Interview by BuzzFlash editor Mark Karlin
Rove's dream was to recreate the landscape of the judicial system, and to install judges that were either pliable, malleable, and/or very, very pro-corporation. Essentially that is what he did in Alabama in the early Nineties. That is what this is all about. If you control the governor in the states where the justices are not elected, you control who gets on the supreme court. And that's essentially what this is all about for Rove ultimately. But to get those kinds of things done, you have to eliminate the governor you don't want and install the governor you do want. There are a lot of corporate interests funding this. So it intersects in that sense. It's buying the law and restructuring the state judiciary.
-- Larisa Alexandrovna
Larisa Alexandrovna is an investigative reporter for The Raw Story and maintains her own blog at At-largely. She is distinguished by a passion for justice that is as palpable as her exhaustive research is accurate.
Alexandrovna was born in the Soviet Union and knows a thing or two about people getting framed by the state. So, among her many investigative projects, she became drawn to the plight of one Don Siegelman, the former Democratic governor of Alabama, who became an apparent victim of the DOJ "Prosecutor-Gate." His sin was protesting an election that appears to have been stolen from him, literally, in the dead of night.
If you think that "Prosecutor-Gate" ended with the resignation of Alberto Gonzales, you are wrong. Siegelman is only out of jail after a lengthy campaign to get him released on bond while his case is on appeal. Karl Rove still is at large and free to bloviate for dollars on the corporate media, while Siegelman has to battle to prove that he is an innocent victim of a DOJ that became a tool of partisan prosecutions.
We talked with Larissa recently, since she is one of the lead investigative advocates who have helped put the Siegelman injustice on the map.
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BuzzFlash: We've admired your work for some time. You really broke the story on the plight of Don Siegelman, former Governor of Alabama. What happened to him is related to what has been called prosecutor-gate, under Karl Rove and Alberto Gonzales, when there was an attempt to, in essence, make the Department of Justice a partisan wing of the Republican Party and use the judicial system to actually indict and convict people to achieve political ends.
Don Siegelman was one of those people, and yet the mainstream press, for the most part, hasn't really focused on the Siegelman story. You have. In fact you were able to explain the complex relationships around the Siegelman story relating to the Justice Department and to Republican politics in Alabama and to corporate ownership of newspapers in Alabama who have, for a large part, blacked out the story. What, in essence, is the Siegelman story? \
Larisa Alexandrovna: Well, I don't think it's just Siegelman. There's quite a few other people who are in the same predicament. The story is basically that the Karl Rove mechanism operating out of the White House targeted what they saw as a political obstacle or a political opponent, and used the Department of Justice to eliminate that political opponent. It's really that simple.
BuzzFlash: And how did they do this?
Larisa Alexandrovna: It varied. The best way to summarize it is that they put compromised or "correct" U.S. attorneys into positions in states where they needed to eliminate particular individuals as political opponents. These U.S. attorneys then acted in ways that were irresponsible, and likely criminal. It ranged from approaching if not entirely purchasing witnesses, to barring evidence that would have exonerated Siegelman -- or others, and basically bringing charges over and over and over, and running investigations very close to elections, and then, suddenly appearing in a very public way to use even just an investigation as a way to disgrace a political opponent. It's complex, but that's the best way I can summarize it.
BuzzFlash: Okay. The key thing here is Siegelman was convicted under the Bush Department of Justice and a U.S. attorney that had relationships with the Republican campaign for governor and other offices.
Larisa Alexandrovna: Right. The U.S. attorney that targeted Siegelman was Leura Canary, who is married to Bill Canary, who worked for Siegelman's opponent in the 2002 campaign, Bob Riley. Riley is now the governor. Bill Canary was an adviser on the campaign, and he also goes way back with Karl Rove. They're good friends. They have a long working relationship in the South going back to the early Nineties. So there's that element.
But what should be mentioned is the first time Leura Canary's office tried to bring indictments against Governor Siegelman, the judge threw out the case and held the prosecution in contempt. The second time was much more complex because the judge that got the case -- how should I put it? -- is believed to be very corrupt. It's alleged that he was awarded the judgeship to "hang Siegelman." This is from a Republican whistleblower who came forward named Dana Jill Simpson.
So you had an allegedly corrupt judge the second time around. And jury-tampering, which was brought to the attention of the court by one of the jurors. You had a witness by the name of Nick Bailey, who was put on the stand with the prosecution knowing that he was lying, and having coached him. All that together enabled them to secure a conviction.
BuzzFlash: We should mention Siegelman is out on bail now, after a long period in which a Republican federal judge made it impossible for him to be released through various efforts. But he is on bail now, pending appeal. \
Let's talk about when he became indicted and the sequence.
Larisa Alexandrovna: He was running for re-election as governor.
BuzzFlash: The Republican opponent was the husband of the U.S. attorney who eventually indicted him. And Siegelman won that election, but lo and beyond, in the wee hours of the morning, suddenly 5,000 votes are discovered that swing the election to the Republicans.
Larisa Alexandrovna: Right. There's a midnight counting party, or recount party, that has no representatives from the Democratic side, just a small band of Republicans, the local officials. This was in Baldwin County, Alabama. Siegelman went to bed thinking he had won. They had already given a celebratory speech and everything. And in the middle of the night, this happens. By the morning, there were enough votes to make Bob Riley the winner.
BuzzFlash: Well, enough alleged votes, because these 5,000 votes just suddenly sort of appeared. It's still not clear where they came from other than that they were from that county.
Larisa Alexandrovna: It's almost exactly what happened in Ohio in 2004. The thing is, though, that those ballots were then sealed by the state Attorney General, William Pryor, who is also a good friend of Karl Rove's. And then William Pryor is appointed on a recess appointment to the 11th Circuit as a judge. So you see that this is something that goes directly into Karl Rove's office. Once they brought in Pryor, and you look at Pryor and what he did with sealing the ballots so there couldn't be a recount after this, you start to see that this is something much more organized and possibly at the highest levels.
BuzzFlash: Siegelman says this is where his trouble began. He protested that sudden emergence of the mysterious 5,000 votes that took away his victory a la Florida in 2000 for Al Gore. He asked for a recount, and he feels that at that point, his fate was sealed -- that Rove sent word down to have him indicted. Find some federal law that they could cook up to indict him on.
Larisa Alexandrovna: They had started investigating him even before this, looking for something. But the first round of indictments basically shut him up about this recount. And as I said, the judge, dismissed the case and held the prosecutors in contempt.
But Siegelman made another mistake. He tried to run again. That's when they just went after him and they assigned the case to Judge Mark Fuller, who we know from a Republican whistleblower was essentially put in the place to hang Siegelman. Then the first judge -- the real judge -- throws it away, and then they create a judge and have the case fall into his lap, and that's it. Siegelman's out of circulation.
BuzzFlash: What did they charge him with?
Larisa Alexandrovna: They charged him with bribery, which is insanity. But in order to bring that charge, they basically used the mail fraud and wire fraud laws -- sort of garbage-pail laws that somehow compound a crime if there's a crime. But the strange thing is he was charged with a co-defendant by the name of Richard Scrushy, who's a Republican donor.
BuzzFlash: He was the infamous former HealthSouth CEO.
Larisa Alexandrovna: Yes. In 1999 he was accused of donating to a political fund that was lobbying for Siegelman's lottery plan in exchange for being appointed to a key medical licensing board. And he was very much hated. From my own investigation, it seemed that Richard Scrushy was giving the Republicans a bad rap in certain states, and they really wanted him out of circulation. So it looks like they were paired. It's was like killing two birds with one stone.
Essentially the charges were that this Richard Scrushy had bribed Siegelman to get onto a medical overseeing board. But the problem with that is there was no quid pro quo. Siegelman didn't get any money himself, or even for his election. And Scrushy had been on the board under three previous governors. So there was no quid pro quo. This is what I'm saying. When you bring in a judge who allows certain evidence, and then they bring in witnesses who are compromised and coached, and there's jury-tampering -- it was kind of a ridiculous case to seek a conviction.
BuzzFlash: We encourage people to read your wonderful investigative pieces on this, which really broke the story open. The increased media scrutiny finally forced his release on bond, even though now his travel is restricted.
Larisa Alexandrovna: The 11th Circuit let him out.
BuzzFlash: What does the case signify? From what you just said, there's the intersection of what was known as prosecutor-gate, of the US attorneys scandal, plus the loading up of the federal bench with GOP lackeys. They intersect here, and you needed both of them for the case to work.
Larisa Alexandrovna: Rove's dream was to recreate the landscape of the judicial system, and to install judges that were either pliable, malleable, and/or very, very pro-corporation. Essentially that is what he did in Alabama in the early Nineties. That is what this is all about. If you control the governor in the states where the justices are not elected, you control who gets on the supreme court. And that's essentially what this is all about for Rove ultimately. But to get those kinds of things done, you have to eliminate the governor you don't want and install the governor you do want. There are a lot of corporate interests funding this. So it intersects in that sense. It's buying the law and restructuring the state judiciary.
BuzzFlash: If you put into place a Republican governor, and you have a Republican federal judiciary, you have the Chamber of Commerces buying the state supreme court, and you have U.S. prosecutors installed who will do what the party asks them to do, or the White House, when they need to achieve political objectives, you've controlled the entire process. It's a rigged judicial system.
Larisa Alexandrovna: Right. And you no longer need to worry about elections, honestly, because everything else is fixed. It doesn't matter who tries to do what when you know the outcome is fixed. So it basically takes away the rights of the people in any particular state. A party is under the control of a small group of people. It's a very dangerous, dangerous situation. And that was ultimately Rove's intention, to basically create the dream utopia of an extreme right-wing judiciary.
BuzzFlash: There also was pressure brought to bear on David Iglesas, the former U.S. attorney of New Mexico.
Larisa Alexandrovna: Right.
BuzzFlash: Siegelman was the highest-level official to whom this occurred, but he was not the only person.
Larisa Alexandrovna: In Mississippi, you had state supreme court justices this happened to. In Mississippi, you have a supreme court justice, Justice Oliver Diaz, Jr., who this was done to twice.
He was acquitted twice.
BuzzFlash: And the reason they went after him?
Larisa Alexandrovna: He was a political obstacle. You had a U.S. attorney tied to the White House umbilical cord, and they wanted to bring political prosecutions. There are so many conflicts of interest in that case.
But the most tragic part of that Mississippi Supreme Court case is that there were four co-defendants. One of those co-defendants is the really well-known attorney by the name of Paul Minor, the guy who took on big tobacco. He's a plaintiffs' attorney, and he was the largest Democratic campaign contributor in the South. So he was a target, and these judges were a target. They paired them into one conspiracy kind of thing to eliminate them all. And I know it sounds incredibly sort of paranoid or a most sort of extreme conspiracy theory, but these are facts. This happened. It is what it is.
But the tragic thing is that Paul Minor is in jail, and like Don Siegelman, he was shackled and manacled. He was not allowed out on appeal like Don Siegelman. But in the meantime, his wife is dying of brain cancer and she's gravely, gravely ill. He's not allowed out on appeal, so she won't see her husband before she dies. That's, to me, unacceptable. And I can't get anyone to pay attention.
BuzzFlash: Chairman John Conyers of the House Judiciary Committee has subpoenaed Karl Rove to discuss the Siegelman issue. Rove's attorney has said that he will not appear. He will only respond in writing.
Larisa Alexandrovna: Unfortunately he doesn't have that choice.
BuzzFlash: How will the House Judiciary Committee compel him to appear? Is he going to say that Bush will not allow him to appear?
Larisa Alexandrovna: No, because executive privilege doesn't apply. Karl Rove and the White House have said, we were not involved in these situations. So if they're not involved, then executive privilege does not apply.
BuzzFlash: Second, Don Siegelman, who has spoken very openly and frankly about his plight, his travel is restricted -- is that right?
Larisa Alexandrovna: It was. It's been lifted.
BuzzFlash: It's been lifted.
Larisa Alexandrovna: And there's an outcry. His case is under appeal, and it'll likely be overturned completely. I don't think he's going back to jail. But Paul Minor's still in jail and his wife's dying of cancer. I'm hoping people will help.
BuzzFlash: Another factor is the failure of the corporate media to cover this, particularly a chain of newspapers in Alabama which simply ignored it, which really bespeaks to corporate interests and their interest in maintaining the status quo.
Larisa Alexandrova: Right.
BuzzFlash: What amazed us is again how the story of prosecutor-gate was a big deal last year. And then it just sort of got forgotten because the Congress couldn't carry out its subpoenas. Then Alberto Gonzales left, so it sort of died down. But then you see a governor who is running for re-election, and he's denied re-election. Then he runs again. And the Department of Justice that is politically trying to bring him down through the judicial system, eventually succeeds in jailing him. This is the essence of prosecutorgate.
Larisa Alexandrova: That's right.
BuzzFlash: This came to our attention in large part because of your work and some others like Scott Horton of Harper's, who continue to cover it. We've, of course, emphasized it on BuzzFlash through your work and Horton's and others. It became, you know, on the Internet, at least, as a big issue.
BuzzFlash: The Washington Post didn't dig this up. You dug this up. And yet it was right there for anyone to dig up if they put their hands in the dirt and their nose to the grindstone and did their investigative reporting right.
Larisa Alexandrova: And Rawstory was reporting on the story. There was nobody else. Everyone focused on the U.S. attorneys who were fired. And I kept saying: what of the ones who stayed? Why did they get to stay? Were they the "loyal" Bushies? And if so, how?
Siegelman, as you pointed out, is high profile. But, you do not only have a governor [being prosecuted]. You have a supreme court justice in Mississippi. You have judges in Mississippi. You have a famed lawyer in Florida. You have the coroner in Pennsylvania.
