Libby and Siegelman

The former Democratic Governor of Alabama is facing 30 years in prison based on a case that the former Republican Attorney General of Arizona says “doesn’t pass the smell test.”

If you had any doubt that the fuss about Libby’s sentence is largely a matter of Washington insiders, political and journalistic, rallying to the defense of one of their own, consider the contrasting silence about the Siegelman case. A highly popular Democratic Governor of Alabama was indicted by a highly political U.S. Attorney’s office, which is now seeking a thirty-year sentence. He was convicted of appointing someone to a state board that the same man had been appointed to by three previous governors, in return for a contribution in support of a referendum campaign. If that’s a crime, then what are we to say about the system of rewarding campaign contributors with plum Ambassadorships?

A former Republican Attorney General of Arizona says, “From start to finish, this case has been riddled with irregularities. It does not pass the smell test.”

I have no opinion about the merits of the case. Maybe Siegelman is as guilty as sin. And maybe the prosecution was handled straight, though there seem to be some serious questions about that. (Who sent those emails to the jury? What’s the story about the previous prosecution, which the judge tossed out on the first day of trial? And who made the decision to approve RICO charges in this sort of case?) And the fact that Siegelman was convicted of corruption in the course of fighting against Jack Abramoff, Abramoff’s his Indian-gaming clients, and Abramoff’s buddy, now the Governor of Alabama, may be merely ironic. But it does seem striking that no one on the other side of that referendum fight got into any legal trouble, doesn’t it? The fact that, once the Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney had recused herself, the case was prosecuted by a career Assistant U.S. Attorney is somewhat reassuring; the AUSA probably wasn’t taking orders from Karl Rove. But that doesn’t mean the AUSA wasn’t engaged in unjustified scalp-hunting; bringing down a Governor is definitely a good career move.

Still, it’s possible that Siegelman deserved to be convicted. But thirty years? In effect, that’s a life sentence. And not a peep of protest from the Washington Post, which instead is running a non-stop campaign of whining about Scooter Libby’s thirty months.

If a Democrat is elected President in 2008, he or she ought to seek Congressional authorization for a National Commission, with subpoena powers, to investigate everything that’s gone on in the Justice Department since 2001, with particular attention to whether anyone wound up in prison who shouldn’t have.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: