Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Alabama: Toobin on (for) Siegelman

Jeffrey Toobin first made his mark on the presidential pardon radar by repeatedly insisting that George W. Bush would have to "pardon" Scooter Libby, or Libby would have to march off to prison. It was great for the purposes of dramatic commentary, but certainly didn't say much positive about Toobin's understanding of the pardon power, or research ability. See commentary here and here.

Now Toobin is "back," in the New Yorker, arguing that President Obama "should" do a "risky" challenge by "commuting the prison sentence of Don Siegelman:
... the former governor of Alabama. Siegelman, a Democrat, served a single term in office, from 1999 to 2003, in the last days before Alabama turned into an overwhelmingly Republican state. He’s spent the subsequent decade dealing with the fallout from the case that landed him in prison—a case that, at its core, is about a single campaign contribution. 
As it happens, the contribution was half a million dollars, and it was "to support the pro-lottery campaign" that was rejected by voters. Siegelman then reappointed the donor to the State's Certificate of Need Review Board (which regulates health care in the state).

On the basis of conversations considered in evidence, Siegelman was convicted (in 2006) of seven counts of bribery and conspiracy and sentenced to seven years in federal prison (which - without reference to sentencing guidelines, or other sentence om other cases that are similar - Toobin considers "harsh."). Toobin argues Siegelman was "conducting the seedy, but routine, business of contemporary American politics." Or, put another way. "Scrushy contributed because he wanted something in return, which is why many, if not most, people contribute to political campaigns."

But Toobin also argues there was "a distasteful overlay of politics" to Siegelman's prosecution. The odd assumption being that politics and prosecutions exist in separate universes. Someone, somewhere, was willing to claim, for example, that Karl Rove "promised" a Justice Department investigation and, lo and behold, "an investigation that then took place." Wow! Unbelievable! Toobin offers no insight into how many times Rove ever referred to the need / desire for an investigation, or the percentage of times Rove got what he wanted. But Toobin does admit "interference" in the case is "unproved."

Toobin also finds it relevant that, in other unrelated matters, Rove seemed "willing to manipulate" - unlike everyone else conducting the routine business of contemporary American politics. And, as if that were not enough, the sentencing judge was arrested for conduct unrelated to the case! Now THAT is something! We hope, the case for Siegelman is more impressive than Toobin's presentation. See Toobin's work here.

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