When the Obama Administration argued in a filing earlier this month that the Supreme Court should not consider an appeal by Don Siegelman, the former Alabama governor wasn’t surprised, even though the Obama filing maintained the Bush-era stance in Siegelman’s controversial corruption case.
“There’s really been no substantial change in the heart of the Department of Justice from the Bush-Rove Department of Justice,” Siegelman tells TPMmuckraker in an interview.
Siegelman, a Democrat, served roughly nine months in prison after his 2006 bribery conviction. He was ordered released pending appeal in March 2008. The case, which has been dogged by allegations of politicization and prosecutorial misconduct — including links to Karl Rove — centers on what the government called a pay-to-play scheme in which Siegelman appointed a large donor to a state regulatory board.
Siegelman has asked the Supreme Court to consider the definition of bribery, arguing that he merely engaged in routine political transactions. But, in the Nov. 13 filing that raised Siegelman’s hackles, Obama’s solicitor general argued that “corrupt intent” had been established in the trial.
While Solicitor General Elena Kagan was appointed by Obama, Siegelman says the DOJ staffers who are giving advice and making decisions on his case are the same people who were at the department under Bush. “The people who have been writing the briefs for the government are the same people who were involved in the prosecution,” he says.
The filing by the DOJ is a sign that the Obama Administration intends to stay the course in the case, despite entreaties to review it, including a letter from 75 former state attorneys general.
If the Supreme Court declines to hear his appeal, or rules against him, the consequences could be grave, Siegelman says.
“We’ve got a bunch of people in this country — including President Obama and mayors and members of Congress — who will be in jeopardy because any rogue prosecutor who wants to target a politician or a donor will be able to do it.”
He expects the court to decide whether to consider his appeal by early next year. A separate request for a new trial in Alabama will probably not be decided before the Supreme Court decision, he says.
Another piece of unfinished business in the Siegelman saga is an inquiry by the DOJ’s internal watchdog — the Office of Professional Responsibility — into the allegations of politicized prosecution. Bill Canary, the husband of Leura Canary, the US Attorney on the case, was a state GOP operative who had run the campaign of Siegelman’s gubernatorial opponent, and was a close associate of Karl Rove. Canary allegedly said he’d get his “girls” — including his wife — on Siegelman.
OPR said fully 11 months ago that the results of its investigation would be released “in the near future,” but the report is nowhere to be seen. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) in September sent a letter (.pdf) to Attorney General Eric Holder urging an impartial OPR review of the case.
Siegelman, though, isn’t holding his breath. “My guess is that whatever OPR comes out with will be another whitewash designed to sweep all of this under somebody’s rug,” he tells us. “As long as we have the same people in charge looking at the question of prosecutorial misconduct, we’re going to get the same answers. That’s because they’re trying to cover their asses.”
Late Update: For the legal geeks out there, here’s the Siegelman team’s Nov. 18 brief responding to the Obama filing: