A U.S. attorney in Alabama whose close ties to local Republicans were at the heart of previous high-profile charges of politicized justice is drawing scrutiny again. Last week, the U.S. Justice Department received a formal complaint alleging that an investigation being run in part by U.S. attorney Leura Canary was intended to influence the vote on an upcoming bill in the statehouse, and asking that Canary be removed from the probe because of her “close political ties” to Governor Bob Riley.
This isn’t the first time that Canary’s ties to Riley and Alabama Republicans have generated controversy. Numerous observers have charged that the prosecution by Canary’s office of former governor Don Siegelman, who in 2006 was convicted on corruption charges, was politically motivated. Canary’s husband, Bill Canary, a top Alabama GOP political consultant and associate of Karl Rove, ran Riley’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign against Siegelman, a Democrat.
The new case centers on a bill passed last Tuesday by the state Senate, aimed at legalizing electronic bingo — a major political issue in the state. On Thursday, legislative leaders were summoned to a meeting with prosecutors from Canary’s office and DOJ’s Public Integrity unit, where they were informed that the Feds were probing whether senators had been bribed by pro-bingo interests into changing their votes. Riley, a committed foe of efforts to legalize bingo except on Indian reservations, strongly opposes the legislation, which must now be voted on by the House.
That same day a lawyer for Jarrod Massey, a Montgomery-based lobbyist and political consultant who has been lobbying for the bill on behalf of the Country Crossing bingo casino, submitted a formal complaint to the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, asking that the probe be taken out of the hands of Canary’s office, because of her “close political ties” to Riley. The complaint, obtained by TPMmuckraker, also charged that the timing of the probe — and the involvement of a state investigator who is also a member of Riley’s anti-gambling task force — “strongly suggests that this investigation is intended to influence the Alabama legislature in its consideration of electronic bingo legislation.”
It’s worth noting, though, that the Justice Department’s Public Integrity unit, as well as the FBI, appear to be playing an active role in the investigation. So the notion that the probe is being pushed exclusively by Riley and Canary for political reasons is almost certainly over-simplistic.
Still, that wasn’t the only complaint that the Justice Department received about the conduct of the probe. On Friday, Doug Jones, a lawyer for Democratic state lawmakers, wrote a letter to DOJ officials, also obtained by TPMmuckraker. Jones, too, charged that the disclosure of the probe’s existence was “designed to influence the action of the House of Representatives,” adding, “[t]here does not appear to be any legitimate law enforcement function in making such a disclosure at this particular time.”
A spokesman for Country Crossing went further, telling the Birmingham News: “There is no doubt the governor is behind this investigation and is trying to kill this bill” — an accusation that Riley called “silly.”