Explosive OpEd News Interview: Siegelman Whistleblower Slams Case
Tamarah, welcome to OpEd News. It's now three years since you served as a paralegal on the U.S. Justice Department team that won the 2006 corruption conviction of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, your state's most important Democrat. OpEd News has closely followed allegations of gross official misconduct about that verdict and similar Karl Rove-inspired political prosecutions nationwide. You courageously raised such questions within the Justice Department, or “DoJ” as it's called, even when your boss was the wife of Rove's close friend and longtime politically ally. Then Congress drew on your insights to raise major questions about the Siegelman trial last November, and DoJ fired you in June despite supposed federal protections for whistleblowers. On Sept. 9, I published an update hereabout DoJ's effort to imprison Siegelman for 20 more years largely for asking a businessman to donate to an education foundation. Then I published a separate profile of you here in Know, the national magazine for paralegals.
But OpEd News gets your first published Q&A interview about your remarkable experience.
What's all this been like for you?
Thank you for your interest. It's been an enlightening experience. I didn't understand the power of a Presidential appointee like a U.S. attorney and the Department of Justice. I lost my naiveté in 2007, when those holding this power attempted to intimidate and silence me. When that failed, they tried to harm me through an unsuccessful selective prosecution. Had I not personally experienced every moment of it, I simply wouldn't have believed it was possible within the United States of America. Certainly, I wouldn't have imagined it within our country's premiere law enforcement agency.
Let's go right to your nine-page letter of June 1 of this year to Attorney General Eric Holder where you summarized your concerns about government misconduct in prosecuting Siegelman. I'm sure you put a lot of thought into the letter, and so please quote from the top.
I wrote him: I remain a dedicated and loyal employee. During the first two years of my employment with the Department, I received numerous performance-based awards and exemplary performance ratings and reviews. All of that would change in April 2005 when I was assigned to work on the prosecution of the former Governor of the State of Alabama, Don Siegelman, a case commonly referred to as "The Big Case" within the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Alabama. Everything I had been taught to regard as absolute in terms of ethical and professional conduct in my previous 20-year career in litigation support would be challenged by the conduct which I observed during that assignment.
Now in the news is that the Justice Department is trying to undermine your revelations by saying you haven't testified about them. What's your response?
From my perspective, this is nothing more than the latest attempt in a series failed attempts by the government to impugn my integrity, beginning with the unsuccessful attempts to prosecute me in March and May 2008. I challenge the government to make those allegations against my integrity under oath and to provide legally admissible evidence to support its allegations. I will do the same. I am certain of what I saw and heard. I will gladly provide testimony under oath to the appropriate oversight authorities.
Co-defendants Siegelman and former HealthSouth chief executive Richard Scrushy allege that they were prosecuted for political reasons, with the Republican Scrushy saying he was just a convenient target to rout Siegelman from politics. What's your background leading up to your six years as a DoJ paralegal?
I have always considered myself to be a moderate Republican. I believe in the U.S. Constitution and that every citizen of the United States has absolute civil rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution without regard to political affiliation. Before my entry into federal service, I had the privilege to acquire 18 years of invaluable experience in litigation support working with diligent, conscientious lawyers in the private sector.
After signing the letter on June 1 you were fired on June 9. That would seem almost incredible except to someone who's lived it, or who's read the documentation illustrating the immense power of a bureaucracy to protect its leaders. The civics-book image of DoJ is of a few politically appointed leaders such as U.S. Attorney Leura Canary working with career employees who are largely immune to pressure and all united with the goal of ascertaining justice -- even if it involves clearing a defendant's name from unjust charges. Your letter to the attorney general has some interesting language about the realities that you saw. Please quote some of it.
The victory-at-all-costs mentality of the prosecution of The Big Case pervaded the office. Every question was answered with, "This is the most important case in the office." Every milestone in The Big Case was rewarded with a personal acknowledgement from U.S. Attorney Leura Canary. When the superseding indictment was unsealed, Mrs. Canary hosted a party at the Marina to celebrate. This pattern of special recognition by Mrs. Canary was repeated throughout the case. Eventually, there was new office furniture, premium office space in the new building, plum appointments and assignments, conferences and seminars, new titles, generous time-off and no supervision, all-related to the work on The Big Case. FBI Agents also received perks and rewards for their work on the case.
Leura Canary, the wife of Karl Rove's ally Bill Canary and a Bush appointee, was theoretically recused from the Siegelman case for conflict of interest, of course. Yet she remains in office as of today nearly nine months after President Obama took office. You spoke also of a downside to her control?
