Corruption

Technical Difficulties

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On Sunday, 60 Minutes ran a segment on the federal government's pretty outrageous and politically-motivated prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Unlike much of the U.S. Attorney imbroglio, the pursuit of Siegelman reeks of genuine scandal, and may involve actual criminal acts committed by members of the Bush administration.

TPM Muckraker has the incredible video.

Also, Scott Horton at Harper's notes an even odder development:

I am now hearing from readers all across Northern Alabama—from Decatur to Huntsville and considerably on down—that a mysterious "service interruption" blocked the broadcast of only the Siegelman segment of 60 Minutes this evening. The broadcaster is Channel 19 WHNT, which serves Northern Alabama and Southern Tennessee. This station was noteworthy for its hostility to Siegelman and support for his Republican adversary. The station ran a trailer stating "We apologize that you missed the first segment of 60 Minutes tonight featuring 'The Prosecution of Don Siegelman.' It was a technical problem with CBS out of New York." I contacted CBS News in New York and was told that "There were no transmission difficulties. The problems were peculiar to Channel 19, which had the signal and had functioning transmitters." Channel 19 is owned by Oak Hill Capital Partners . . . Oak Hill Partners represents interests of the Bass family, which contribute heavily to the Republican Party.

This is pretty brazen stuff. Siegelman's serving seven years for something that happens every day in this country, at every level of government. If this can happen to a popular former state governor, you wonder what happens to people accused of federal crimes who don't have that kind of clout.

Probably something like this.

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  1. In Soviet Russia…

  2. For a second, I thought, “finally something bold enough to provoke outrage.”

    Then I realize they’ll get away with it, and thought, “shucks.”

  3. Did the Feds try to poison Andy Rooney? A little polonium induced brain damage would explain his doddering worthless ramblings.

  4. Wanna have some fun in the archives?

    Enter United States Attorney Political Appointees and see what comes up.

    John | February 1, 2007, 9:53am | #

    Clinton fired every sitting U.S. Attorney when he came into office, including those who were investigating his shananagans in Arkansas. U.S. Attornies are political appointees. The President can replace them.

    Of all of the disturbing aspects of U.S. Attorney-gate, the eagerness of Republicans to say “That’s the way it’s supposed to work” is the most frightening.

  5. It’s encouraging that the A.G. in the 60 Minutes interview is one of McCain’s campaign gurus.

  6. “In Soviet Russia…”

    the TV stations make YOU go black.

  7. Of course, you could mention the Montgomery Independent’s long article by Eddie Curran, journalist at the Mobile Press-Register, defending the Seligmann prosecution and attacking the 60 Minutes’ story and Scott Horton at Harper’s specifically. Of course, since he’s the investigative reporter who broke the original story and is writing a book about it, you may doubt him.

    Seriously, Radley, if a witness in any other trial changed stories as many times as Jill Simpson, you would be saying that it was a sham. Combining it with the “everybody does it” bribery defense?

  8. joe,

    When the LP finally wins the presidency :), I expect all R and D political appointees to be fired and replaced with Libertarians. That is the way it is supposed to work.

  9. When the LP finally wins the presidency :), I expect all R and D political appointees to be fired and . . .

    And all the positions to be left vacant, because that is the way it should work.

  10. So even if federal criminal defendants get all their procedural rights, there can still be convictions of the innocent.

    Yet the Justice Department wants us to trust the President to lock up American citizens without any kind of trial at all.

  11. robc,

    I would, too. But that’s quite a different matter than firing the guy you appointed – one from your own party, who shares your overall political agenda – just because he a) prosecuted a legitimate case of corruption against someone of the same party or b) refused to prosecute a bogus case against someone from the other party.

    Of course presidents can, and mainly should, appoint judges and prosecutors who share their political orientation, but then it should be Fire and Forget. They’re not supposed to use their offices for partisan purposes, and certainly not their prosecutorial powers.

  12. joe,

    I’m kind of slow. Are you praising Clinton or denouncing him?

    (I know you’re denouncing the Republicans, but are you attacking or defending Clinton in the course of doing so?)

  13. John Thacker —

    I haven’t followed the case that closely. But if 52 former state AGs from both parties have spoken up to say this was a political prosecution, that to me suggests something’s amiss.

    And while I’m not crazy about the idea of rewarding campaign contributors with plum posts, I wouldn’t call it “bribery.” The selective prosecution and harsh sentence (7 years?) bother me a lot more than giving Scrushy a seat on the hospital board, however unseemly that might be.

