Netroots Nation hosts an unprecedented forum on Aug. 15 in Pittsburgh to help journalists learn how Bush administration prosecutors altered the U.S. political map by corruption investigations of Democrats, who were targeted by at least 5:1 ratios.
Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and former Pennsylvania Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht will show how “selective prosecution” unfairly ruined careers and poses an ongoing threat to our legal system.
The forum is, “Reporting DoJ Misconduct Scandals: Why Netroots Remains Last Hope for Justice.” The title reflects largely failed oversight by courts, Congress and traditional media – and the breakthrough reporting opportunity right now for others, based on major recent revelations.
I’m moderating the forum after investigating mid-term dismissals U.S. attorneys in 2006. White House political advisor Karl Rove helped remove nine U.S. attorneys in mid-term, including seven on one day. As documented in hearings, “Loyal Bushies” destroyed a U.S. tradition that justice system office-holders are barred from such political hit jobs as pre-election indictments.
But the 84 remaining U.S. attorneys have created their own history, much of it tawdry. That’s why Siegelman, Alabama’s governor from 1999 to 2003, continues to stress an ongoing threat to the country, not simply ruin of his own career and family.
Siegelman’s convictions in 2006 were essentially because he urged HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy in 1999 to donate to a non-profit that advocated better school funding. The governor then reappointed Scrushy to a state regulatory board. Now 63 and free on bond, Siegelman faces 20 years in prison when he returns for sentencing before Middle District Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, a Republican who is reputed to hate Siegelman. Scrushy, a Republican who says he was framed in a “vendetta” against Siegelman, is serving a seven-year sentence.
Wecht, a law school graduate and a national leader in forensic medicine, also seeks better oversight of DoJ. The 78-year-old Democrat is now $6 million in debt from legal bills.
DoJ’s 84 felony charges against Wecht were politically motivated and based on “trivial” matters, according to 2007 congressional testimony by former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, a Republican and member of Wecht’s defense team. Authorities charged Wecht with 24 felonies, for example, involving his use of a fax machine in the coroner’s office.
Republican U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan dropped charges in June for lack of evidence, but continued to denounce Wecht. Remarkably, Buchanan and Alabama Middle District U.S. Attorney Leura Canary remain in office despite a tradition that U.S. attorneys resign when their party loses power. Canary’s husband William is a close friend of Rove and a longtime political opponent of Siegelman.
No Obama nominees for U.S. attorney have yet taken office, 10 months after elections. As the Senate prepares for its month-long recess today, Bush holdovers continue in many other influential DoJ jobs. One is Public Integrity Section Chief William Welch. He co-signed a July 28 legal argument that no reasonable person in the U.S. would think that Siegelman and Scrushy deserve a hearing to explore their new evidence.
DoJ’s argument rings false. DoJ’s prosecution was already the nation’s most controversial of the decade before evidence in June that prosecutors tried blackmail their chief witness without required disclosure to the defense. And Welch, whom DoJ does not make available for comment, is under court-ordered criminal investigation for the misconduct of his trial team last fall in convicting U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).
In 2007, University of Missouri at St. Louis Professor Donald Shields found that elected Democrat officials were targeted by a 5:1 ratio over Republicans. New research shows even higher rates, with some prosecutions of Republicans also questionable.
Penetrate the Secrets
To explore these patterns, the Netroots forum features Wecht’s lead trial attorney Jerry McDevitt of K&L Gates. McDevitt will describe how prosecutors can secure advantage in subtle ways at every stage of a proceeding from investigation through appeals.
Gail Sistrunk, vice president and executive director of the educational group Project Save Justice, will summarize national abuses portrayed in its recent documentary video entitled, “The Political Prosecutions of Karl Rove.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Michigan) is invited. The Justice Department declined to send speakers, even for a separate segment with no opposing view.
These topics are undoubtedly sensitive. The Siegelman case alone includes three public-spirited individuals (none Democrats) who’ve paid huge career costs because of their belief that legal ethics required them to report to authorities their evidence of wrongdoing. One is Missouri attorney Paul B. Weeks, who unsuccessfully sought Fuller’s impeachment in 2003. Another is Alabama attorney Dana Jill Simpson, who swore in 2007 that fellow Republicans plotted to frame Siegelman. Also in 2007, Justice Department paralegal Tamarah Grimes protested to DoJ misconduct on the prosecution team. DOJ then threatened her for a year with criminal prosecution, and fired her in June.
I’ve reported their stories here, here and here with responses by authorities.
So have others who are mostly web-based journalists providing effective big picture and local angles. Harper’s, CBS 60 Minutes and the New York Times have been among leaders in traditional media in breaking new ground. But most traditional news organizations avoid this story, which risks antagonizing powerful officials – including at parent companies seeking the goodwill of government policymakers.
This is not just a story about a few well-known political leaders forced to defend themselves. It’s about many others targeted around the country along with their devastated families, thereby affecting the policy agenda of localities and regions. Let’s compare notes in Pittsburgh. And please pass this on to interested friends. This is a good fight, and a big one.