"July EARLY EDITION"
July 1, 2009 -- EARLY EDITION. GUEST ARTICLE Democratic Plan To Woo Karl Rove’s Alabama Friends With Justice Post May Backfire 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- American governor. 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 decade. 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 bipartisanship. 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 federal bench. 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 theoretically recused. 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: http://www.c- spanarchives.org/library/index.php?main_page=product_video_info&tID=5&src=ato m&atom=todays_events.xml&products_id=287304-1 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.