Scott Horton, Harpers Magazine
February 29, 2008
The Alabama G.O.P. Wrestles with Retraction
One of the most interesting sideshows coming out of the transmission of the 60 Minutes segment dealing with former Alabama Governor Don E. Siegelman has been the conduct of the Alabama G.O.P. The CBS piece features direct charges leveled at Karl Rove and at Bush Administration prosecutors. But to listen to the Michael Hubbard, the chair of the Alabama Republicans, you'd think it was a grudge match between 60 Minutes and his party. There must be some reason for Hubbard to adopt this posture, and for it instantly to be shared by his captive press. But maybe it's something on the order of that line from Hamlet: The lady doth protest too much, methinks.
So let's do something that no Advance newspaper in Alabama will ever do. Let's take a look at the way Hubbard keeps moving the stakes around and the points which are left curiously unaddressed in the Hubbard statements.
"Our staff has done an exhaustive search of Alabama Republican Party records going back several years, and we can find not one instance of Dana Jill Simpson volunteering or working on behalf of the Alabama Republican Party. . . Nor can we find anyone within the Republican Party leadership in Alabama who has ever so much as heard of Dana Jill Simpson until she made her first wave of accusations last summer." (my emphasis)
Alabama Republican leaders said this week that they can find no evidence Simpson served as an operative or in any other major role in a campaign. They did not dispute that she may have been among hundreds of volunteers who offer help to GOP campaigns. (my emphasis)
What a difference 72 hours makes. Maybe they got around, in the three days after that "exhaustive search" to talking with Governor Bob Riley and Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh (the G.O.P. chair at the time of the events in question) about Jill Simpson? Maybe they recognized that it was going a bit far out on the ledge to deny that a former county co-chair was unknown to the party leadership? After all, an artful spinner of falsehoods knows that they must at least be somewhat plausible. Or maybe it was Simpson's statement to NBC's senior legal correspondent Dan Abrams, who has now adopted the Siegelman case as a staple of his "Bush League Justice" series, that she had confirming telephone records that gave Mr. Hubbard a bit of pause? In any event, what we see between these two statements looks remarkably close to a retraction.
All in the Party: Siegelman prosecutor Leura Canary (left) and her husband G.O.P. campaign strategist William Canary (right) with Alabama G.O.P. Chair Michael Hubbard and his wife (center)
Strange, then, that Hubbard announces, again in the pages of the Birmingham News, that he wants a retraction from CBS News. Here's what he says:
"Only the most committed anti-Rove/Bush activist could swallow such a tale," party chairman Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, wrote in the letter to "60 Minutes. If you are unable to publicly produce hard and convincing evidence that backs the outrageous charges you aired to millions of viewers across the nation, I ask that you publicly retract the story on your next broadcast."
Note that Hubbard takes an immediate, intense focus on protecting Karl Rove, as if this were a chess game and Karl Rove were the player's queen. Of course the accusations against Rove were presented by a Republican operative lawyer, who testified under oath and subject to cross-examination, and who produced boxes of documents to support her testimony. Republican (minority) counsel were present at the deposition, and had plenty of time to ask whatever questions they wished.
So which of these accounts is credible, and which is not? Notwithstanding Hubbard's flare for melodrama, that doesn't sound like a particularly close or difficult question.
But the most revealing aspect of Hubbard's statement was his demand that CBS produce its corroborating evidence. That, of course, is what this entire contretemps is about. Karl Rove is desperate to know exactly what evidence Simpson and CBS have before he is compelled to give sworn testimony. Why? Armed with this, he hopes to walk through the minefield ahead of him, lying and avoiding being caught. It's about that simple.
I absolutely believe that CBS should put its corroborating data on the table. After Karl Rove has given sworn testimony about this affair.
Now one other thing about Hubbard's statement is very interesting. Note that he focuses every shot on providing cover for Karl Rove. But the real bombshell in the CBS piece did not involve Rove. It involved the Siegelman prosecutors. They were accused of pressuring witnesses to give false evidence and withholding exculpatory evidence. In the end, Rove's interest in sexually compromising camera shots has no direct bearing on Siegelman's fate in the legal system. But the allegations of prosecutorial misconduct would, if proven, force a new trial, or force dismissal of the case against Siegelman entirely.
So why does Hubbard say nothing about this? Clearly it's a tactical call on his part. He is hell-bent on protecting Karl Rove. And he seems to have decided that Louis Franklin is expendable.
Another Republican Calls Siegelman Case a Travesty
Hubbard, the Birmingham News and the Mobile Press-Register are clearly vexed by the mounting calls from Republicans for Siegelman to be set free. And today they have another setback. Former Reagan Administration Treasury official and Wall Street Journal editor Paul Craig Roberts weighs in:
Don Siegelman, a popular Democratic governor of Alabama, a Republican state, was framed in a crooked trial, convicted on June 29, 2006, and sent to Federal prison by the corrupt and immoral Bush Administration.
The frame-up of Siegelman and businessman Richard Scrushy is so crystal clear and blatant that 52 former state attorney generals from across America, both Republicans and Democrats, have urged the US Congress to investigate the Bush Administration's use of the US Department of Justice to rid themselves of a Democratic governor who "they could not beat fair and square," according to Grant Woods, former Republican Attorney General of Arizona and co-chair of the McCain for President leadership committee. Woods says that he has never seen a case with so "many red flags pointing to injustice."
Read the extensive dissection of the case presented here.
Mukasey Grilled on Political Prosecutions
One of the tactical decisions of the Alabama G.O.P. and its Advance newspaper defenders is to present the whole Siegelman matter as something distinctive and limited to Alabama. Forget that there's a storm brewing in Washington over precisely the issues raised here. Forget that two Republican U.S. Attorneys have testified before Congress about the White House's (read: Karl Rove's) attempts to manipulate prosecutions for partisan political purposes. And forget the fact that Miers, Rove, Gonzales, McNulty and a host of others have resigned and departed under a cloud as a result of it. Banish all of that from your silly little head. But when we take the full Washington situation into account, the absurdity of Hubbard's statements and of the editorials and other Koolaid being dispensed daily from the Birmingham News and Mobile Press-Register becomes apparent.
Here's something else the Advance newspapers never told Alabamans about. Three weeks ago Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, my former law partner, appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to give testimony. Though the media focused its coverage on Mukasey's confusing and seemingly contradictory statements about torture (this is when he said that waterboarding would be torture if he experienced he, but no, he was not saying it was torture), the strongest showing during the hearing comes in the YouTube segment below. Former prosecutor, now Congressman Artur Davis pressed Mukasey very skillfully on three cases in which witnesses under oath-all of them Republican lawyers-allege efforts by political figures (in two cases, Karl Rove) to manipulate criminal prosecutions for political purposes. Mukasey attempts to evade answering, stating that he would not permit this. But Davis keeps him focused on whether he has done anything to look into these accusations. And the painful truth that emerges is that, though he recognizes the gravity of the wrongdoing involved, Mukasey admits that he has done absolutely nothing.
Jill Simpson put it to Rove: raise your hand, take an oath and testify. And Artur Davis makes very clear that Mukasey has a duty to pursue this and to have Rove questioned. But he has inexplicably failed to act. There are a number of plausible explanations for that, and all of them are unsavory.
Scott Horton is a contributor to Harper's Magazine and writes No Comment for this website, www.harpers.org. A New York attorney known for his work in emerging markets and international law, especially human rights law and the law of armed conflict, (more...