Reprisal is a concept familiar to employees in the Middle District of Alabama. The instrument of choice has often been a selective and/or malicious prosecution of some type utilizing the resources of DoJ.
I know you provide a lot of specifics in your letter to Eric Holder, but can you summarize the pattern you saw?
The prosecution of The Big Case divided the employees along ethical and ideological lines. The first group, comprised of those willing to do whatever it took to succeed, received extraordinary rewards and preferential treatment with the full support of Mrs. Canary. The second group, comprised of those who opposed unethical and sometimes unlawful conduct, were subjected to harsh retaliation. The third and final group simply sought to keep their heads down and make it through the day without getting on the wrong side of the "right" people and losing their jobs. This is the reality of life in the Montgomery U.S. attorney's office for dozens of DoJ employees. As a consequence of observing harsh retaliation, it is difficult to find a single employee willing to risk his or her job to honestly discuss the matters without fear of reprisal. This is particularly true since they have seen me and the other employees who were willing to stand up for principles and ethics escorted from the building and terminated.
As you know, the defendants were convicted at their second trials of five bribery-related charges out of 32 brought by prosecutors. The main charges involved Scrushy's donations in 1999 and 2000 to the non-profit Alabama Education Foundation, along with Siegelman's reappointment of Scrushy in 1999 to a state health care board. Also, Siegelman was convicted of obstruction of justice for a check for a motorcycle from a lobbyist who had made many gifts to Alabama politicians. What was your general impression of that prosecution, and what happened to you?
We were told dozens of times that The Big Case was the most important case in the office, and that U.S. Attorney Leura Canary would grant the prosecution virtually unlimited latitude to obtain convictions. This message created a victory-at-all-costs mentality within the prosecution. This mindset was regularly reinforced by “victory” celebrations hosted by Leura Canary at every milestone in the prosecution. As you know, Leura Canary was alleged to have recused herself during this time. The Big Case prosecution team did not work within the U.S. Attorney's Office. Instead, it was in an isolated off-site location accessible only to the prosecution team. There was a complete lack of normal managerial and peer oversight at the offsite. In my personal experience, these circumstances created a perfect storm. It was an environment not at all conducive to self-control, personal or professional responsibility or accountability. In that isolated off-site location, away from any managerial oversight, the situation quickly deteriorated into a false sense of invulnerability and omnipotence among the prosecution.
What was your reaction?
I expressed my concerns directly to upper management about certain practices which I observed with alarming frequency in the preparation of the prosecution for The Big Case. In response, I was told that as a paralegal, I had no standing to question the decisions of a prosecutor. Further, I was told that if Leura Canary found out I had done so, I would certainly be subject to disciplinary action. This was even though I previously had an exemplary record, and had received a promotion to GS12 just three months prior.
Let's focus first on your actions, not the basics of the prosecution case that have been reported elsewhere for years, including Scrushy's acquittal in his first trial and the dropped charges against Siegelman in his first trial. What did you do and why?
Federal employees are required by statute to report reasonable suspicions of misconduct. We are referred to internal channels that are supposed to be “safe conduits” for making whistleblower disclosures. Federal employees are repeatedly reminded of the duty to report waste, fraud, abuse and misconduct. We are assured that the Department of Justice is an Equal Employment Opportunity workplace. I considered what I had personally observed. I believed that injustices had occurred. I was very persistent and prolific in my making my whistleblower disclosures.
In July 2007, I filed whistleblower disclosures with several agencies. My intent was to get the information out to as many oversight agencies as possible: The Executive Office for United States Attorneys, Office of Inspector General, Office of Special Counsel, Office of Personnel Management, Office of Professional Responsibility, Government Accountability Office. I included the whistleblower allegations in my Equal Employment Opportunity complaint, which I filed with the Executive Office for United States Attorneys Equal Employment Staff. There was a lot of e-mail discussion throughout the Executive Office and the EEO staff about the disclosures I had made in the Siegelman/Scrushy prosecution.
What did you expect to happen?
I expected the Department to conduct a fair and impartial investigation into my allegations. I did not expect my disclosures to be accepted without documentation. I provided documentation to support my disclosures. To my surprise, utilizing the EEO mediation process, the Executive Office responded to my complaints with an unwarranted selective criminal prosecution against me. This is quite an irony: The Executive Office for United States Attorneys initiated and attempted a selective prosecution of one of its own, a federal employee who spoke out on certain practices in the alleged selective political prosecution of former Governor Siegelman.
