Guest Blogged by Rebecca M. Abrahams
Two weeks ago Washington Post reported that U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan named federal prosecutor Henry Schuelke to investigate whether gross prosecutorial misconduct tainted the government's case against now-former Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. At issue, whether prosecutors withheld critical evidence from the defense or whether the case was improperly handled under pressure to meet deadlines.
US Attorney General Eric Holder, in a stunning move, threw out the government's corruption case against Stevens last April and issued the following statement:
Holder also relocated attorneys who worked on the case including William H. Welch II, who ran the Department's public integrity unit.
WaPo failed to report that William Welch is currently under criminal contempt of court for his role in the case against Stevens. Welch was also involved in the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. Siegelman was convicted of bribery in 2006 and served nine months in prison before his release was ordered pending appeal.
Despite Welch's pending legal issues, his name continues to be listed on recent filings in Siegelman's case. Siegelman finds this "quite curious as he's been hot after my prosecution for a good long time now."
Aside from alleged governmental misconduct in the Siegelman case, there are paramount legal issues that have been recognized by 91 former State Attorneys General and a group of First Amendment law professors across the country. And yet, while the DOJ is making a point to review Republican cases, not one case against a Democrat has been completely overturned and, as Siegelman told me in a recent interview, he believes very little has changed at the department, other than the names "at the top"...
Both prestigious groups protesting the Siegelman prosecution insist no crimes have been committed, and the former AG's signed a petition for Writ of Certiorari [PDF] to the US Court of Appeals, urging Siegelman's case to be heard. The petition argues:
In 1990 the US Court of Appeals ruled:
According to the petitioners, the 11th Circuit court failed to prove Siegelman personally benefited from HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy's contribution, noting:
While Judge Emmet Sullivan's request for an independent prosecutor to be appointed to the case has been answered, the calls to throw out Siegelman's case by retired Federal Judge U.W. Clemon has fallen on deaf ears. Last May Clemon sent a letter [PDF] to US Attorney General Eric Holder calling for the investigation of the Justice Department's prosecution of the former Alabama Governor accusing federal prosecutors of allegedly jury-pool "poisoning" and "judge-shopping" in Siegelman's case after he initially threw it out.
Clemons told Holder in his letter:
But the Department of Justice, for some reason, has not budged on overturning the political prosecutions of Democrats such as Siegelman --- begging the question as to whether it believes the Democrats were properly tried. Just last month, Obama's Solicitor General Elena Kagan issued a brief urging the US Supreme Court to deny hearing Siegleman's appeal.
When asked, during a recent interview, why he thought Kagan filed the petition against his appeal, Siegelman told me: "The people making the decisions are the same people who have been making the decisions all along. We've changed things at the top but the people who are doing the work, certainly doing the work on my case are the same who worked under George Bush and Karl Rove. There's no change. These people [have] a vested interest in the outcome and they're going to keep fighting for the same results."
Siegleman's case highlights gross conflicts of interest and prosecutorial misconduct by State Prosecutor Leura Canary. Canary's husband Bill Canary, a close friend of Karl Rove, worked for Siegleman's gubernatorial opponent in Alabama, Bob Riley.
Canary's wife Leura investigated and indicted Siegelman one month before the 2006 gubernatorial election while her husband was running Riley's own campaign against Siegelman.
Leura Canary claims she went to the Department of Justice and asked whether she should recuse herself from the case, but says she was told she could remain on the investigation. Nonetheless, Canary publicly stated in an abundance of caution, she would step down from the case. However, it was later revealed that she never fully removed herself from Siegelman's prosecution, and emails show she consulted prosecutors during his trial.
Siegleman's legal team filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain documents from DOJ to determine who instructed Canary to remain on the case. To date, the Department has refused to turn over those documents to lawyers as well as House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI).
Siegelman says this information could be critical to his appeal. "For some reason they're stonewalling and this is information that we feel we're entitled to. It could show that Leura Canary had a financial and political conflict or she lied about it."
He adds: "What I find a complete paradox is that Canary came forward and said she talked to the people at DOJ and said there wasn't a conflict but I'm going to recuse myself anyway. If they actually put that in a memo then there's a serious problem there because there was a financial and political conflict and we proved it. So if someone gave her a green light to go forward after we proved that her husband was a paid consultant working for my opponent than there's someone at Justice who should get their pink slip from Eric Holder."
Leura Canary did not return calls for an interview.
Recent disclosures in Stevens trial indicate prosecutors failed to turn over all relevant materials to the defense --- a discovery that many believe prompted Holder to drop Stevens' case.
Siegelman's legal team alleges the prosecution also withheld key documents, emailed jurors during the course of the trial and interviewed/coached former Siegelman aide and star witness, Nick Bailey on nearly 70 occasions to make sure he had his story straight. Bailey has signed sworn statements confirming he was offered a deal on unrelated extortion charges in exchange for his cooperation with prosecutors.
Bailey was the key witness in the DOJ's charge that HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy bribed the former governor by arranging $500,000 in donations to Siegelman's education lottery campaign. The former assistant testified that in exchange for the donation, Siegelman would appoint Scrushy to the state's hospital oversight board. Last July, The BRAD BLOG covered Bailey's involvement, and subsequent admissions of inappropriate prosecutorial behavior, in some detail.
Corroborating Bailey's charges of prosecutorial shenanigans is DOJ whistleblower Tamarah Grimes, who provided Department superiors and members of Congress with evidence Siegelman and Scrushy's rights were violated. Siegelman and Scrushy cited her revelations heavily in their motions since June 26, 2009, for a new trial based on new evidence.
Siegelman says he believes that the Administration appears to be sitting on its hands with regards to reviewing his case and other Demcorats who were politically targeted by the Bush Administration.
"I think Holder's well aware of my case and other cases so there's been a decision made not to do anything for what reason I don't know but it's pretty clear they've made a decision not to do anything," he says.
If the court's current opinion stands, Siegelman says it will give prosecutors way too much discretion to pick, choose and charge defendants and get a prosecution in cases of legal campaign contributions.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is expected decide very soon whether it will hear Siegleman's case.
Television producer and writer Rebecca Abrahams is a Peabody and 4 time Murrow Award winning veteran of ABC News. She recently co-produced "Section 60: Arlington National Cemetery" for HBO Documentaries which won a Scripps Howard Foundation Award for Excellence in Journalism.
VelvetRevolution.us has been calling on the Obama Dept. of Justice to review all prosecutions during the Bush years to determine if they were politically motivated, and to immediately vacate them if so. Please sign on here to VR's RestoreJusticeAtJustice.com campaign. [Disclosure: The BRAD BLOG is a co-founder of VR.]