Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Watch List: Siegelman, Mr. Obama?

Much has been written about the Don Siegelman case, but Bennett L. Gershman has made one of the better efforts at Huffington Post. In Gershman's mind, the question is not so much Why is Siegelman in prison? as it is, Why was he prosecuted and jailed at all? Why? Because:
Of all the abusive, vindictive, and politically-driven prosecutions by the U.S. Department of Justice, the prosecution of Don Siegleman stands at the top. Over a hundred Attorneys General from both political parties have condemned the legality of his prosecution. The House Judiciary Committee has documented the partisan cabal between the Bush White House and the Justice Department to take down Siegelman and destroy his career. Commentary by journalists, academics, and disinterested observers has uniformly decried the legal and ethical irregularities that contaminated his prosecution and blackened the reputation of the Justice Department. 
Yet, to date, President Obama has "refused" to grant Siegelman a pardon or commute his seven-year sentence.

Siegelman was indicted in 2004 for "bid-rigging on state contracts," but the indictment was dismissed "almost immediately" for "lack of evidence." The Justice Department then brought a second indictment for "RICO violations and bribery for accepting a large donation to a state lottery campaign to fund free tuition for high school graduates and appointing the donor to a seat on the state medical board, a position that the donor had occupied under three previous administrations."

Gershman claims a new judges was "handpicked by the Justice Department" for the 2006 trial. As it happened, the judge was once investigated by Siegelman (for financial fraud) when Siegelman was the state Attorney General.

After 11 days of jury deliberation, Siegelman was acquitted of most of the charges but convicted Siegelman of the bribery count. Gershman says that, even then, the judge rendered "questionable legal instruction to the jury" by omitting a "key requirement" (that "to find a bribe, the jury needed to find an explicit promise or understanding. There was no proof of an explicit promise. And Siegelman, the evidence showed, did not profit one penny from the contribution to the state lottery campaign"). Says Gershman:
Indeed, the bribery prosecution of Siegelman is the first bribery case ever brought by federal prosecutors that was predicated on an issue-advocacy campaign contribution in which the alleged beneficiary received nothing in return. 
Gershman says the "proof" in the case was testimony from a single witness, "a convicted extortionist who made a deal with the prosecutors for favorable treatment." He also says that, during 70 interviews with federal prosecutors, the witness was the object of "threats, cajoling, and intimidation, to get him to say that he actually witnessed."

Gershman concludes that "there is overwhelming evidence to conclude that Siegelman was targeted for prosecution not because he committed any crimes but because of who he was" ... "the one Democrat [Republicans] could never get rid of." Consequently, "one would expect that the Siegelman case is a perfect occasion for President Obama to grant a pardon and rectify an injustice." See full editorial here.

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