July 1, 2009 -- EARLY EDITION. GUEST ARTICLE
Democratic Plan To Woo Karl Rove’s Alabama Friends With Justice Post May
Alabama Congressman Artur Davis, the current favorite to become the state's
Democratic nominee for governor in 2010, reportedly advocates retention of
Republican Middle District U.S. Attorney Leura Canary to woo business and
Republican support for his candidacy.
Sources report that the plan to let Canary keep her job at least temporarily is gaining
traction among Washington's Democratic power brokers as a brilliant centrist
strategy to help the Harvard-educated Davis win election as state's first African-
But critics believe the plan would ultimately doom the Davis campaign and further
erode confidence in Alabama's already disgraced federal court system. Perhaps even
more important, it would create a national embarrassment for Democratic leaders
who would end up snookered yet again by the master Republican strategist Karl
Rove, whose Alabama ties run deep and dark. This is because retention of Canary --
wife of Rove's close friend Business Council of Alabama President William Canary --
would inflame Alabama's progressive community.
Progressives regard her as a central villain in the 2006 federal conviction of former
Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman on hoked-up corruption charges that made his
seven-year prison sentence an international disgrace. Many of the state's
progressives and outside legal experts have since rallied around Siegelman, helping
to make Siegelman's case the most controversial U.S. criminal prosecution of the
To ignore those grassroots passions and widespread allegations of official misconduct
by the Justice Department would thus undercut confidence in the Obama
administration's political acumen and his campaign promises of change. In this
scenario, state Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks and some new entrant
progressive African-American candidate would peel off support from Davis in a highly
divisive Alabama gubernatorial primary. Davis, funded in part by business
community dollars promised by Bill Canary, would probably still win the primary. But
that Davis victory would come with lasting animosities that ensured Republican
victory in the general election.
Asked for comment, a spokeswoman for Congressman Davis said that she's
authorized only to say that Alabama's Republican Senators Jeff Sessions and Richard
Shelby have rejected the congressman's two initial nominees, Michel Nicrosi of
Mobile and Joseph Van Heest of Montgomery.
Theoretically, the case for Leura Canary's retention is plausible, especially for the
gung-ho, ever-confident Davis. This is especially so because Democrats
typically defer to Republicans, who want to control the federal justice system as
much as possible despite their party's recent election losses.
As background on Davis: He is a Montgomery native whose Harvard Law School
education overlapped for a year with President Barack Obama's. Davis has parlayed
their relationship then and since into a centerpiece of his political persona.
Davis has won his congressional re-election campaigns by big margins in a district
gerrymandered to assure large voting blocks of urban Birmingham voters.
Republicans cleverly use the federal Voting Rights Act to assure that African
American voters in Southern states are concentrated in a few districts. The
ostensibly pro-minority strategy was recently upheld by the Supreme Court. That
kind of gerrymandering helps some minority office-holders such as Davis, while
concentrating likely Democrats into a few districts and thereby keeping majority
power concentrated in Republican hands.
But if Davis can build on his black support and his Obama relationship by neutralizing
the business interests represented by Canary, according to this rosy view, then
Democrats could have a real shot at winning the state's governorship.
Additionally, the conventional wisdom in national Democratic circles for many years
has been that the party's voters (aside from prospective office-holders) care little
about appointments to the lower federal courts and Department of Justice offices.
Instead, Democrats usually focus their rhetoric and media muscle on battling
Republicans on Supreme Court appointments. These battles provide a win-win for
activists in both parties who concentrate on abortion, gay rights, flag-burning and
reverse discrimination (such as the Court's Ricci decision this week on white New
Haven firefighters) and similar hot-button issues that distract the public.
Republicans, meanwhile, have quietly packed the lower courts and Justice
Department's political and career posts with "Loyal Bushies" recruited from the
Federalist Society and other ultra-right breeder farms. These activist ideologues
provide reliable, result-oriented jurisprudence on the full range of criminal and civil
litigation that is most important to Republicans.
In this context, letting an Obama-friendly Davis pursue his centrist campaign
strategy as he sees fit probably seems inconsequential to Democratic wonks in
Washington. Alabama has become increasingly Republican anyway since
Siegelman's re-election loss in a disputed 2002 election, when Siegelman's apparent
Election Night victory by 3,000 votes suddenly disappeared. Late-night changes in
voting totals in rural Baldwin County enabled enough vote changes for a 3,000-vote
victory by Republican Bob Riley, who remains as the current governor.