  14. Mad Max,

    I’m declaring Clinton’s actions – replacing lots of Republican U.S. Attorneys with Democrats – to be completely neutral.

    I’m distinguishing between that (and Bush’s similar actions when he came into office) with Bush and Gonzo’s later practice of firing or leaning on United States Attornies in order to create politicized prosecutions/politically-motivated neglect of legitimate cases.

  15. I have to side with Balko here. If rewarding a contributor with a political post is bribery, then I want to see Bush tasered and dragged out of the Oval Office for his various ambassador appointments.

    I am just as uncomfortable with the mission creep of the definition of “bribery” as I am with campaign finance “reform”. Essentially we are reaching the point where petitioning the government is a crime if your petition is successful and if you have been involved in the political process as a supporter or contributor of the party in power. And that is BS.

    It’s just another example of the way “reformers” refuse to address the powers of government [If political appointments are so bad, reduce the number of appointments a governor can make. Duh.] and choose instead to criminalize political association.

  16. The fact that, for example, one of the two lead Assistant US Attorneys for the case, Steve Feaga, who is in the news calling the 60 Minutes accusations “garbage” that “did not happen”, is a career prosecutor who likewise successfully prosecuted former Republican Gov. Guy Hunt might be relevant as well.

    Guy Hunt was also convicted and removed for a crime that “everybody does,” incidentally, taking $200,000 from his campaign funds to pay personal debts back in 1993. He claimed he thought he could do it legally with that fund and had received advice to that affect; five years later he got a pardon. I’m sure we saw similar stories about new Clinton AGs having a political proseuction of the first Republican governor in Alabama since Reconstruction, especially since his conviction immediately put Democratic Lieutenant Governor Folsom into office as governor.

    The other lead attorney, Louis Franklin, is himself a committed Democrat who of course also denies these stories.

    While Siegelman’s lawyers are asking about the part about the star witness being coached, even they deny the increasingly absurd claims of Ms. Simpson. You also could look at some of the DOJ responses.

  17. Actually, Thacker, Feaga appears to be specifically disputing one technical claim made in the broadcast, and that claim deals with prosecutorial procedure.

    I don’t see anything about witness notes in Balko’s post above. All I see is the claim that the prosecution was politically motivated and extraordinarily selective.

    Claims about whether due process was followed in this case are actually secondary. [Although I imagine they are quite important to Mr. Siegelman.]

  18. The selective prosecution and harsh sentence (7 years?) bother me a lot more than giving Scrushy a seat on the hospital board, however unseemly that might be.

    Selective prosecution? One of the same Attorney Generals convicted and removed Alabama Governor H. Guy Hunt from office (a Republican) in 1993 for using $200,000 of campaign money to pay a personal loan, something he admitted to but said he thought he could use for that purpose. Seems to me like it’s pretty standard in Alabama.

    And bribery seems a bit hard for putting someone on a board alone, but if you believe Eddie Curran’s articles at all, there was a bit more than just that. That was simply the one quid pro quo that they could prove.

  19. Actually, Thacker, Feaga appears to be specifically disputing one technical claim made in the broadcast, and that claim deals with prosecutorial procedure.

    Umm, in that article he’s disputing the one claim in the broadcast that Siegelman’s lawyers are actually pursuing, and that is the focus of the article. It makes sense that the one quote in the article would focus on that claim.

    Since Feaga was one of the two lead prosecutors in the case, it’s fairly reasonable to suspect that he also would publicly reject the more outrageous claims in the segment, the ones that not even Siegelman’s lawyers seem to believe, and the ones that they actively deny (such as the claims that Simpson called Siegelman to demand that he concede or else she would spread knowledge of a KKK meeting with Democratic operative attendees).

    In fact he has indeed elsewhere denied the other charges. Of course, you can say that he obviously would, being one of the two lead attorneys. However, it is important to note that he’s not someone who was hired by the Bush Administration or anything; as I said, he prosecuted, convicted, and removed Republican Governor H. Guy Hunt back in 1993 for what was a fairly small charge as well.

  20. The coaching the witness charge is, to me, not merely “one technical claim.” It’s the most serious charge to me because it’s the most plausible. Ms. Simpson’s charges are wild, constantly shifting, and denied by all sides, including the defendants and their lawyers. The charge of coaching the witness is significantly more likely to be true, and should probably be investigated. It’s unfortunate that it’s a bit tainted by being surrounded with the wilder claims.

