Friday, March 28, 2008

Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman (D) Released On Appeal

Lookin' A Little Moist There As We Play Out The Clock, Karl?

It hit like a thing falling out of the sky late yesterday. Potentially devastating in a “Donnie Darko”-sh way and just as freaky and unexpected.

For those with a stake in it—those whose law-flouting acts precipitated it, it's a late-in-the-game “Hail Mary” from the opponent unexpectedly connecting near the goal line.

Those little “plip” and “flutter” sounds you hear are sweat beads a' running and sphincters a' puckering.

Sweet music indeed to the ears of those on the side of right.

Ex-Governor of Alabama Is Ordered Released

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Donald Siegelman, former governor of Alabama, was ordered released from prison on Thursday by a federal appeals court, pending his appeal of a bribery conviction that Democrats say resulted from a politically driven prosecution.

In its order, the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, said Mr. Siegelman had raised “substantial questions” in his appeal of the case and could be released on bond from the federal prison in Oakdale, La., where he has served nine months of a seven-year sentence. The order did not say what those questions were, but his lawyers have argued for months that the bribery charge on which he was mainly convicted revolved around a transaction that differed little, if at all, from a standard political contribution.

Mr. Siegelman’s lawyers maintained that — as is standard in many white-collar crime cases — the veteran Democratic politician never should have been imprisoned in the first place while he appealed his conviction.

“He should not have been manacled and taken off in the night,” said his lawyer, G. Robert Blakey, also a professor at the University of Notre Dame, citing the ex-governor’s immediate imprisonment after his conviction, a point of contention for his supporters.

The chief prosecutor in the case, Louis Franklin, told The Associated Press that he was “very disappointed” by the order but hoped to eventually prevail.

Mr. Siegelman’s case has been cited by Democrats here and in Washington as Exhibit A in their contention that politics has influenced decisions by the Justice Department, which prosecuted the former governor. In addition, Mr. Siegelman’s conviction in June 2006 here sharply polarized the political climate in this state, and suggestions by his supporters and others that the former Bush White House political director, Karl Rove, may have been involved have only increased the tensions.

Republicans have angrily denied the accusations of politics, but Mr. Siegelman has picked up some outside support for his claims of political prosecution. The House Judiciary Committee has held hearings on his case, and 44 former state attorneys general, Democrats and some Republicans, signed a petition last summer urging Congress to look into the conviction.

The court’s order came on the same day that the Judiciary Committee made a request to the Justice Department that the former governor be freed temporarily to travel to Washington next month to testify about his assertions that he was prosecuted for political reasons. A committee spokeswoman cited difficulties in getting information from the department as a reason for wanting Mr. Siegelman’s testimony.

Why does all of this matter? Let's go back, as the Incredible Jimmy Castor used to say—“Way the days of the trogolodytes.” courtesy of the muckrakers over at Josh Marshall's posh, investigative digs.

A lifelong Republican attorney from Alabama, Dana Jill Simpson, has come forward and sworn out an affadavit claiming that in 2002 a close associate of Karl Rove claimed that Rove had told him that he'd gotten the Department of Justice to investigate then-Alabama Governor Don Siegelman (D) and that he was sure the investigation would eventually take Siegelman out of politics. Is the claim true? Was Rove successfully using the DOJ to pursue politics by other means as far back as 2002?

The 'denials' from the other parties on the conference call have either been feeble, non-responsive or non-existent. And the charge is serious enough that you would certainly expect that if the claim could be roundly denied it would be roundly denied.

Then there's the White House and the Department of Justice.

Had the last five months not happened, perhaps there'd be no reason for either to deny the charges. But we already have a rather detailed predicate -- abundant evidence of inappropriate contacts between the White House political office and Main Justice.

A few journalists -- included a TPM reporter -- have put this question to the DOJ and the White House. Did Rove have any contacts with the DOJ about investigating Siegelman and did he tell William Canary that Siegelman would be "take[n] care of"?

