New Evidence of Prosecutorial Misconduct in Siegelman Prosecution

If the Democratic Party had a few dozen more Congressmen like John Conyers and Henry Waxman, the nation would know a whole lot more about its recent past. Conyers has been doggedly pursuing the Justice Department's firing of U.S. Attorneys who refused to bring groundless prosecutions against Democrats, or who brought legitimate prosecutions against Republicans, or who just didn't follow Karl Rove's dictates.

During that investigation, Conyers' Judiciary Committee considered evidence that former Alabama governor Don Siegelman's prosecution for corruption was politically motivated. Today Conyers wrote a letter (pdf) to Attorney General Mukasey detailing startling new information that was leaked by a whistleblower.

Conyers says the evidence raises "serious questions" about the U.S. Attorney in the Siegelman case, who, documents show, continued to involve herself in the politically charged prosecution long after she had publicly withdrawn to avoid an alleged conflict of interest relating to her husband, a top GOP operative and close associate of Bush adviser Karl Rove. Conyers' letter also cites evidence of numerous contacts between jurors and members of the Siegelman prosecution team that were never disclosed to the trial judge or defense counsel.

Unauthorized contacts with jurors? Yikes! [more ...]

When the House Judiciary Committee looked into the Siegelman affair earlier this year, the DOJ issued statements, placed in the Congressional Record, maintaining that the case had been handled only by career prosecutors, not political appointees, and that [U.S. Attorney Leura] Canary had recused herself in 2002, "before any significant decisions ... were made."

Leura Canary is an important character in this political drama. Her husband, "Alabama's top Republican operative," was for years a close associate of Karl Rove. He was also a strong supporter of Alabama's Republican governor and the recipient of "tens of thousands of dollars in fees from other political opponents of Siegelman." You can understand why Canary needed to recuse herself from Siegelman's prosecution.

A legal aide gave investigators emails written by Canary that contradict her claim to have recused herself before she could influence the prosecution. The emails give advice to the prosecutors handling the case.

In one of Leura Canary's e-mails, dated Sept. 19, 2005, she forwarded a three-page political commentary by Siegelman to senior prosecutors on the case. Canary highlighted a single passage, which, she told her subordinates, "Ya'll need to read, because he refers to a 'survey' which allegedly shows that 67% of Alabamans believe the investigation of him to be politically motivated." Canary then suggested: "Perhaps [this is] grounds not to let [Siegelman] discuss court activities in the media!"

Prosecutors in the case seem to have followed Canary's advice. A few months later they petitioned the court to prevent Siegelman from arguing that politics had any bearing on the case against him. After trial, they persuaded the judge to use Siegelman's public statements about political bias — like the one Canary had flagged in her e-mail — as grounds for increasing his prison sentence. The judge's action is now one target of next month's appeal.

This is dumbfounding:

Last year Grimes gave the DOJ additional e-mails detailing previously undisclosed contact between prosecutors and members of the Siegelman jury. In nine days of deliberation, jurors twice told the judge they were deadlocked and could not reach a decision. After the panel finally delivered a conviction, allegations emerged that jurors had discussed the case in e-mails among themselves and downloaded Internet material — serious breaches that could have invalidated the verdict. But the trial judge ruled that the jurors' alleged misconduct was harmless.

Harmless? Jurors are required to deliberate together. Always. Jurors must base their decision on the evidence received in court, not on any fact learned from any other source. Blatant violations of those fundamental rules couldn't possibly be harmless.

There's more:

A key prosecution e-mail describes how jurors repeatedly contacted the government's legal team during the trial to express, among other things, one juror's romantic interest in a member of the prosecution team. "The jurors kept sending out messages" via U.S. Marshals, the e-mail says, identifying a particular juror as "very interested" in a person who had sat at the prosecution table in court. The same juror was later described as reaching out to members of the prosecution team for personal advice about her career and educational plans. Conyers commented that the "risk of [jury] bias ... is obvious."

When allegations of juror misconduct surfaced, prosecutors took it upon themselves to interview jurors, in violation of the court's order to obtain the court's permission to contact jurors. That misconduct apparently wasn't disclosed to the court or to the defense lawyers for two years.

In his letter to Mukasey, Conyers calls this additional juror contact "important information," noting, "It is startling to see such repeated instances of federal prosecutors failing to keep the defense apprised of key developments in an active criminal case."

The DOJ doesn't seem to have taken Grimes' internal complaint seriously.

The DOJ conducted its own inquiry into some of Grimes' claims and wrote a report dismissing them as inconsequential. But the report shows that investigators did not question U.S. Marshals or jurors who had allegedly been in touch with the prosecution.

It isn't clear whether or how any of this newly discovered information will affect Siegelman's appeal, which will be argued next month. None of this new information is in the appellate record. But -- thanks to the legal aide and John Conyers -- it's detailed in a letter to the Attorney General. An ethical Attorney General might want to think of a way to bring this new information to the court's attention. Or better, might want to beg the court for permission to concede.

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    i was shocked, (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by cpinva on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 11:51:05 PM EST
    just shocked when i read this!

    ok, i lied, i wasn't at all surprised. more's the pity.

    during the course of the past 8 years, i've become inured to the constant revelations of corruptness and illegal acts committed by, or on behalf of, the present administration/republican party.

    bush and his cronies make the harding administration look like the soul of ethics, by comparison.

    An ethical Atty Gen'l (none / 0) (#1)
    by Carolyn in Baltimore on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 08:58:19 PM EST
    could never have been appointed by Shrub.

    While I abhor (none / 0) (#2)
    by NYShooter on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 10:24:29 PM EST
    The death penalty, it is, at least, a clumsy attempt by society to draw a line beyond which an accused forfeits his/her right to participate in it's activities.......forever.

    I have stated many times, including here at TL, that it's time society draws another line: when a free people bestow upon certain individuals and/or institutions extraordinary powers, and those powers are used in a corrupt manner, the punishment should be so severe as to send a message impossible to ignore.

    Corruption is the one disease that no Democracy can survive.

    Job for Siegelman in new Administration (none / 0) (#3)
    by Ben Masel on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 10:26:30 PM EST
    Director of Federal Bureau of Prisons. No learning curve.

    Blatant (none / 0) (#5)
    by cal1942 on Sat Nov 15, 2008 at 12:02:43 AM EST

    This reads like a nightmare tale of a totalitarian government.

    Can any of the involved be prosecuted?