Furthermore, Alabama's black population is a lower percentage than in neighboring
Deep South states. This lower total of a reliably Democratic bloc suggests an
addtional rationale for a centrist strategy of retaining Republican office-holders,
which would be applauded by news media in Alabama and Washington alike. Their
mantra, of course, is that Democrats should defer to Republicans to show
So why not retain a U.S. attorney whom few outside of Alabama know? Leura
Canary? Who's that? Deference to Republicans would help Davis foster a centrist
image. This, in turn, would help build support for Democratic Supreme Court
nominee Sonia Sotomayor by persuading Sen. Sessions to lower his rhetoric a bit as
the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
The answer to this pipe dream is in the still-unresolved prosecution misconduct
allegations regarding the Siegelman conviction that exploded nationally in 2007.
These revelations occurred at the same time as news that the Bush administration
orchestrated the firing of U.S. attorneys for political reasons, leaving Bush loyalists in
place to serve the administration's goals. Congress failed to obtain testimony from
those accused of wrongdoing.
More recently, the Obama administration has stressed bipartisanship in failing to
follow the country's tradition of requiring resignations of politically appointed U.S.
attorneys en masse following a change of administration.
In fact, the Obama administration (whether prompted by holdover Bush officials or
by incoming top Obama appointees) recently asked for 20 years in prison for
Siegelman at his upcoming resentencing. The Justice Department has declined to
release specifics of its reasons to escalate prison time for Siegelman.
The former governor is now free on bail after serving nine months of his seven-year
sentence for 2007 conviction on bribery-related charges. The charges primarily
stemmed from Siegelman's 1999 reappointment of HealthSouth CEO Richard
Scrushy to a state board after Scrushy arranged the first $250,000 of what became
$500,000 in donations to the Alabama Education Foundation's efforts to improve
Alabama public schools. Siegelman, Scrushy and 75 former state attorneys general
from around the U.S. have argued that no one is prosecuted in such situations
without explicit evidence of an illegal deal. Both Alabama's current governor and
Obama himself frequently appoint donors to major paid positions, not simply the
kind of volunteer post that Scrushy received.
Indeed, Siegelman and Scrushy filed legal papers in recent days seeking a new trial
on the basis of newly discovered evidence showing misconduct by Leura Canary, her
Justice Department colleagues in Alabama and Washington, and Chief Middle District
U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller. Fuller was a member of the Alabama Republican
Party's Executive Committee before his nomination by President Bush to the federal
bench in 2002.
In Fuller's confirmation hearing, Sessions and Shelby extolled Fuller's
credentials without mentioning to their Senate colleagues that Fuller held a full-time
job as chairman and chief executive of Colorado-based military contractor Doss
Aviation throughout the same time that he was supposedly working as a full-time
Alabama state prosecutor from 1997-2002.
By July 2003, that double-dipping led to claims by Missouri attorney Paul B. Weeks
that Fuller should be impeached and indicted for a blackmail scheme prompted by
Fuller's military contracting work. In a 180-page binder of evidence submitted to
authorities, Weeks claimed that Fuller sought to appease blackmail pressure by
conspiring to defraud Alabama's pension system of $330,000 for a subordinate who
knew his secrets as a state prosecutor.
Weeks delivered his complaint to Fuller, to the House and Senate Judiciary
Committees and to the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Justice Department.
Weeks wanted Fuller removed from a civil case where Weeks represented a litigant,
and wanted also official action to protect the public against a judge that Weeks
claimed was unfit to serve over any future litigant. Interviewed this spring, Weeks
says no one has ever contacted him to pursue the allegations -- and that he is
astonished that the same Public Integrity Section that should have been
investigating Fuller for official corruption was so aggressively prosecuting
Siegelman. This was, of course, in cooperation with Canary's Alabama office on
charges less serious than those Weeks made against the judge.
The Justice Department has denied any misconduct on its part or bias by Fuller
against Siegelman, and has declined to provide any status report of a Public Integrity
Section investigation of Fuller. Fuller has said complaints of his work as a state
prosecutor are "politically motivated," and declined to discuss the effort to obtain
$330,000 from the state for his former staffer.
In 2005, Fuller was promoted to run the court system in his district and has gained a
track record of highly controversial decisions approved by the heavily Republican
Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Atlanta.
In this situation, Alabama's relatively small progressive community may seem as
doomed politically as the last Texans at the Alamo. But asking them to play nice
with Karl Rove's friends such as Bill and Leura Canary may become a line in the sand
-- equivalent to the legendary one that Col. Travis famously drew with his sword on
the ground at the Alamo seeking volunteers for an all-out battle.
"Siegelman supporters down here aren't like others," says one political observer
who's never voted for Siegelman in his decades of being one of the state's most
popular Democrats, beginning with his 1978 election as state Attorney General. "It's
like a religion. He used to reach out and hug these voters no matter who they were,
even a garbageman in uniform. And lots of them are going to stand by him forever."
