By Roger Shuler
This story was originally published on Mr. Shuler’s blog, Legal Schnauzer.
After hearing that former White House advisor Karl Rove is set to answer questions before a congressional committee about the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, many progressives might be tempted to shout, “Hallelujah!”
But here’s a word of caution from our justice team at Legal Schnauzer: Not so fast.
The U.S. House Judiciary Committee announced Wednesday evening that it had reached an agreement for Rove and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers to testify about the firings of nine U.S. attorneys. News reports indicate the testimony also is expected to cover the Siegelman case, the best known of several apparent political prosecutions under the Bush Department of Justice.
Rove and Miers are to sit for transcribed depositions under penalty of perjury, with the committee reserving the right to seek public testimony. The agreement also states that invocations of official privileges will be limited.
All of that sounds good, right? Well, we’re not so sure.
For one, why is the Siegelman case the only political prosecution on the agenda? There appear to be many others, perhaps most notably the case of Mississippi attorney Paul Minor and former state judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield. That is the only documented case where the Bush prosecutor–Dunn Lampton–was on a list to be fired but was removed when he pursued a specific prosecution.
For another, news reports indicate that the Obama White House was deeply involved in negotiations for the Rove testimony. And White House Counsel Gregory Craig apparently represented the Obama camp. A New York Times report states that Craig sent House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers a letter saying, “President Obama is pleased that the parties have agreed to resolve this matter amicably.”
But is Craig committed to seeing that former Bush officials are held accountable for politicizing the Justice Department? News out of Alabama this week indicates that Craig might be more interested in protecting Rove than in seeing that justice is done.
Alabama attorney Jill Simpson, a GOP whistleblower in the Siegelman case, says Craig has a conflict in matters involving Rove and perhaps other former Bush officials. In a letter dated February 22, 2009, Simpson’s attorney, Priscilla Black Duncan, asked Craig to step down from all matters involving the Bush administration.
As justification for this request, the letter states:
* Craig represented Rove in a recent book deal;
* Emmet Flood, Craig’s former close associate and mentor, is representing the Bush administration on executive-privilege issues in a case involving the U.S. attorneys firings;
* Craig was in contact with Jill Simpson on the pretense of representing her regarding her testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, but declined representation only after hearing her entire case against Rove.
In the letter, Duncan states that Craig had a duty to disclose his relationship with Rove to Simpson, and he has a duty now to disclose with whom he shared information gleaned from his discussions with Simpson.
In short, Simpson alleges that Craig violated multiple rules of professional conduct for lawyers. These are the kinds of violations that, if confirmed, could get a lawyer in serious trouble. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the subject, but I suspect disbarment could be on the table for Mr. Craig if he indeed took privileged information from Ms. Simpson and disclosed it to Karl Rove or others.
So is the Rove deal a step forward for justice? I don’t think so. And that’s because I smell a foul odor coming from the Obama White House. And it seems to be coming from the vicinity of Gregory Craig.
As we have stated before here at Legal Schnauzer, I suspect the Obama presidency could go down in flames if he does not “get it right” on justice issues. The Bill Clinton administration chose to give corrupt Republicans a free pass and lived to regret it. With the help of Gregory Craig, Obama appears to be headed down the same slippery slope.
Does Obama need to make a change in his White House counsel? I would say the answer is yes, and that’s because I’ve read the complete Jill Simpson letter. I invite Legal Schnauzer readers to do the same.
Here is a complete copy of the letter Simpson sent to Mr. Craig, as first reported by investigative reporter Glynn Wilson at Locust Fork New-Journal. The letter includes intriguing information about a number of Alabama GOP luminaries, including Governor Bob Riley and his son Rob, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, and U.S. Judge Mark Fuller (the judge in the Siegelman case):
Hon. Greg Craig
Office of the White House Counsel
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington D.C. 20500
February 22, 2009
RE: Your position regarding advising the President on the pending testimony of Karl Rove
Dear Attorney Craig:
I represent Dana Jill Simpson, an attorney in Rainsville, Alabama, who testified before Congress in September 2007, regarding Karl Rove’s involvement in the U.S. Justice Department prosecution of Gov. Don Siegelman.
