THE BLOG
12/27/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Scandals Surrounding Don Siegelman's Prosecution: A Quick and Easy Primer, Part I

Why would Leura Canary, Louis Franklin and Mark Fuller, all officers of the court, brazenly flout the law and risk disbarment, if not jail? Well, consider that:

A. It's Alabama.
B. It's the Bush Justice Department.
C. It's the link between A & B, Karl Rove.
D. It's the limited attention span national media, which intermittently dwells into the details of the Don Siegelman case.

Given the context, Canary, Franklin and Fuller had good reason to assume their deceits would get buried amid the general brouhaha surrounding the Siegelman case. The documents that implicate these three lawyers are like pages torn from a larger manuscript. By themselves, the torn pages don't make a lot of sense. So far, the mainstream media has not latched on to the larger narrative, which is reminiscent of a couple of John Grisham novels.

Still, the nonfiction manuscript is substantially complete. Certain excerpts - like Karl Rove's testimony - are yet to be written. Those gaps notwithstanding, we know, based on definitive evidence, precisely how certain Bush appointees lied and colluded in order to subvert due process in the Siegelman trial.

Think of it this way. Months before Nixon resigned, we didn't know everything about Watergate, but we knew most of it. We got it. We're at a similar juncture in the scandal surrounding the prosecution of Gov. Siegelman.

So here's a brief summary version of the manuscript.

Past as Prologue I: In the 1990s Karl Rove left his mark on Alabama politics.


In explaining why his client's conviction should be overturned, Don Siegelman's lawyer, Vince Kilborn, unintentionally contrasted the Federal courts and with the state courts in Alabama. "It's like cases where DNA evidence has been found that exonerates someone who has been convicted after the trial," he said, "or where someone else confesses to a murder after there has already been a conviction." In Alabama, death row convicts have no right to examine DNA evidence that might exonerate them, nor do they necessarily have the right to a new trial when someone else confesses to the murder, according the majority of justices on the Alabama Supreme Court. The justices' general disregard for the integrity of judicial proceedings, and other Republican abuses of power, is traceable to Karl Rove's political career in Alabama.

Rove's Alabama legacy is not especially well known. Two Rove biographies, Bush's Brain and The Architect, barely mention his Alabama activities in the 1990s. (Check out Machiavelli's Shadow, the source for a lot of the information herein.)

Rove was recruited for work in Alabama by a Republican operative named Bill Canary, a former chief of staff at the RNC. The two had bonded while working on the 1992 Bush-Quayle campaign, from which Rove had been fired for unauthorized leaking.

While both men were originally from out of state, they both established roots in Alabama, since both married politically active women who hailed from there. Rove's wife, Darby Tara Hickson, had worked in his political consulting firm, whereas Canary's wife, Leura, was an attorney in the state attorney general's office and later at the Justice Department. Rove bought a second home on the Alabama gulf coast. Both men maintained two bases of operations in and out of the state. Rove, of course, worked in Texas. Through 2001, Canary continued working in Washington, where he was President and CEO of the American Trucking Association.

Canary recruited Rove to work on 1994 campaigns for Alabama Supreme Court justices. Rove's tactics were notable for their dishonesty and viciousness. He directed Republican candidates to call their opponents "ambulance chasers." He ran ads alleging that one Supreme Court Justice, Ernest Hornsby, made a practice of shaking down trial lawyers for campaign contributions. He started a whispering campaign against Mark Kennedy, a Democratic candidate and founder of the Children's Trust Fund of Alabama, by alleging that Kennedy was a pedophile.

In 1998 Rove and Canary worked on the Bill Pryor's campaign for attorney general. Don Siegelman was elected governor that same year. In 1999, Pryor founded the Republican Attorney Generals Association, a partisan fundraising group that actively solicited contributions from companies being sued by various states. In March 2000 contributors met in Austin for a "political briefing" from Karl Rove. Bill Pryor began investigating Siegelman within 12 weeks after he took office.
In 2001, Rove asked Jill Simpson, a Republican lawyer who specialized in opposition research, to try to catch Siegelman cheating on his wife. She says she spied on Siegelman for months but saw nothing.

The 2002 election for Governor was eerily reminiscent of Florida 2000. Initial results showed that Siegelman had won reelection, but suddenly a highly suspicious "computer glitch" reversed the outcome, giving victory to another Rove client, Republican Congressman Bob Riley. Siegelman insisted on a recount, but Bill Pryor ruled that a recount was illegal, and threatened anyone who attempted a recount with arrest. Eventually, Siegelman conceded. Governor-elect Riley had worked in tandem with Rove to support one of their most important political allies, Jack Abramoff.

Past as Prologue II: Jack Abramoff's crew was set on destroying Don Siegelman, whose pet cause was an Alabama lottery.