At every level, you've got people who are high profile, and who do not have access to media shining a light on them, who cannot get their attention. Now what about people who are not high profile, who are not governors or judges, for example, somebody who, let's say, did not play ball on a local level, somebody who maybe wouldn't go along with something? We will likely never hear about them, whomever they are."
BuzzFlash: A woman in Wisconsin was prosecuted by the Milwaukee attorney there, and served time for something that really wasn't a crime. That was only because they wanted to try to dirty up the Democratic governor.
Larisa Alexandrova: Now in Alabama they're doing the same thing with state legislators who are Democrats.
This is what frightens me - how prevalent is this? How far spread is this? Is this localized to a couple of states? Or just a couple of high-profile cases? Or is this much deeper and more insidious?
We know that the Pentagon is spying on anti-war protesters. We know that the FBI and the New York Police Department were surveilling American citizens before the National Republican Convention in 2004. So, just how deep does this go when your political affiliation makes you public enemy number one? That is really frightening to me. That reminds me of the Soviet Union.
BuzzFlash: Which you've had some experience with.
Larisa Alexandrova: That's right.
BuzzFlash: Bringing it back to the Justice Department, the mainstream press finally did pick it up after Josh Marshal had hammered away on this for awhile, saying there's a strange coincidence here of U.S. attorneys who have been dismissed even though they've had very favorable job ratings.
Larisa Alexandrovna: Right.
BuzzFlash: And it was pretty clear that e-mails that have been destroyed at the White House related to prosecutorgate. This was at the height of Gonzales' rather infamous high profile. But then again, as we said earlier in this interview, it was kind of forgotten by the mainstream press. The mainstream press hasn't gone after the fact that we still have sitting there the people that the Bush department signed off on as okay for partisan prosecution.
Larisa Alexandrovna: The Josh Marshall reports were really, really responsible for just getting the U.S. attorney firings the attention that they required in Congress and in general. Then you had Harper's story, working on the ones that stayed behind. I thought that "60 Minutes" came in late in the game. The only person on TV who's even following this thinks that he did all the investigative work, you know? Which is fine. Just get the story out.
But ultimately, you know there's something very wrong here because Congress has not done anything to remove these people. Leura Canary, Alice Martin and Dunnica Lampton -- these are three names right off the bat I'll give you that must be removed from their posts as U.S. attorneys. They have blatantly violated their oath, their duties. They have abused their power. And there's enough evidence that at the very least they should be suspended until Congress can do whatever Congress needs to do. But let's remove these people so no more damage happens. Still, they remain in office.
BuzzFlash: Why was the Alabama press not covering this for the most part?
Larisa Alexandrovna: Because they're owned by the same family -- the major newspapers. Essentially it's a private operation that is party-aligned and party-subsidized. That's basically it. For the same reason, a right-wing TV outlet seems to have lost the signal of the "60 Minutes" coverage of the Siegelman case and blacked out the screens in Alabama. When you privatize the truth, that is the media; when you privatize justice, I mean, this is what you get.
BuzzFlash: In general they have allegiances to the status quo. People in power favor the corporate bottom line.
Larisa Alexandrovna: That's basically it. If you control the media, you control the truth.
BuzzFlash: We shouldn't forget that Mark Crispin Miller, on the Internet, through his e-mail and his blog, certainly was behind the cause of getting Siegelman freed. The mainstream media in Alabama took no notice of this injustice.
Larisa Alexandrovna: No. They actually reported nonsense and garbage and put out press releases from the U.S. attorney's office, which they used as facts. There were few reporters when I was down there. The few reporters - I was going through the archives and I was looking at the bylines. There were a few reporters' articles that were very good, very factual and they look like they had done their work and investigative reporting. When I tried to look them up, they no longer worked at these various publications. I don't know if this is a coincidence, but they no longer have jobs at those papers.
BuzzFlash: You've got the skills of an investigative journalist. Why does this particular case make you so impassioned?
Larisa Alexandrovna: Probably because it reminds me of the Soviet Union and a country that my family and I escaped from. It's no longer a country now, but technically I'm from the Ukraine, but at the time, the Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. And it was single-party rule. And you have allegiance to the party. And the party controlled everything. And this is what I see happening here.
This disturbs me on a very personal level. And the fact that the public does not see this, or at least is starting to see this, is really frightening me. Because at some point, this will become irreversible. It will become so institutionalized that no amount of protesting or putting pressure on your member of Congress will change the structure that has been set up. And so, you know, that's basically why this makes me so, you know, crazy, so impassioned, is because it frightens me. It reminds me of a country I escaped from, so -
BuzzFlash: Larisa, thank you so much.
Larisa Alexandrovna: Thank you.
BuzzFlash Interview conducted by Mark Karlin.