  21. That was simply the one quid pro quo that they could prove.

    But if proving only that one quid pro quo is sufficient to imprison someone, then every single last elected official nationwide who appointed a contributor to a political office should be immediately thrown into prison, denied bail, and prosecuted for bribery. If this does not occur, the prosecution is selective.

  22. Let’s see now, a politician goes to jail…..

    Sounds like a good beginning to me.

    Better yet, how about 535 politicians swimming to Hawaii with a political appointee under each arm?

  23. I also have to say that the fact that Scrushy is involved here makes the case even weaker in my mind and the conviction likely to be the result of guilt by association.

    The Siegelman association with Scrushy is like the Bush association with Ken Lay. Before various claims of Sarbanes-Oxley violations were made against Scrushy – all claims on which he was acquitted, by the way – appointing Scrushy to a government post would have made perfect sense, since he was the CEO of one of the most prominent health care firms in the region. Before you knew he was a crook, Ken Lay was a plausible Energy Secretary; before you knew he was a crook, Scrushy was a perfectly plausible and eminently qualified figure for any health-care-related political assignment.

    It only “looks like” bribery if you assume facts not available at the time of the appointment.

  24. And yes I know Ken Lay was never appointed Energy Secretary. But he was considered, and had he been appointed subsequent evidence that he was a crook would not have made such an appointment worthy of examination as a criminal matter. That’s all I’m saying.

  25. If this does not occur, the prosecution is selective.

    They prosecuted for several other claims as well. Two of the four defendants were found not guilty, and they were found not guilty on several of the charges. However, there was more alleged than what they were convicted of, enough to justify prosecution.

    On the one hand, one may believe that the great number of attempted charges against Sigelman are evidence of selective prosecution, or on the other one may view it as evidence of widespread but difficult to prove corruption. There are a great number of investigative reporting stories throughout the state detailing various forms of corruption that reporters like Curran believed that they found.

    And, as I mentioned, the same Attorney General, Feaga, has a history of prosecuting Alabama Governors from both parties for relatively trivial offenses. It is difficult to say that in his case the prosecution was selective.

  26. Where’s Bernie Kerik or Michael Brown to sort this all out?

  27. Alabama, the other Mississippi.

  28. Medical examiner shenanigans in Mississippi, corruption in Alabama…Now that slavery’s illegal and people are free to move, can we just let the South secede?

  29. I live in Huntsville….Let me see if I can enlighten the discussion a bit.

    * First, I don’t know that anyone locally would claim that WHNT is hostile toward Don Siegelman or the Democratic party. Except for a token religious segment here and there (to satisfy the Baptist viewers), they are nauseatingly liberal.

    * Second, to defend WHNT (to be honest, I really don’t like them at all), they have rebroadcast the 60 minutes segment at least twice–once during Sunday night’s 10pm news and last night during the 6pm news–and they have posted it on their website.

    * Third, since airing that trailer WHNT has not blamed the problem on CBS in NY. Quoting their General Manager:

    “Sunday night at approximately 6 p.m., WHNT lost the network feed of “60 Minutes” for 12 minutes at the beginning of a segment on former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Upon investigation, WHNT learned that our station’s CBS receiver that allows us to receive programming from the CBS network’s feed failed. WHNT engineers responded as quickly as possible to diagnose the problem and were able to restore the feed at 6:12 p.m. WHNT aired the segment in its entirety last night at 10:15 p.m. during our late news and it is currently posted on WHNT.com as well.

    “We apologize to all of our Tennessee Valley viewers for the interruption and we can assure you there was no intent whatsoever to keep anyone from seeing the broadcast.”

    (quote from http://blog.al.com/breaking/2008/02/siegelman_broadcast_blacked_ou.html)

    * Fourth, Don Siegelman isn’t exactly a popular governor. After all, he lost the election in 2006 after running on the same “I’ll fund better education with a lottery!” platform that has been consistently unpopular among the dominant religious right since he first mentioned it.

    As a side note, is there a problem with a politician being convicted for illegal activity, even if none of his colleagues are convicted? Isn’t this a good thing?

  30. The thing about this post that confuses me, is the reference and quoting of “Scott Horton at Harper’s”.

    I thought the libertarian wet dream was that private property owners like WHNT and other media companies should be allowed to do as they please with their property?

    Isn’t this post actually a victory, that WHNT backed up their positions by blocking 60 minutes, with their private property?

