Our Political Prisoners

By David Swanson

Did you know the United States has in recent years prosecuted hundreds of people for political reasons? This is a crime, or rather a crime wave, that has thus far been addressed primarily by ignoring it. You can read a lot about it from bloggers like Larisa Alexandrovna or Scott Horton. But you won’t hear the president mention it on TV.

In an attempt to convince the corporate media that this issue ranked right up there with governors’ sex lives and celebrities’ deaths, a group of notable speakers, judges, attorneys, victims, and witnesses, gathered and spoke on Friday morning at the National Press Club. You can watch the whole forum on C-Span. You won’t find it anywhere else. Below is what I blogged from the event:

8:00 a.m. Don Siegelman (former governor of Alabama and victim of a politically motivated prosecution) had to go back to Alabama and won’t be here. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers may not make it either. But everybody else is milling and chatting. Some people, I’m not supposed to say are here. I spoke with Scott Horton about Spain. He thinks they’re going to spend 1.5 years on the 6 lawyers and prosecute and convict ’em. He also thinks Italy will soon convict the CIA agents and report them to Interpol and end their traveling.

8:11 John Edward Hurley, President, Sarah McClendon Group, opening, welcoming.

8:31 Andrew Kreig, journalist, author & attorney, says Siegelman was here yesterday but had to get back to Alabama for a filing of new evidence with his attorney.

8:36 Kreig says the Department of Justice (DOJ) declined an invitation to participate in today’s forum.

8:37 Scott Horton: prosecutorial misconduct is the topic. Prosecutors wield incredible powers. Abuse must be held in check by Justice Dept itself. [Isn’t that a weakness?] Horton quotes Robert Jackson on danger of targeting people rather than taking up important cases, of picking individuals to find a crime for rather than picking crimes and finding the guilty parties.

8:42 Horton notes that as attorney general, Michael Mukasey gave one speech on corruption and claimed to know of none, at the same time that stories of former attorney general John Ashcroft’s corruption were in the news. Mukasey claimed that for the 14 months he headed DOJ there was no evidence of politically motivated prosecutions. Yeah? What about Don Siegelman, Sen Walker, Paul Minor, and many others? And what about all of the cases of refusing to prosecute Republicans or sabotaging possible prosecutions of Republicans, like Renzi, as exemplified by yesterday’s report by Murray Waas — a story documenting sabotage of a case by a man then appointed as director of public affairs by Mukasey? Mukasey repeatedly promised in Congress to look into the Siegelman case but never did. The current DOJ says it has inherited a mess (detentions, torture, etc.) but there is another mess. Holder did the right thing in the Stevens case. But what about all of these other cases?

8:51 Nan Aron, President, Legal Director, Alliance for Justice, introduces Elliot Mincberg, Head Counsel for the House Judiciary Committee, speaking in place of Chairman Conyers who has to stay on the hill and vote this morning. Mincberg refers to reports like this one and this one. Committee is still investigating 2006 firing of US attorneys and has already demonstrated clear political motivation in firings, based on which prosecutors were too aggressive or insufficiently aggressive in going after Republicans or Democrats respectively. Mincberg recounts holding Miers and Bolten in contempt, and says settlement has given the committee more White House documents and that the terms of the settlement will be revealed after interviews, and there may be hearings. Second, the political hiring and firing, the testimony of Monica Goodling … but we now have a new AG. [So what?] Holder might reconsider prosecuting Brad Schlossman. Third, the torture [he doesn’t use the word]. Mincberg stresses the importance of the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) report, and says Conyers will hold hearings with Yoo, Bybee, Bradbury, and “hopefully a representative of the DOJ” after that report is released? [Why must this town shut down until that report is released? Who will enforce the subpoenas? Will Conyers use the Capitol Police? Why can they not subpoena a representative from DOJ?] Fourth, the warrantless spying (also waiting for a report). Fifth, today’s topic: selective prosecution. We held LOTS of hearings, claims Mincberg and found extensive evidence of political prosecutions. Just the percentage of prosecutions of elected officials that were against Democrats had a 1 in 10,000 chance of being coincidence. A couple of cases in WI and PA have now been thrown out. But what about all the troubling activity by Republicans not prosecuted, such as the Republican voter registration firm in Nevada tearing up registrations of Democrats. See report on HJC website. Sixth, deferred prosecutions – Ashcroft. Seventh, abuse by FBI of Natl Security Letters (warrantless search warrants). Eighth, state secrets abuse. This is area where Mincberg admits great disappointment with the current DOJ and cites its sovereign immunity claim. Says committees in House and Senate are waiting [absurdly] for the DOJ’s statement prior to marking up the State Secrets Protection Act. Ninth, the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) had been turned into an office that told the White House what it wanted to hear. Tenth and final, voting rights was dealt with politically — we held hearings, John Tanner – chief of civil rights division – resigned. [To Mincberg’s credit he says a lot more a lot faster than Conyers would have.]

