U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday said it's his understanding that former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman has an active appeal and therefore is not eligible to have his sentence commuted.
As a journalist based in Birmingham, I have followed the Siegelman case closely since this blog began in June 2007--and I am not aware of any active appeal on Siegelman's behalf. Former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, who was codefendant in the case, has an appeal pending before the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta, but that was not filed by Siegelman's lawyers.
If Siegelman has an active appeal, it has escaped my attention. And that raises this question: Is Eric Holder mistaken or did he intentionally make a misleading statement to Congress and the American people? I have sent queries to Siegelman's legal team, seeking clarification about any appeals, plus their response to Holder's statements. We will update this post as new information becomes available.
(Update: Joseph Siegelman, the governor's son, released the following statement on a progressive listserv in Alabama:
Yes, my dad is appealing [Judge Mark] Fuller's denial of a new trial. Nonetheless, Holder does appear to be hiding behind those in-house guidelines to avoid dealing with the case head on.)
Holder's remarks came in response to questions from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) in a House Judiciary Committee hearing. A video of the exchange can be viewed at the end of this post.
Debra J. Saunders, of the San Francisco Chronicle, strongly criticized Holder's performance in a piece titled "Eric Holder has a bad memory on pardons." From the Saunders post:
At Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., asked Attorney General Eric Holder if he would push for a presidential pardon for former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. “The president could pardon him now,” said Cohen as he pressed Holder.
Holder responded that Siegelman is not eligible to apply for a pardon because he’s currently serving his sentence, and a commutation not possible because he has an appeal. Cohen rightly noted that those are Department of Justice rules, but they do not constrain the president. Holder agreed: “The president’s pardon power is close to absolute.”
Cohen then noted that Ron Rodgers, a pardons attorney with the Department of Justice (DOJ), is a George W. Bush appointee--an apparent reference to the fact Siegelman was prosecuted under the Bush DOJ. Cohen then asked about Rodgers' apparent ethical lapses. The unasked question hanging over this exchange: "Why in the hell is Mr. Rodgers still in his position, with authority over the Siegelman pardon process?" From the Saunders piece:
Is your Pardon Attorney Ron Rodgers under investigation for withholding information? Cohen asked, referring to an Inspector General probe.
“There were some difficulties in connection, I don’t remember what the individual’s name was, about information that was I guess relayed to the White House from the Pardon Attorney’s office, but I think corrective measures have been put in place so that kind of mistake would not happen in the future.”
The individual’s name — and Holder should know it – is Clarence Aaron, who outrageously was sentenced to life without parole for a first-time nonviolent drug offense. And Holder should be outraged that Pardon Attorney Ronald Rodgers withheld vital information on Aaron’s case. The only corrective measure that can prevent a repeat would be to remove Rodgers from a position for which he temperamentally is unsuited.
Saunders closed her post with a cutting critique of Holder's record:
By the way, none of the 16 Puerto Rican national terrorists pardoned by President Clinton — with an assist from Holder — had applied for pardons. But that didn’t stop Holder at the time. But then this Attorney General never has been overly preoccupied with any notions of justice.
Steve Cohen got to the heart of profound issues raised by the Siegelman case--and he never received much of a response from Eric Holder:
Numerous legal experts have said this was a grave injustice . . . Can you assure me that you will review his case because in my opinion . . . an innocent man is in jail, being deprived of liberty? Nothing is more important than liberty; taking your liberty is probably the harshest thing the government can do to a person. We have taken this gentleman's liberty, and I believe we need to look at that case."