Just last week, two events helped illustrate explosive potential of any continuation of
Leura Canary's role as a federal prosecutor. First, Scrushy filed an 85-page motion
on Friday seeking a new trial. In it, Scrushy alleged that newly discovered evidence
showed misconduct by federal prosecutors and the trial judge. For example, Scrushy
cited evidence from whistleblower Tamarah Grimes in Leura Canary's office that
Canary continued to monitor and indeed oversee Siegelman's prosecution even
though she claimed to be recused because of her husband's longstanding friendship
with Karl Rove. Bill Canary and Rove sought to eliminate Democrats from elected
office in Alabama throughout the 1990s. During that time, they worked with
Alabama's Republican Party Executive Committee.
Also last week, retired Chief U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon of Alabama's Northern
District told a National Press Club audience in Washington, DC that the Justice
Department's 2004 prosecution of Siegelman on corruption charges was the most
unfounded criminal case that Clemon had presided over in nearly 30 years on the
Speaking at a forum on selective prosecution and similar Justice Department
misconduct by the Bush Administration, Clemon said federal prosecutors ultimately
had to withdraw their much-publicized corruption charges against Siegelman for lack
of evidence. Then they announced new charges a year later before Fuller in Leura
Canary's jurisdiction in Montgomery just as Siegelman was gearing up for a re-
election effort for the 2006 election.
The retired judge, a Democrat who was the first African-American ever appointed to
the federal bench in a Deep South state, said that he wrote U.S. Attorney General
Eric Holder this spring to urge an investigation of Siegelman's prosecution in the
second case. The judge noted that Siegelman was convicted in 2006 in large part
based on the testimony of witness Nick Bailey, who denied wrongdoing by Siegelman
in the 2004 case. But CBS reported on 60 Minutes that Bailey was coached in more
than 70 interview sessions for the second trial without delivery to the defense of
interview notes, as legally required. This was among many controversial tactics
that helped Canary's office deliver a conviction in a matter from which she was
Grimes, the paralegal in Canary's office, last month wrote the Attorney General that
those in her office described Siegelman's prosecution as "The Big Case." She
quoted First Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Watson as saying it was "the most
important case in the office and that U.S. Attorney Leura Canary would grant
prosecutors virtually unlimited latitude to obtain a conviction." Also, Grimes has
provided congressional investigators evidence of prosecution misconduct that
includes communications with jurors during deliberations without reporting the
contacts to the defense.
The remarks by Clemon at the June 26 forum at the National Press Club were
cablecast by C-SPAN nationally, as were those of legal experts and victims of
purported political prosecutions by the Bush administration. Rove allegedly urged
Justice Department officials during his tenure to embark on a plan that would
ultimately lead to hundreds of corruption investigations of elected
officials. Democratic targets outnumbered Republicans by a 7:1 margin, according
to a leading study by University of Missouri professor Donald Shields.
For the past year, mainstream news organizations have largely ignored the
allegations of corruption against the Justice Department, including the three-
hour forum June 26 at the Press Club. But C-SPAN has aired the program at least
five times so far, and is making the information available also on its website:
Rove has denied any wrongdoing, and is scheduled to testify to House Judiciary
Committee staff on the claims sometime soon after a year and a half of fighting
efforts to compel his testimony.
Washington masterminds may consider seldom-reported court filings as irrelevant to
a nation that is pre-occupied with war, the economy, the Supreme Court and, until
recently, the fate of the ever-titillating Miss California.
But those planning on an Artur Davis victory in Alabama via new voting blocs should
remember that political math also includes subtraction. And to paraphrase the
orator Daniel Webster in another context, Alabama may be a small place, "but there
are those who love it."
In Alabama, state politics remains a blood sport, as any review would show of the
Siegelman court filings, the 2008 CBS 60 Minutes exposé on the Siegelman case,
and the ongoing congressional investigation of Rove.
It's the state where the young George W. Bush went on leave from the National
Guard to campaign for a Republican Senate candidate, and to make lifelong friends.
Also, it's where Rove and former Republican National Committee Chief of Staff Bill
Canary developed, in effect, a 1990s laboratory for such election tools as expertise in
voting machine software and in fiercely disputing close election results.
Washington operatives and pundits may regard Alabama as so reliably Republican in
Presidential races that nothing of national significance could arise there statewide --
except perhaps an inspirational Democratic gubernatorial victory
by the centrist Davis as a pioneering African-American.
But stay tuned for potential surprises. And, as they say, if it bleeds it leads.