The “Free Don Siegelman” lobby has been active, but Obama’s Justice Department seems unimpressed. In April the dismissal of the Ted Stevens case raised hopes that Siegelman’s prosecution might also be found improper. And in May, a federal judge in Alabama sent a strongly worded letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on behalf of Siegelman.
Former Alabama governor Don Siegelman’s conviction has been upheld on appeal, along with that of Richard Scrushy, the now-notorious CEO of HealthSouth whom Siegelman appointed to a regulatory board. Don’s partisans continue to claim he was framed, and Don himself is not yet through trying to find a judge who will see things his way.
Siegelman’s appeal concedes that he appointed Scrushy as a favor in exchange for a donation. But he argues that the exchange was not “explicit” bribery — it was just politics as usual. Let this conviction stand, and office holders will be forever subject to selective, politically motivated prosecution.
So the only reason Siegelman was prosecuted, to hear him tell it, is that he was an up-and-coming Democrat whom the Republicans wanted to discredit. This has been gospel among Siegelman supporters since the beginning, and to diehard Democrats it is self-evidently true. For others, including some Republicans, the pervasive sleaziness and cruelty of the Gonzales Justice Department made it appear highly likely that Siegelman’s prosecution was based on trumped-up evidence. But it wasn’t Gonzales who initiated the case. Nor, despite the theories floated by Don’s backers, is there any real reason to believe that Karl Rove took an interest. It’s true that Rove cut his fang-like teeth on Alabama Supreme Court races back in the ’90s, but he’s moved on to bigger things.
With the finest legal team that money can buy, the only evidence of malfeasance that Siegelman has been able to unearth are:
- the inconsistent testimony of a self-styled Republican operative, Jill Simpson, whose alleged presence at conspiracy meetings rests solely on her own say-so.
- an email sent from one juror to another, expressing an opinion about the case while it was still being argued. This was a technical violation of jury sequestration, but hardly a proof of conspiracy against the governor.
We are asked to place implicit faith in Jill Simpson’s veracity, without asking why no one else has come forward to corroborate her story, if her story is true. We are to believe that one single Republican in Alabama has obeyed her conscience, while every other Republican activist, from here to Washington, is loyally concealing the anti-Don conspiracy.
Yeah, that must be it.
At the same time, we are to place the most cynical (or paranoid) interpretation on the juror email. It can only be a smoking gun, proving — well, proving that a juror formed and expressed an opinion contrary to the one the Siegelman team thought the juror should have formed. And the only way that could have happened is through malign influence from Don’s enemies. Any juror who decides against Don Siegelman must not be impartial, you see.
It’s been amazing to see how the Siegelman team has been able to occupy the courts for years with this meager material. No less amazing is the way that a few opinion writers, like Scott Horton at Harper’s, manage to wring drama out of this rather boring corruption trial. (In his latest piece Horton uses vague description and innuendo to superlative effect.) Siegelman himself, after a brief fit of humility, is back to talking about his case as if Watergate were “child’s play” in comparison.
But it isn’t about him, he’s quick to add. He’s doing it for us.
The appeals court is unimpressed. “Well, what do you expect,” cry the Siegelman partisans. “All the Eleventh Circuit judges are Republicans!” So now Siegelman is pinning his hopes on the precedent set by a 1991 decision handed down by another bunch of Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court. McCormick v. United States overturned the extortion conviction of a state legislator, finding that a quid pro quo had to be demonstrated first. In other words, there’s nothing inherently illegal about handing over fistfuls of cash to a legislator who does you favors. It’s just politics.
I’ve disclosed my own bias in an earlier post. For balance, here are a couple of local Siegelman partisans:
- Legal Schnauzer: Siegelman’s second appeal focuses on ‘explicit’ nature of bribery law
- Locust Fork News: Siegelman asks 11th Circuit to rehear case
I’m curious to know what my two or three interested readers think.
I may never forgive Don Siegelman. His election as Alabama governor in 1998 raised hopes for our demoralized state’s future — hopes that were plainly and movingly expressed in an essay that I’ve saved for nine years. It’s called “Selma, Alabama at 4 A.M.,” and it’s by a guy named Will Bevis from Gadsden. (I’m glad to find them both online.)
In a word, Siegelman dashed all those hopes. I worked for a non-profit in Montgomery during his term in office, and I’ll spare you the experiences that generated my lasting antipathy toward Siegelman. It’s enough to say that Siegelman’s only virtue was his intelligence, and he used that to compound his vices. He was most comfortable keeping secrets and operating in back rooms, and he both mistrusted and feared the electorate — especially after the voters rejected his warmed-over lottery scheme, copied from Georgia’s Zell Miller.
I remain convinced that Siegelman regarded the governor’s office as a stepping stone to the U.S. Senate. Here, too, he was just copying Miller, and once that train went off the tracks, he lost interest in Alabama’s affairs. He understood how the state government is structurally flawed in ways that every other former Confederate state has repaired, and that Alabama desperately needs to repair. But because governing well was less important than his own career prospects, he just couldn’t give a damn. Even Guy Hunt, the country preacher who was elevated to the governorship by a political fluke back in 1987, had been able to stir himself to attempt more in the way of reform than Siegelman dared to. Don’s do-nothing ways compare with those of his immediate predecessor, the clownish Fob James. It was his Republican successor, Bob Riley, arguably our most conservative governor in modern times, who persuaded the legislature to pass an income tax reform bill backed by Alabama Arise — a bill that “liberal” Siegelman wouldn’t even read.
So I often dispute with my liberal friends over the conspiracy theory that Siegelman’s conviction for bribery and mail fraud was a set-up arranged by Karl Rove and his henchmen. (The Wikipedia article on Siegelman is devoted to little else.) Siegelman’s character is fully capable of this kind of misconduct, the evidence for a conspiracy is thin, and I believe the reaction in his favor is due far more to suspicion of anything coming from the Alberto Gonzales Justice Department than to the actual merits of Siegelman’s case.
Seems likely that it’s bad news for Siegelman that a Democrat will head the next presidency, as he won’t be able to credibly play a martyr to federal power for much longer. But I admit that my feelings are biased against the man and I’m pleased to see him jailed, whatever the reason. I believe he squandered his time in office, and betrayed the hopes of millions, in a vain attempt to make the governorship serve his personal ambitions.
Langford was grand marshal of the city Christmas parade yesterday and put a cheerful face on his arrest and indictment. Judging from comments that people in the crowd made to TV reporters, some are willing to reserve judgment until the trial (which will occur at least half a year into the Obama presidency), while others are openly skeptical about the feds’ motives.
The manner of Langford’s arrest — he was handcuffed by FBI agents while his two (white) co-suspects were permitted to turn themselves in — has become an issue, implying discriminatory treatment. The U.S. Attorney’s office would probably argue that Langford was the one holding a position of public trust, so it was appropriate to publicly arrest him. But it does seem that they were obtuse about the racial overtones of seizing the one black indictee, and not the two whites. It would have been wiser to treat all three alike.
Langford was not shy about playing blacker-than-thou politics when he ran successfully for mayor. Fortunately he hasn’t (yet) tried to imply that his indictment was motivated by racism. As Danner noted, Langford’s trial will occur under the ultimate authority of an African American president and attorney general.