9:14 Q&A: Scott Horton asks Mincberg about settlement but he says he can’t give details but that they have received new documents and that the White House continues to claim privilege to withhold other documents.

Go to 1:06:12 in the C-Span video, and watch what I ask Mincberg and how he answers. The camera is on me when I’m asking the question, and I wish it had been on him. Another camera in the room may have been on him. You’ll notice that partway through my question I stop and ask him what he thinks is funny. What had happened was that I had asked whether the House Judiciary Committee would ever use the Capitol Police to enforce its subpoenas. The very idea of thus defending the powers of the first branch of our government made Mincberg giggle nervously. The notion that one might assert such power completely apart from the decrees of the emperor always disturbs congress members and their staffers.

9:20 I asked Mincberg why in the world his committee would delay subpoenaing Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury until the OPR report and whether they would use inherent contempt if subpoenas are violated, and why in the world not impeach Bybee. He said he really does believe that the OPR report will be out soon, although Holder recently said otherwise if you use the word “soon” the way I do. Mincberg also said that every subject of every OPR report is permitted to submit comments, even though Senator Whitehouse has said this is unprecedented – allowing Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury to submit edits. Mincberg thought that inherent contempt was funny and claimed that they had done better going through the courts, a claim that the public cannot judge except by saying there have been no hearings and no public satisfaction, and it’s hard to imagine what secret outcome could have been BETTER than compelling all the recalcitrant witnesses to appear and testify. Mincberg said the House had just impeached Kent and probably would impeach another judge soon, and so was very busy, apparently too busy to impeach Bybee.

9:21 Mincberg says an interview with Rove has been scheduled but not occurred. No straight answer as to whether Rove will be put under oath. But every word will be transcribed and made public and under 18 US Code Section 1001 Rove cannot legally lie. In other words, the BETTER outcome than locking Rove up until he testified is this: he will testify in secret and not under oath, and he has still, years later, not yet done so.

9:28 End of Q&A. And speaking of abuses of justice, check this out: Proposal Offers Specifics On Preventive Detention.

9:30 We’re running 30 mins behind schedule. Kreig introduces Hon. U.W. Clemon, Shareholder, White, Arnold & Dowd, former Chief U.S. District Judge, Alabama’s Northern District (1981-2009). He says Siegelman case in May of 2004 didn’t just spring up, but like a phoenix rising from the ashes it had an earlier existence. Two years earlier Dr Phillip Bobo convicted of Medicaid fraud and narrowly defeated in reelection. Siegelman was leading in polls for his reelection. 11th Circuit Appeals reversed conviction of Bobo. But Bobo was reindicted with Siegelman and an aide to him added as part of a conspiracy. And prosecutors were already shopping for a Republican judge and had requested a Judge Johnson to recuse herself. Then a Bush Sr.-appointed judge recused himself. Then a Clinton-appointed judge Smith was lobbied to recuse himself although Siegelman had no complaint and he saw no reason to recuse himself – but he did so. Then a Bush Jr.-appointed judge got the case and Bobo was doctor to this judge’s children. Siegelman objected. So then the case came to Judge U.W. Clemon. A dishonest campaign in the media sought to disqualify Clemon. Clemon denied double jeopardy claim by Bobo but granted motion to disqualify Siegelman’s lawyers. Justice Dept still sought to have Clemon removed and sought to poison the jury pool through the media. Clemon found no conspiracy. Government moved to dismiss and Clemon granted. Prosecutor said she was untroubled because a new indictment of Siegelman would come in a different district. DOJ was focused on the man, not the crime. It was the most unfounded case Clemon ever saw. (Of course, that new indictment did come.)

Q&A: Clemon answered a question by saying that Holder last week told him the DOJ was looking into Siegelman case. [Believable?]

9:59 Charles “Champ” Walker, Jr., business executive and son of imprisoned former George State Sen. Majority Leader Charles Walker, Sr., owner of the Walker Group and Augusta Focus newspaper. Describes a “war against Democrats,” hundreds of cases around the country of local prosecutions of Democrats, people like Paul Minor. Prosecutor Richard Thompson investigated on behalf of a Republican politician (who has since made him a judge) four top Democrats in Georgia, including Walker Sr. Numerous attempts to charge Walker Sr. with made-up crimes failed. Judge with conflicts of interest refused to allow defense to raise prosecutorial misconduct, and removed black jurors, changed jury from 65% urban black to 65% rural white with jurors from outside district. Walker had led the fight to take Confederate flag out of state flag. See: http://politicalprosecutions.org

10:22 Bruce Fein, author of “Constitutional Peril,” and former Reagan Administration Associate General Counsel of the Justice Department and General Counsel of Federal Communications Commission: Fein denounces corruption of our system in recent years. No principles. Partisan loyalty. Assumption of guilt. Destruction of lives with baseless public accusation. Complete immunity for prosecutors. Culture must change. Education must change. And Congress must step up and create statutes.

