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Life Arts

More Collateral Damage from the Siegelman Case – Talking with DOJ Whistleblower, Tamarah Grimes

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Headlined to H2 10/8/09

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The Bush administration is no more. But his legacy lives on in the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, massive joblessness, the trashed economy, the transfer of power to the Executive Branch. During Bush's tenure, the Justice Department also became politicized to an unprecedented degree.

One of the most visible among the hundreds of political prosecutions was former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. A Democrat and the only Alabamian to have served in all four of the top state elected positions, he was a choice target of Karl Rove. After several unsuccessful attempts, Gov. Siegelman was convicted of corruption and sentenced to prison. He is presently out as he awaits his appeal. Ninety-one former US Attorneys of both parties have asked President Obama, AG Holder and DOJ to reexamine Siegelman's case. Andrew Kreig, Roger Shuler, Scott Horton, and Glynn Wilson have done a stellar job covering the Siegelman case. [For more background information, a sampler of their articles can be found at the end of the second part of this interview.]

Tamarah Grimes was a paralegal working with the prosecution in the case against Don Siegelman. She contacted House Judiciary Committee Chairman Conyers and the DOJ about the prosecutorial misconduct of Alabama US Attorney Leura Canary and her team. For her pains, Grimes was chastised, intimidated, and ultimately fired, her reputation trashed. To add insult to injury, she was denied health insurance and they're trying to rescind her unemployment benefits.

This is particularly grievous for Grimes because she was the sole breadwinner in her household and her health insurance policy covered her disabled son. Grimes was terminated just eight days after sending a letter to AG Holder, laying out her concerns about the Siegelman case. Her firing will surely have a stifling effect on any other DOJ employees contemplating similar actions. Unemployed and uninsured, she is on the brink of financial ruin. Tamarah may be bloodied but she is also unbowed. She seeks no one's pity. This is her story.

I'm so pleased to welcome you to OpEdNews, Tamarah. Tell our readers how your life has changed since becoming a whistleblower.

In reading the Office of Special Counsel report [that dismissed Grimes's claims of prosecutorial misconduct], I am reminded of the famous children's fable The Emperor's New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen. Like the prime minister in the story, Interim Special Counsel William E. Reukauf would have you believe that the actions of the Department of Justice are irrefutable -- even in the face of e-mail communications which clearly contradict its position -- so much so that only the incompetent and unreasonable fail to recognize its merits.

Like the emperor, I feel duped by the Office of Special Counsel. Federal employees have access to the Office of Special Counsel's whistleblower's website which prominently features its whistleblower duties. Relying upon the information I obtained from the Office of Special Counsel website, I placed my trust, my career, my entire life and the lives of my family in the hands of the Office of Special Counsel on the premise that whistleblowers are protected from retaliation by federal law. Based upon my personal experience, nothing can be further from the truth.

Based on what happened to you, how would you advise potential whistleblowers?

There are no safe conduits. In reality, those who can pass the buck will certainly do so. When faced with the prospect of finding fault with DOJ - the equivalent of career suicide - you can expect nothing more than a half-hearted regurgitation of DOJ's reported conclusions, embossed with the official Office of Special Counsel seal of approval.

Potential whistleblowers, beware! Should you suffer whistleblower retaliation, you have no right to a jury trial of your whistleblower claim. Legislation reputed to enhance whistleblower protections has been recommended, but even the enhanced version does not offer whistleblowers the right to a jury trial. I have been advised that the Obama Administration does not support jury trials for whistleblowers. So, this is unlikely to change without a significant groundswell of public opinion.

What can you do? Take action! Contact your congressmen, your senators and the White House - tell them you believe whistleblowers should have more protection. If you wait on someone else to take action, the opportunity might be lost. The Enhanced Whistleblower Protection Act legislation is currently under consideration.

My colleague, Michael Collins, raises this interesting question, Tamarah: "The Obama Department of Justice had the Bush holdovers conduct the investigation of the Siegelman case. Does this look like the Obama Department of Justice is covering up for the outrages of the Bush appointees?" I would add: If not, how would you explain the strange and unprecedented move of Obama leaving most of the Bush appointees/U.S. attorneys in place?

I think the appointment of Sen. Sessions to chair the Judiciary [Committee] is a key factor in the holdovers, especially Leura Canary, who is a Sessions protege. Sen. Sessions wields a great deal of influence with the Republican minority. The Obama Administration favors diplomacy and appears somewhat hesitant to follow through on some key issues. The Administration certainly has a clear majority to pursue its agenda without Republican support should it choose to do so. I suspect that there have been some concessions made on some issue which allow the holdovers to remain in office.

As to the investigators, in my experience, selections of this type are made on the basis of conformity to the ideal and support of the agenda. In the DOJ investigation, the investigators were two Assistant United States Attorneys, Chiefs of the Civil Division in their respective districts of Oklahoma and Arizona. Their duty is to defend the United States against civil litigation. It was interesting to me that none of the interviews were conducted under oath, so there was no threat of penalty of perjury. There were leading questions, sometimes giving the entire scenario and then asking for consensus from the "witness." It was not much of an investigation, more of a one-sided recitation of self-serving "facts" to support the conclusion that the whistleblower allegations were unsubstantiated.

It has all the hallmarks of a half-hearted, if not totally self-serving, investigation. Would you talk a little about how this unsavory episode has affected your attitude, employment prospects,finances, and, last but not least, your family?

It has been a devastating experience that has adversely affected every aspect of my life. Through this entire process, I continued to believe that the next person would be the one who would bring an element of sanity. I believed that the primary agenda of whistleblower protection was the promotion of honesty and integrity within the federal government.

When I entered service with the Department of Justice, I felt so honored to be among what I considered to be the brightest and the best, the premiere law enforcement agency in the United States. Last November, I voted for a Democrat for the first time in my life, believing that change would come at a time when it was so desperately needed. I celebrated the occasion of the swearing-in of the new Attorney General, hoping that he would respond to the public outcry involving the selective prosecutions in the Middle District of Alabama.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)
 

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The ordinary citizen counts for nothing in the USA... by Jason Paz on Friday, Oct 9, 2009 at 2:50:05 AM
tells usthe sordid details of the gross misfeasanc... by Archie on Friday, Oct 9, 2009 at 3:14:09 PM
i agree 100%, archie.thanks for writing.... by Joan Brunwasser on Friday, Oct 9, 2009 at 3:20:24 PM
Tamarah Grimes story is appalling. It is terrible ... by Kathleen Bushman on Friday, Oct 9, 2009 at 3:51:52 PM
go read part two of this interview (just posted). ... by Joan Brunwasser on Friday, Oct 9, 2009 at 3:58:14 PM