As context, this was after Alabama's Middle District U.S. Attorney Leura Canary had recused herself from the prosecution because of her husband William Canary's long involvement in Republican campaigns opposing Siegelman. Then what happened?
When Leura Canary discovered I had filed the complaints, she was furious. She called me into her office to threaten and intimidate me. She fired one of the witnesses identified in my complaint [An AUSA who was still on probation] on pretext and allowed another witness to be repeatedly assaulted by her supervisor and subjected to numerous instances of workplace violence. There was no doubt, the situation had become overtly hostile. On Nov. 1, 2007, the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys EEO staff conducted an active mediation of my claims. At that time, the mediator informed me that the EEO Staff would not address the whistleblower allegations. I was told it was highly unusual for the U.S. Attorney to attend a simple mediation. But I arrived to find a defiant Leura Canary present and ready to take the lead role. This is consistent with Leura Canary's usual practice in regard to anything pertaining to the Siegelman/Scrushy prosecution.
On Nov. 1, Leura Canary, the mediator and I signed an “Agreement to Mediate,” which guaranteed confidentiality in my discussions with the "neutral" mediator under the federal Confidentiality Statute in the U.S. Code at 5 U.S.C. 574. According to a sworn statement given to support the attempted prosecution against me, that evening Mrs. Canary, in her usual practice, hosted a gathering at the lobby bar in the Embassy Suites Hotel in Montgomery, Alabama for all the participants from the mediation except me.
It's regarded as one of the nicest bars in the state capital. Who was there?
The "neutral" mediator was an Assistant United States Attorney and Deputy Civil Chief for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Atlanta. Her name is Sharon Stokes. Her job is to defend the U.S. government against claims, including EEO claims brought by employees of federal agencies. According to sworn statements given to DoJ, those who socialized for several hours in the lobby bar discussing the mediation included Mrs. Canary, Mrs. Stokes, the Executive Office General Counsel Frederick Menner and Mrs. Canary's First Assistant (and first cousin) Patricia Watson .
Then what happened?
According to sworn statements given by Mrs. Watson and Mrs. Canary, at some point and without any basis in fact, Mrs. Watson suggested that it was possible that I had made audio-taped recordings while at the offsite location to support my EEO claims. I later learned that Mrs. Canary expressed her "concern” that these imaginary tapes might contain grand jury information sensitive to the Siegelman/Scrushy prosecution, or other sensitive law enforcement information, and/or privileged or work product material. She further suggested that these imaginary tapes might have been disclosed by me outside the DoJ. These conversations were openly discussed in a crowded public bar. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Leura Canary, the highest-ranking federal law enforcement official for the Middle District of Alabama, a Presidential appointee, sat in a bar for hours with her entourage, concocting a plan to divest herself of a particularly persistent thorn in her paw.
How would you characterize this plan?
Her weapon of choice was one that had served her well: Selective prosecution. Mrs. Canary consistently claimed to have “important friends” in Washington DC. Those friends, whoever they may be, should be embarrassed by the conduct of Leura Canary. Think about it: the President's United States Attorney admittedly sat in a bar for several hours, created a plan falsely to accuse a subordinate in her own office, with the full cooperation and support of the United States Department of Justice -- when she was supposed to be recused from the case!
End of Part I
See Part II Tomorrow: The Plot Sickens
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End of Part I
See Part II Tomorrow: The Plot Sickens
Author's Bio: Andrew Kreig is a Washington, DC-based journalist, drawing on his careers in law, business and journalism. His research interests are on government decision-making (including official corruption in both major parties), harms from such misconduct to the U.S. economy and constitutional rights, and opportunities for economic growth via the new media that he helped enable through broadband technology. As President and CEO of the Wireless Communications Association International from 1996 until last summer, Kreig led its evolution into the premier worldwide advocate for high-capacity wireless services. Previously, he authored some two thousand bylined news and magazine articles, plus the pioneering 1987 book "Spiked: How Chain Management Corrupted America's Oldest Newspaper." The book documented unethical practices within the news media, including misleading applications by prominent news industry executives to win coveted Pulitzer Prizes. Listed in numerous Who's Who volumes for more than a dozen years, he has lectured on five continents about communications issues and has been active in civic affairs in Washington. He holds degrees from Yale Law School and University of Chicago School of Law. His previous employers include the Hartford Courant, Connecticut General Assembly Speaker Irving Stolberg, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf in Boston and the global law firm Latham & Watkins.