    Why isn’t Reason celebrating this success of the type of private action that they and groups like CATO have long been calling for?

    After all, no one was actually censored. You can go online and read/see it.

    What’s the beef?

    (tongue lodged firmly in cheek).

  31. To add to what Vic said, WHNT had promoted the “60 Minutes” Siegelman segment for a full week before it was to air. Now, usually, when you spike a story, you don’t make sure as many people as possible are watching when you do so. Live. On air.

    That hasn’t satisfied the tinfoil-hat crowd, of course.

  32. If this can happen to a popular former state governor…

    Siegelman was not popular. He was a one-trick pony who got elected on a single-issue platform: a state lottery to fund college scholarships for mostly middle-class, high-school students who make good grades. (Yes, it was effectively a tax on the poor to pay for another middle-class entitlement.) Alabama voters turned around and soundly defeated Siegelman’s lottery referendum. Siegelman then treaded water for the next three years of his term and managed, unsurprisingly, to lose narrowly to a (at the time) weak Republican candidate in the next general election. Back then Bob Riley was virtually unknown outside his old congressional district, and congressmen had typically not done well in statewide elections. But Siegelman still found a way to lose.

  33. Franklin Harris,

    Question: So you don’t see anything at all in the pattern or timing of all of these accusations and indictments and cases as having had any impact on his attempts to fight to retain office and later fight to regain office? Isn’t this sort of interference the whole point of conveniently dusting off cases against candidates just before election season or re-trying cases that had been thrown out by lower courts? I’m just asking. Because the guy was apparently popular enough to win elections in the first place in an ideologically hostile state.

    Did Siegelman really find a way to lose or could it have had something to do with the fact that at that time he was so buried in the legal morass created by the justice department that few people running could have overcome all that and won an election? And seven years for business as usual? Cuffs and manacles? What gives?

    I’m not a tin-foil hatter, but you cannot blame people for being suspicious when an essential twelve-minute chunk of eagerly anticipated and locally relevant programming is suddenly removed from a broadcast, and the first explanation given by the station is later revealed to be false. Why wouldn’t they be?

  34. Just because Karl Rove is out to get you, doesn’t mean you’re not a crook. Hey, maybe Rove and Siegelman can have adjoining cells. I’m for that.

  35. For what it’s worth, Denise Vickers, the News Director at WHNT in Huntsville, posted a detailed accounting of what happened, what the station did in response, and what viewers have said about it.

    60 Minutes: 8 Mysterious Missing Minutes and Countless Hours of HELL

    http://www.whnt.com/Global/Link.asp?L=295554

  36. As a side note, is there a problem with a politician being convicted for illegal activity, even if none of his colleagues are convicted? Isn’t this a good thing?

    No, selective prosecution reduces justice to the whim of the executive. As an example, take modern Russia where the tax code is so byzantine and complex that around 80% of the population are in violation. Then look at how only Putin’s political opponents seem to go to jail for tax violations.

    When everyone is a criminal, everyone is a slave.

  37. Alabama, the other Mississippi.

    But with better scenery. Driving through Mississippi on my way to Memphis last year, I though I was going to die of boredom just from the sheer amount of nothingness to look at.

  38. “””Selective prosecution? One of the same Attorney Generals convicted and removed Alabama Governor H. Guy Hunt from office (a Republican) in 1993 for using $200,000 of campaign money to pay a personal loan, something he admitted to but said he thought he could use for that purpose. Seems to me like it’s pretty standard in Alabama.”””

    I haven’t seen anything that said Sigelman took the $250,000 for his personal use. If he did it, they would have used the deposit as evidence at trial. There is a difference between accepting donations for an organization, or accepting personal spending money, in return for a position. Bush took donation money in exchange for positions, and the republicans say it’s only politics. If that’s not true Bush should be investigated.

    The prosecution of Mr. Hunt is the same. You are offering a red herring.

  39. The station did rebroadcast as vic pointed out. The link to TMP mentions it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the incident was from some individuals action and the station is covering its ass.

  40. “”The prosecution of Mr. Hunt is the same. You are offering a red herring.”””

    Should have said the prosectuion of Mr. Hunt is not the same.

  41. I though I was going to die of boredom just from the sheer amount of nothingness to look at.

    You’ve apparently never driven from So Cal to Vegas on I-15 nor have you traversed the mileds and miles of nothing but miles and miles that comprise a huge swath of West Texas.

  42. Actually Robert Bass is a big DEMOCRATIC contributor…

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