Just a couple days left in President Obama’s second term, time is running out for some seeking freedom. As the curtain is drawing to a close, calls for clemency of Chelsea Manning has finally been answered. Chelsea Manning, in case if you have missed it somehow, was the whistle-blower that leaked the truth and the wrongdoings of our government to Wikileaks (If you would like more info on what sensitive information was leaked, visit https://www.chelseamanning.org/news/what-did-wikileaks-reveal). She was sentenced to 35 years in prison with the possibility of parole in 8 years, the longest for any whistle-blowers. Most of times served she spent in solitary confinement, which many human rights organizations consider a form of torture. While she definitely deserves to be commuted, she’s not the only one.
Don Siegelman, a popular Democratic politician from Alabama, once an elected governor, then a political prisoner for no reason other than being a successful democratic leader in a red state. The fact that he’s still behind bars leaves a hideous black mark on our justice system. Don Siegelman had a long career serving the people of Alabama. He has served as the Secretary of State of Alabama for 2 terms. He was the 43rd Attorney General between 1987 to 1991. He was elected as the Lieutenant Governor and then the Governor in 1999. Every position he has run, he won. He has fought for voting rights for Alabamans, expanded the rights for elders and the handicapped. He had brought suit to tobacco companies and stood up to hazardous waste industries, repealed toxic waste disposal permits that has been polluting land and water sources. He has worked on the largest road and bridges construction bill in AL. His crime was that he accepted an alleged bribe (even though all evidence points to that nothing was exchanged) for appointing Richard Scrushy to the same non-paid board position he has been appointed to under the past 3 governors. This has been made into a so-called corruption case that was really not there. If we follow the same rule, will there still be government officials left anywhere, State and federal alike?
Here’s are the few key players in the Don Siegelman travesty.
- Karl Rove, obsessed with a complete republican control of Alabama government and the popular former Democratic Governor was a threat to his plan and GOP’s red south. A GOP operatives had released statements under oath stating that Karl Rove and Bush’s DOJ was aimed to go after Don Siegelman and would remove him at all costs. These statements made by Dana Simpson, a Republican lawyer working as Bob Reiley’s (Don Siegelman’s republican opponent for governorship) campaign attorney, were well documented in an episode of 60 minutes, and multiple outlets such as Times magazine.
- Karl Rove’s long time friend, Bill Canary, was the campaign manager of Bob Reiley, who ran against Don Siegelman as the Republican candidate. The race was extremely close and highly contested. According to Don Siegelman, he has actually won the 2002 re-election, however, the votes were changed in the middle of the night by a Republican insider, and the results were made official the next day by an Republican judge. When the results were challenged, Bill Pryor, the then State Attorney General, sealed the ballots from the public.
- Bill Canary’s wife, Laura Canary, was the US Attorney in Alabama appointed by President Bush, together with Bill Pryor, brought the investigation and filed corruption charges against Don Siegelman. In 2002, she publicly recused herself from the case, but privately, she stayed on and later on we found out that no recusal paper was filed. At least no recusal file was submitted to DOJ when all files were requested during the appeal. After Laura Canary publicly announced her ‘recusal’, all the files regarding the case was moved to an offsite location, a secret Maxwell Air Force Base location. A whistle-blower, the legal aide in DOJ’s middle district, wrote to Eric Holder in 2009 about the misconduct of the US Attorney, she was fired 8 days later.
- Bill Pryor, was the State Attorney General in 1998. He started an investigation on Don Siegelman in 2000, almost wasting no time after he got into the office. Bill Pryor and Karl Rove both loves big tobacco. Prior to his political career, Karl Rove was on the payroll of Phillip Morris as a political intelligence operative (whatever that is). Bill Pryor, interestingly, is also a big tobacco industry supporter, even though he was the state attorney during the 40 state law suit against tobacco industry. He supported Karl Rove’s tort reform, which has made it difficult to sue large corporations. According to the Mississippi General Attorney Mike Moore, “Bill Pryor was probably the biggest defender of tobacco companies of anyone I know. He did a better job of defending the tobacco companies than their own defense attorneys.” Don Siegelman did not see eye to eye with Bill Pryor, when he was the governor he has pushed for the lawsuit against the tobacco industry.
- Mark Fuller, was the presiding judge of the Don Siegelman case. You may remember him from the highly publicized wife beating incident at the Ritz Carlton in Atlanta. He was sentenced, fined, and later resigned in 2015. While presiding over Don Siegelman’s case, he has blocked evidences, misled the jury, and refused to recuse himself for conflict of interest. When Don Siegelman was the governor, he has prompted investigations into Mark Fuller’s unethical financial activities as the District Attorney, which audit proved to be true. This explains the personal grudges he was holding and the delivering of excessively harsh sentence for Don Siegelman’s case. After the trial Don Siegelman was manacled and ordered directly to jail, instead of given the leave on appeal that is the norm.
- Lanny Young, was the key accuser to the Don Siegelman’s corruption charge. However, in his court testimony as well as many different interviews, he has stated that he has given money to many politicians across the political spectrum. One of the biggest name was Jeff Sessions, who has been in the news recently for being nominated to Attorney General by President-Elect Trump. However, the case was only brought up against Don Siegelman. In fact, no investigation was even opened against other politicians whose name was mentioned in the testimony. Laura Canary’s team offered shortened sentences, a mere two years compares to Siegelman’s 8, in exchange of his accusation against Siegelman.
Over 100 attorney generals from both political parties has penned a letter to President Obama urging him to pardon Don Siegelman. The time is quickly running out. If the pardon is not delivered in time within the next couple of day before Trump takes office, we know that the dark invisible influence of Karl Rove is still present and relevant. Don is not the only political prisoner that remains in prison, he surely will not be the last either.