Let me say up front, I am a Republican and not a radical left wing nut. Call me naive, if you will, but I find it hard to believe the following series of events. Still, in view of recent reports on overzealous and less than honorable prosecutors, questions nag.
If you missed watching 60 minutes on February 24, you missed another alleged example of the abuse and sleaze some federal prosecutors use against innocent individuals in the ongoing saga of dirty politics or alleged corruption.
The Sunday CBS show “60 Minutes” reported on an alleged five-year secret campaign spearheaded by former White House advisor Karl Rove to bring down Don Siegelman, who served as Alabama’s governor after previous stints as Secretary of State, Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor: a man who has served his state most of his adult life.
It was not about low-ranking Republicans but the top of the order from Karl Rove, two Republican U. S. attorneys, a federal judge and other top-ranking Republicans in the great state of Alabama. Karl and the others deny the whole scenario.
I am not a fan of 60 Minutes, but if the story is true, it was the most disgusting story I ever saw or heard in politics and one of the great injustices, not the greatest, I have witnessed concerning the U.S. Justice Department.
The latest example involved a Democratic governor of Alabama in a state that in recent times has gone Republican almost 100 percent. Governor Don Siegelman, a popular Democratic governor was running for re-election and Dana Jill Simpson, a Republican attorney and political activist gave a sworn statement a year later that on a Republican conference phone call, she overheard Bill Canary, whose wife Leura Canary is the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama say, not to worry about Siegelman because his “girls” and “Karl” would make sure the justice department took care of him.
Simpson spoke out because Siegelman’s prosecution and imprisonment bothered her conscience. She was later attacked by the U.S. attorney’s office and others in an attempt to discredit her sworn affidavit. Karl Rove said he didn’t remember her.
Lois V. Franklin, another U.S. attorney took over the case from Leura Canary who recused herself because of her husband’s ties to the Republican Party and Karl Rove.
Karl Rove was quoted as telling Simpson to have candidate Siegelman followed to see if he was having affairs with other women. Simpson later reported there was no evidence of Siegelman having romantic affairs. Rove said on Fox News, he didn’t remember her.
However, the justice department, in one of their favorite examples of fair play, announced an indictment of candidate Siegelman just before the election for Alabama governor, much as they did against Louisiana’s Jim Brown in his re-election for Insurance Commissioner. The only difference is Brown was reelected despite the U.S. attorney indictment while Siegelman lost his bid for the governorship by a scant 3,100 votes.
Siegelman lost the election by a little over 3,100 votes. A voting machine glitch in a single county put his opponent over the top with votes in no other races affected. Strange deal. All of the election officials in that county were Republicans and they conducted the recount after midnight when the Democratic Party observers had gone home. Democrats’ request to repeat the recount were rejected by Alabama courts and then Attorney General William H. Pryor Jr. who were all Republicans or appointed by Republicans.
In what many now believe were trumped up charges, Siegelman was tried and convicted in a court of law and sentenced to seven years in prison. Federal Judge Mark Fuller, in an extraordinary move, immediately sentenced Siegelman to seven years in prison and instead of allowing him time to appeal or even to go home after the trial to prepare for prison, ordered Siegelman be handcuffed, shackled with leg irons and sent to prison in Louisiana: a rather ignoble and spiteful way to treat a former governor and an indication the judge hated Siegelman for reasons unknown. Appeal judges offer little hope because they all eat in the same trough and seldom overrule fellow judges or nefarious conduct on the part of the justice department.
Judge Fuller was responsible for producing the transcript of the trial but a year-and-a-half later there was still no transcript.
Fifty-one federal prosecutors all around the country, both Republican and Democrat, have signed a petition urging an investigation of the case in its entirety because they believe it was politically motivated. This is, as far as I know, unprecedented.
The painful part of all this is the fact I strongly supported George Bush for president and his long-time friend and advisor Karl Rove, not once but twice, because I believed they were good, decent men. I hope the charges prove untrue but the circumstances surrounding the case as presented by 60 Minutes and newspapers in Alabama lend a modicum of creditability to the belief by many that the case was indeed political and that an innocent man’s reputation has been ruined and is in prison for seven years: all under the ruse of corruption.
The New York Times reported the “Bush Administration insists the United States attorney scandal is a non-scandal, but the Siegelman case is a reminder that when the power of the state to imprison people is put in the wrong hands, lives can be ruined and democracy can be threatened.”
Not to worry. Such dishonest conduct on the part of a federal judge and prosecutor could never happen here in Louisiana. Never! Thank God.
That’s my story and I am sticking to it.
(Milo A. Nickel is the former President and COO of Louisiana State Newspapers.)