When I lived behind the iron curtain, my parents taught me never to talk anyone about anything. This caveat was not restricted to the typical warning given by regular parents to their regular children about the regular concerns of every day life.
No, the lecture I got, as did so many others like me, was a sober lecture given by Soviet parents to their Soviet children, who had to begin schooling in big brother's tactics at an early age. One wrong word could send an entire family to a work camp or prison. This was not the fear of over-protective parents, or even parents who have to live in a reality of constant Amber alerts blaring across their screen and fear that some sick, lone pedophile will abduct their child in broad daylight, as so often happens in the West these days. No, this was the reality of life under the Soviet regime, knowing that everything was watched, everyone was listening, no one could be trusted, and children were often the targets for inquiry into what their parents say behind closed doors. Friends were the next best thing, which may explain what we are about to hear out of the halls of the state legislature of Alabama.
Alabama is the Soviet Union
Although the whole of the United States appears to be collapsing into this type of model, Alabama in particular appears to be leaping in that direction at a faster pace. When I first blogged about the subpoenas that were served en masse to Democrats in the Alabama state legislature last month, it was crickets from across the blogs of both isles, the corporate press, and the general public. Now the New York Times has thankfully noticed this very brazen act of political intimidation and I hope that others might follow. Here is the news from Soviet Alabama today:
"MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- There is fear in the halls of the Alabama State House. Your colleague may be wired. Somebody may be watching you. An indictment looms.
After a dozen legislators received subpoenas one day last month in a criminal investigation, an atmosphere of paranoia and anxiety has descended on the gleaming white building that houses the State Legislature, many of its occupants say.
Legislators are sweeping their offices for bugs. Routine horse-trading for votes is stymied, for fear it could be misinterpreted. A wary lawmaker agrees to meet a reporter only in a wide-open parking lot. After-hours get-togethers are off.
The concern is a result of a long-running federal investigation into corruption within the state's system of two-year colleges that has led to guilty pleas on bribery and corruption charges by one state lawmaker and the system's former chancellor. The Birmingham News reported in 2006 that a quarter of the 140 members of the Legislature had financial ties to the college system, with most of the jobs or contracts going to lawmakers or their relatives. Recent reports indicate the number has grown to nearly a third of the Legislature."
Let me include some of the details that the Times article, however, left out, which I cited in my earlier discussion of this massive intimidation tactic:
"Reporters were apparently tipped off by calls stating U.S. Marshals were coming to the Alabama Statehouse to serve some legislators. "The drama surrounding these actions and the U.S.
Department of Justice's disruption of a legislative session for the routine serving of a summons to appear in court sends a poor signal to Alabama citizens who are already complaining about partisan political interference into the federal prosecution of former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman," says Spearman.
These ladies and gentlemen have not been charged with a crime and could have been served by other means in their local communities, not in Montgomery during a legislative session in front of TV cameras and reporters." Spearman stated. State law actually prohibits serving members of the legislature while they are in session. Section 29-1-7 of the Alabama Code protects members from this kind of action by U.S. Marshals yesterday. In fact, the Marshals could have violated this law by their disruption of the session and have been charged with a misdemeanor."
Behind the Scenes - US Attorney leaking to politicians?
Now let me share additionally with you the sort of behind the scenes reportage that does not usually appear in print. Several weeks before the latest batch of subpoenas against Alabama Democrats came down, I got word from a Republican lawyer (read that as a real Republican, not Bush Republican) I had met while investigating the Don Siegelman prosecution that the state Republican leadership (GOP chair, Rep Mike Hubbard in particular) were bragging about the subpoenas to be delivered to the Democrats. More importantly, it appears that Mr. Hubbard knew the number of Democrats that were going to be subpoenaed and that it would happen soon. I was told between 9-11 Democrats and a token Republican.
At first I thought it too absurd to so brazenly subpoena so many Democrats in a state and by a US Attorney - Alice Martin - already under fire for political investigations and racism (See Harper's excellent coverage of Martin's antics). But a few days later, I made some calls to people on the off chance that this was indeed going to go down. The Democrats I called would not discuss anything with me. The Republicans I called had no idea what I was talking about.
I spoke to another reporter (for another publication) and shared my concerns, however. I will leave it up to that person to recall if they had heard the same thing or not - prior to the subpoenas coming out - in the public sphere. But in private, this person said that they had heard the same. The problem was, we were not sure if we were hearing the same thing from the same, single source or not. In any case, I waited to see what would happen and did not discuss it with my editor as there was yet nothing to discuss.
Then sure enough, as I was told, at least 11 people were subpoenaed, at least 9 of them Democrats. So here is my question, how did the state GOP leader, who also moonlights as a state Congressional Rep know in advance what the US Attorneys office was going to do? Is he psychic?
And what of US Congress? The US Congress continues to investigate when it is already very clear that at the very least, Alabama US Attorneys Alice Martin and Leura Canary should be suspended , while Congressional investigations continue.
What about the Mississippi US Attorney whom I recently reported on, Dunnica Lampton? Should he be allowed to bring more cases and continue investigations given what we have now learned about him? What have we learned you ask? Let me give you a few snips from the piece I did and just some of what I found during my investigation:
"In July 2003, Paul Minor, Oliver Diaz, and two former judges - Wes Teel and John Whitfield - were charged with a range of federal crimes based on Minor's loan guarantees.
Lampton claimed during the Diaz trial that he had recused himself from the case and that it was being handled by lawyers from Washington. He later acknowledged that he had not recused himself, although it does seem that the Washington lawyers were taking the leading role.
In 1998, a case involving his Dunnica's twin brother Dudley Lampton, was reviewed by the Mississippi Appellate Court. This three judge panel, with Diaz as one of the judges, ruled against Dudley.
At the time when Lampton began investigating Paul Minor, his own interests were directly under threat. Minor had successfully sued several companies associated with Lampton's family members and contributors to his unsuccessful bid for a Congressional seat.
In 2002, Minor was in the midst of a major plaintiffs' case against a company called Magnolia Trucking, a subsidiary of Ergon Inc., a private firm owned by the Lampton family. Members of the Lampton family with ties to Ergon include Leslie B. Lampton, Director and CEO; Bill Lampton, the President of the Asphalt Division ; and Lee Lampton, Director of Operations.
FEC documents for 2000 show that Ergon employees collectively donated $10,300 to Lampton's congressional campaign. Lampton family members donated $5,250.
Ergon Inc. also has a relationship with the Barbour family. Following Haley Barbour's election as governor of Mississippi, his nephews, Austin and Henry Barbour, became lobbyists with Capitol Resources, LLC, a firm whose clients included Ergon."
So I ask again, should these US Attorneys not be suspended while Congress investigates so that they can not further damage the legal system in the interim? Should state legislatures be this afraid of a US Attorney appointed by a President of a different political party, so afraid that they have become (as NYT notes) paranoid and nervous enough that a northern publication, the New York Times, would actually run an article on it and even title it "Fear, Paranoia and, Yes, Some Loathing in Alabama State House?"?
Apparently, Alabama is running toward the Soviet model with open arms and Mississippi is close on its heels, while the Congress has failed to demand something as basic as the temporary removal of these prosecutors while they investigate allegations of corruption against these three US Attorneys.
Follow Larisa Alexandrovna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/larisa_a