New evidence related to one of the most controversial public corruption cases in recent years, the 2006 conviction of Alabama’s former Democratic Governor, Donald E. Siegelman, indicates that Department of Justice prosecutors, who are supposed to ignore politics, were thinking and acting in partisan terms when they probed the governor’s administration.
The same evidence illustrates a systemic problem at the Justice Department: When the Department investigates allegations of misconduct by its own prosecutors, it typically avoids transparency or public accountability. As a result, the public can be left with a question: Is the Justice Department whitewashing prosecutorial abuse?
In 2002, during the Justice Department’s investigation of Siegelman’s administration, a federal prosecutor emailed the son and campaign manager of Siegelman’s principal Republican opponent updating him on the confidential probe, according to a Justice Department document obtained by the Project On Government Oversight and reported here for the first time.
In the email, the prosecutor said he had been “thwarted” after starting an investigation “into the Siegelman administration.” He added that it was “frustrating for me and a small group of like minded conservative prosecutors” to “fight the tide in order to do the job we are sworn to do.”
According to the document, an internal affairs unit at the Justice Department reviewed the email in the course of investigating whether various Department actions against Siegelman were “politically motivated.” The internal affairs unit, known as the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), determined that the prosecutor “should not have sent the e-mail. . .and that the fact he did so raised serious questions about his judgment, especially given his supervisory authority over public corruption cases.”
However, as in many OPR cases reviewed by the Project On Government Oversight for a report published in March 2014, there seems to be a disconnect between facts uncovered in the investigation and the conclusions drawn by the Justice Department’s internal watchdog.
Despite the email quoted above and other findings critical of “several current and former Department attorneys involved in the Siegelman cases,” OPR “concluded. . .that the evidence did not establish that political motivation played a role in the investigations or prosecution of Mr. Siegelman,” the document said.