutes broadcast and otherwise.
Then the new Democratic administration replaced her as U.S. attorney (at the suggestion of Alabama’s two Republican senators) with George Beck, the former Nick Bailey attorney who was thus in a perfect position to maintain a cover-up of official misconduct through the end of the Obama-Biden administration.
Before Beck’s confirmation, our Justice Integrity Project published a four-part series documenting why the U.S. Senate should examine Beck’s track record and deny his confirmation. Beck, at age 62 was taking a job normally awarded to a younger attorney, thereby raising questions why he wanted it.
That series had no discernible impact on a self-absorbed Senate and Obama-Biden administration. But it did serve to provide the Bailey-supporting critic Luther "Stan" Pate with a forum to describe Beck as the worst, most despicable attorney he had ever observed because of his failure to protect his client. Beck, like judge Mark Fuller, declined comment. Fuller would go on to be forced to resign from the federal bench after his arrest for beating his second wife, who had been his court clerk during the Siegelman-Scrushy trial -- yet another curiosity in a trial marred by a host of other irregularities.
The series also enabled Jones to defend his conduct at length, via an email reprinted here:
George is eminently qualified to be US Attorney. He is a veteran lawyer who is respected by judges and lawyers on both sides of the aisle. He will be fair and balanced, and not driven by any political agenda, which is especially important for that particular U.S. Attorney position.
This is not a lifetime appointment. So, I am not concerned at all about his age. I think that office needs a seasoned lawyer with a steady hand regardless of age, and he certainly fits that bill.
With regard to his representation about Nick [Bailey], it is not a question whether he might be conflicted. He will be conflicted from any involvement in the case. I think that the real question will be whether it causes the entire office, including the Assistant U.S. Attorneys who prosecuted the case, to also be recused. A strong argument can be made that this case is so controversial that the entire office should be recused, and either another U.S. attorney appointed to oversee the case or someone out of Main Justice. That's a decision to be made by the hierarchy at DOJ.
Finally, all I can say about any questions that have after the fact been raised regarding my representation of Gov. Siegelman while also working on a civil matter against Richard Scrushy is that Don was well aware of the civil case and it was never an issue with us and that is all that matters to me. Moreover, as you know I did not represent him at trial due to a trial conflict with another matter and it is the trial where the rubber meets the road with regard to such issues. Scrushy was ultimately dismissed from our case without any settlement or judgment against him.
Any reporter, as I was throughout the early part of my career before I became a lawyer and federal judge’s clerk, appreciates the willingness of a news subject to provide comment in response to questions on highly sensitive matters that Jones, among others, was in a position to ferret out and, if he so desired, protest.
In fairness, the Jones remarks above show that he is confident and facile in his explanations, qualities that have served him very well, as indicated by such stories as the Washington Post report on Dec. 12 suggesting that he had emerged as the leading candidate for the post even compared to former Obama-Biden Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, whose management and relevant leadership is far more recent than the regional office work of Jones during the 1990s.
Thus far, Jones has been able to leverage his team’s 1990s prosecution of Alabama church-bombing racists who murdered four schoolgirls in 1964. That has provided Jones with an image of civil rights advocacy cited in most news profiles of him that counters the complaints of Black civil rights leaders who are pressuring Biden for a Black attorney general.
But true civil rights advocacy should not focus simply on identity politics and high-profile jobs for Blacks and other minorities. Instead, the Justice Department, courts and prisons need an expert, passionate and non-partisan recommitment to human rights and justice.
The abuses of the Siegelman-Scrushy case were readily apparent to Republicans like Grant Wood and Stan Pate, as well as a host of other observers. In contrast, after Eric Holder’s retirement from leading the Justice Department I asked him about the Siegelman case following a speech he delivered at the Center for American Progress. He told me as we walked together after the lecture toward his law office he was not familiar with the Siegelman case.
Bottom line: Doug Jones, well-connected as he might be to his current Senate colleagues, has lived a privileged career, buttressed with some major successes but also not buttressed with the extraordinary qualities needed for these times. There are many posts that a former senator and prosecutor can pursue with dignity but supervising the Justice Department at this time is not one of them.
And if Joe Biden and his new administration fail to see why his former staffer Jones fails this test in such a notorious case as Siegelman’s, which is by no means unique considering the untold tales elsewhere in the legal system, that failure is all the more personal to the incoming president and his party because they would have knowingly picked image over substance.
The stakes are high. And, post-Trump, the public is watching.