10:31 Bill Yeomans, Legal Director, Alliance for Justice, worked 26 years at DOJ and 3 years at Senate Judiciary Committee for Kennedy. He notes accurately that we seem to be concluding each discussion by deferring to a pending report by the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). This is the office through with the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigates itself. Alberto Gonzales began the practice of sending really big projects to OPR, knowing it did not have the resources. The OPR investigation of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memos on torture is five years old. The OPR shared responsibility with Inspector General (IG) for report on US Attorney firings, and that report got done. OPR is overtaxed and also NOT independent. OPR answers to attorney general who can approve an investigation or its results, or not. So we should stop accepting that sending a problem to OPR takes care of it. We should question how and whether OPR should exist. — Then Horton said that on April 21 Holder met with chief judges from around the country who all raised impassioned complaints about failures of OPR.

10:36 Cliff Arnebeck, Chair, Legal Affairs Committee, Common Cause Ohio, National Co-Chair, Alliance for Democracy and 2004 Ohio election voting litigation expert: Ohio was ground zero in 2000 for judicial independence on state supreme court. $7 million of illegal corporate money ran ads attacking Justice Alice Robie Resnick. Whole court now Republican. Arnebeck and others litigated successfully. FBI investigated, but in 2004 DOJ dropped prosecution just before election — did not want to prosecute Republicans, a nationwide pattern. Arnebeck also recounted election fraud investigations closed down. These investigations should be reopened.

10:44 Former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver E. Diaz, Jr., acquitted, had — according to Horton — been prosecuted for purely political reasons. There are many hundreds of these cases around the country, Diaz says, and people falsely convicted. Project Save Justice took report by U of Missouri on prosecutions of Democrats. Gail Sistrunk, Executive Director, Project Save Justice (Producers of the video, “Political Prosecutions of Karl Rove”) has interviewed these people who have never heard of each other all tell the exact same story, and the video is stunning, Diaz says rightly.

Sistrunk described the video and hands them out. See: http://www.politicalprosecutions.org

She describes prosecuting grown children and elderly parents, investigating clients to destroy businesses, and other abuses used rampantly. She calls OPR the Bates Motel: cases go in and never come out. And the statistics show improbably high rates of prosecution for moderate Republicans as well as Democrats. This is not a Republican crime wave but a Federalist Society crime wave.

Diaz points out Paul Minor’s daughter here, Kathryn. He also credits Harper’s and Raw Story (Scott Horton and Larisa Alexandrovna) for their reporting on these stories.

10:58 Diaz describes Paul Minor’s father Bill Minor a newspaper man who spoke up for civil rights in Mississippi in the 1950s. As a child, Paul Minor saw crosses burned on his lawn. He went and killed Asians in Vietnam. He came back and took an interest in politics. (All of this is told as if it’s good, including the fighting in Vietnam.) Paul Minor gave money to candidates. He was the single largest contributor to Democrats in Mississippi and one of the biggest nationally. Diaz served in the Mississippi legislature as a Republican and knew Minor as a friend and ally. Minor supported Diaz in campaigns for judgeships including for the Mississippi Supreme Court. The US Chamber of Commerce spent millions against Diaz. So, Minor contributed and raised contributions from others for Diaz. A US attorney indicted Minor and Diaz for bribery. But Diaz had refused to vote on a single case brought by Minor. That, he says, is why he’s free to stand here today. Yet, there is almost always a conflict in every case and he could very well have voted on some of those cases. Diaz was dragged through a 3-month prosecution. His wife Jennifer who is here was indicted too. For what, it was not clear. They faced over 30 years in prison. DOJ told wife she could plead guilty to an unrelated tax charge and stay home with her children if she turned evidence against her husband. He told her she had to do it and should give them every scrap of info. But there was no evidence of any wrongdoing. So she was not called as a witness.

Diaz refers to Paul Minor’s case as the Ted Stevens case on steroids. Prosecutor Welch is now appropriately the target of a criminal investigation at the instigation of a federal judge. He withheld evidence from the defendants, known as Brady violations. Diaz was acquitted. Others got hung juries. Minor was re-indicted. Diaz points out that everyone accepts that prosecutors were fired for not bringing political prosecutions, but not enough attention is paid to the fact that some prosecutors were not fired, because they DID bring political prosecutions. Paul Minor has been in prison these past 3 years. He was denied the right to visit his wife as she fought cancer and died a couple of months ago. He is a political prisoner. DOJ refused to allow him to attend his wife’s funeral. We need investigations and we need them now. Very well said.

11:12 Puerto Rico State Senator & Minority Whip Eduardo Bhatia (D), representing former Gov. Anibal Acivedo, acquitted. Another similar story of abuses, bogus charges, leaks manipulating the press to damage a public figure, a trial with no evidence, immediate acquittal, and $3 million in legal fees still unpaid by innocent defendant.

If any of this disturbs you, please click the links in this blog, learn more, and make your opinions known to Attorney General Eric Holder 202-514-2001, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers 202-225-5126, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy 202-224-4242.

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