Jack Abramoff's most important client was the Mississippi Choctaw Indian Tribe, which ran a casino across the state border near Philadelphia, Mississippi. Abramoff's job was to quash any competition, which included Don Siegelman's pet cause, a state lottery for Alabama. Lottery proceeds from the would have helped cover tuition at state colleges.

The Choctaw Tribe forwarded Abramoff about $16 million for various political influence schemes. Abramoff relied on other crooks - Ralph Reed, Michael Scanlon, Grover Norquist - to launder money within Alabama, where it was used to help defeat a 1999 voter referendum to establish a lottery. The 2006 Senate Report revealed corrupt activities among Abramoff, Reed, Scanlon, and Norquist. But it also had a notable omission. As first reported by HuffPost's Sam Stein, documentary evidence also implicated Governor-elect Bob Riley.

On December 10, 2002, Michael Scanlon, Riley's former press secretary and an Abramoff cohort, now a convicted felon, emailed Abramoff, alerting him that a Choctaw representative, "definitely wants Riley to shut down the Poarch Creek [Indian] operation, including his announcing that anyone caught gambling there can't qualify for a state contract or something like that."

In other words, they wanted Riley to continue what he'd been doing for years. "We need your help today . . . to prevent the Poarch Creek Indians from building casinos in Alabama," he wrote in a 1999 fundraising letter for the U.S. Family Network, which laundered Abramoff money. In 2001 he co-sponsored a bill to erect new barriers to entry into the Indian casino business. Throughout his term as governor, Riley opposed any expansion of gaming or gambling in the state.

Scanlon had personally donated $100,000 to Riley's campaign for governor.

Riley's ties to Abramoff were first publicized in late 2005 and figured to become a campaign issue in the 2006 governor's race. But the issue of Republican corruption was neutralized by the prosecution and conviction of Don Siegelman. The Senate Report was released on June 22, 2006 right after jurors in the Siegelman trial had begun deliberations.

Past as Prologue III: In 2004, the first prosecution case against Don Siegelman was "dismissed with prejudice," while the second indictment was being pursued.

On May 27, 2004, Don Siegelman was indicted for conspiring to commit Medicaid fraud. The indictment followed a criminal investigation conducted jointly by U.S. Attorney Alice Martin and Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor. On October 5, 2004, a District Court judge dismissed the conspiracy charges with prejudice, because the prosecution failed to show probable cause. That's a pretty scathing rebuke. For non-lawyers, "probable cause" is the constitutional standard of proof needed for a search warrant, not an indictment. The fact that the prosecution brought an indictment without alleging facts sufficient to demonstrate probable cause of a crime is very strong evidence of prosecutorial overreaching, if not bad faith.

Before they came up with a bogus indictment, Federal prosecutors and Bill Pryor's office had spent a lot of money and resources on a criminal investigation. It began in 2001 and by 2002, the investigation included seven FBI agents, three IRS agents, three state prosecutors and four federal prosecutors. To keep track of the million documents in evidence, the FBI contracted a 4,000 square foot off-site facility on Maxwell Air Force Base.

Though he played an active role in the investigation, Bill Pryor escaped any taint associated with the dismissal, because was no longer Alabama's attorney general when the indictment came down. On February 20, 2004, he became a judge for the 11th Federal Circuit Court of Appeals based on George Bush's recess appointment.

Bill Canary knew about the investigation long before any indictment was announced. He referred to it on a conference call with his political allies on November 16, 2002, when the election results for the governor's race were still hotly disputed. Jill Simpson had initiated the call with Governor Riley's son, Rob Riley. Riley patched in Canary and others. Simpson informed all that she had taken some embarrassing photographs of a Siegelman supporter at a KKK rally, and they were discussing whether the photographs would persuade the Governor to concede. According to Jill Simpson's sworn testimony Bill Canary said they did not need to worry about Siegelman, because "his girls," Alice Martin and Leura Canary, "would take care of it." Simpson testified, "He had already got it taken care of with Karl. And that Karl had spoken to the Justice Department and the Justice Department was already pursuing Don Siegelman." After Simpson's testimony became public, her house burned down and her car was run off the road. No culprits have been found.

In July 2004, before the first indictment was shot down in court, a different U.S. Attorney in a different federal district was pursing a different indictment with the same star witness, a former Siegelman staff member named Nick Bailey. A second grand jury indictment was handed down on in May 2005 but was kept under seal.

The second indictment did not become public until October 26, 2005, one year before the next election for governor, and one month before Governor Bob Riley's former press secretary, Michael Scanlon, pleaded guilty for conspiring to bribe public officials.

Don Siegelman, who had already announced his candidacy for governor in 2006, insisted on his right to a speedy trial commencing no later than February 2006, well before the June 6, 2006 Democratic primary. But on December 7, 2005, the grand jury was reconvened, and on December 12, 2005 it handed down an amended indictment, pushing back Siegelman's earliest trial date by months.

And then things got ugly.

Part II should be posted after Thanksgiving.

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