But the White House refuses to answer the question. As does the Department of Justice.

For those who aren't familiar with the case, in a nutshell, during the 2000 campaign season when Siegelman, a popular statewide Dem refused to play the Southern Dixiecrat role and back the word-mugging Texas Governor and would-be President-elect during the endorsement and post-November hanging-chad phase—and vociferously came out against Bush, he made an enemy of the administration and its heavily-wattled kneecapper Karl Rove. So, using the Justice Department as a political blackjack early on, they went after Siegelman in a shady bribery prosecution that many of the main witnesses have since recanted testimony for, (as well as the exposé that a slew of Republicans were also implicated in the “crime” but miraculously were never prosecuted for it). Siegelman was quickly tried and jailed pending appeal as the “My Cousin Vinnie-fication” of the Southern courts held sway.

But Siegelman wouldn't just make do with his bread and water, and his supporters wouldn't just shut up.

They fought back—in the actual courtroom and the virtual “court of public opinion” of the media. They (his diligent daughter and his lawyers) would keep shining a light on the ugliness of what went down, and in so doing would continually “scatter the roaches” involved—to the point where when CBS' “60 Minutes” devoted a segment to the injustices of the trial last month, said segment was “accidentally” blacked out of much of northern Alabama due to what was first reported as a network “glitch”, then changed to an affiliate “glitch”, but is widely believed to have actually been a heavy-handed bit of ass-covering to blunt the story's impact on concerned Alabamians.

Needless to say, it didn't work, and the pressure continued to mount to where this stunning reversal occurred yesterday evening. It opens the door for Siegelman and his “team” to go to Washington and participate in the one thing the Bush administration hates with a passion—no, not respecting Brown people, but rather, embarrassing congressional hearings that implicate them in wrong-doing. Henry Waxman's already got a seat warm for Siegelman, so we can expect some fun and fireworks on Capitol Hill.

But the telling thing here is the over-the-top attempts to drown this blowbacking furor in the bathtub. You don't black out half a state's TV signal during a damning investigative report unless you're worried about how it's going to play and who's going to be implicated. This isn't about the local “Boss Hoggs” on the hook for their usual shenanigans. That kind of flexing comes from the bespectacled “King Wild Boar” himself, Karl Rove. The e-mail deletin', testimony-changin', shiesty son-of-a-bitch has his M.O all over that move, but in spite of it—Siegelman is out, and free to speak and more importantly, (and worst of all for the Bush admin) fight back directly.

Strange things happen in the final months of a lame duck administration. Some people don't push back as hard, as they're gearing up to bounce and do their own thang, whole others flip the script and use the “you can't hurt me” timing to allow scores to be settled. Ol' Karl isn't in the government any more per sé, but he's still quite vulnerable here for what appear to be obvious prior misdeeds against Siegelman, and as much as he may want them to , Mike Mukasey and his people may not be able to maintain their “prevent” defense for him until time runs out.

What's the “prevent”?

“This coverage is generally used as a “prevent defense” to be used near the end of a game or half, meaning that the defense sacrifices the run and short pass to avoid giving up the big play with the confidence that the clock will soon expire.

That has been the Rovian gambit all along—“Do the dirt, get the lead, and then stall until the clock / administration is over. Don't give up the big play”.

Siegelman's abrupt and according to the appellate court—much justified release is a “Hail Mary” into the “Red Zone” that hits, close to the goal line—and if you think it isn't, remember the “unsportsmanlike conduct penalty” Rove's team took with the northern Alabama blackout of “60 Minutes” (An FCC investigation?). That's a desperation move.

So take a deep breath. Take in the aromas. The bite of spring grass. The tang of freshly-popped fear-sweat, and the heavy, earthen funk of worry-shit.

It's not quite the smell of victory just yet, but we're sixty yards closer to it than we were 48 hours ago. And as shocking as it is to us, imagine how unsettling it must be to the bastard(s) counting every heart-stopping second off their “get over” clock. Probably seems like eternity after yesterday.