She is very concerned that you have violated the Rules of Professional Conduct 1.6 , 1.7 and 1.10, while citing 1.9 to decline representation. She is equally concerned about the person or persons to whom you have divulged her confidential information. Your recent efforts on the part of negotiating a settlement between Congress and Karl Rove have been noted, as well as your efforts to delay matters before the D.C. Court of Appeals, regarding Rove and other Bush administration officers claiming executive privilege.
For this reason, she is asking that you step down from your position as White House Counsel, at least in all matters dealing with the Bush administration. Further, she is asking that you furnish her with a list of each and every person with whom you have communicated regarding this matter; that is, Miss Simpson’s affidavit, testimony, knowledge, research and any other matters touching or information furnished by Miss Simpson.
In recapping the events linking you and Miss Simpson:
1.) Upon information and belief, Gov. Don Siegelman or his agent made the direct call to you at your law firm, Williams & Connolly, soliciting your pro bono representation of Ms. Simpson, with regard to her affidavit about Karl Rove’s involvement in Siegelman’s prosecution.
2.) According to Ms. Simpson, you called her up to four times on or about March 16-17, 2007, and you faxed her your resume.
3.) She initially asked, “Before we really start this, do you have any contacts with George Bush, Karl Rove, Don Siegelman or Bob Riley?”
4.) You indicated you did not and said, “Tell me who this is about.”
5.) Your initial conversation with Ms. Simpson lasted about 10 to 15 minutes.
6.) In three conversations of nearly two hours, you extracted particular details of her involvement, and you asked her specifically about the length of time and character of her contact with Karl Rove, the extent of her work with the GOP and her knowledge of U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller’s owner-interest in Doss Aviation, a major federal contractor, and matters dealing with lobbyist G. Stewart Hall’s then-Federalist Group and the steering of contracts to Fuller’s company and companies related to Gov. Bob Riley’s son, Rob Riley.
7.) After this extensive questioning, which included another session for the questions you had formulated, you announced that you couldn’t represent her because you had represented Sen. Richard Shelby during the 2004-2005 investigations of his alleged national security leaks.
8.) Ms. Simpson says that you related to her that Sen. Shelby had told you ” in confidence” that he “owned and controlled Doss Aviation out of the federal courthouse in Montgomery,” and that Doss Aviation’s, 1 Church Street, mail was delivered to Shelby’s Senate office, even before Fuller was appointed judge. You told her that you “didn’t really like” Shelby, that the Doss connection had not been discovered during the previous hearing, but that, “It will come up, if you really go into it.”
9.) You failed to mention to Miss Simpson, however, that you were a friend of Karl Rove, had shared drinks with Karl Rove, that your law firm, Williams & Connolly, was representing Vice President Cheney on Scooter Libby’s role in the Valerie Plame case in which Rove was involved; that your firm has advised the White House not to turn over GOP emails regarding the firing of nine U.S. Attorneys. Nor did you disclose your firm’s involvement in defending Iran-Contra figures, which you knew or should have known play a key role in the current military contracts routed to Doss Aviation.
Now, I understand your firm is handling Karl Rove’s book deal. Currently, your former close associate and mentor, Emmet Flood is representing former President Bush in executive privilege matters before the D.C. Court of Appeals with regard to political firings of U.S. Attorneys who failed to act on orders to prosecute Democrats prior to elections – matters in which you are directly involved in your role as President Obama’s White House Counsel.
You had a duty to disclose your relationship with Rove to Miss Simpson before she revealed the details of her involvement, because you knew from initial contacts that you had a conflict. You have a duty now to turn over any material relating to disclosure of that information as well as to allocute to whom you passed the knowledge. She also inquires whether you or anyone to you contacted is responsible for recommending legal services from Washington attorney David Laufman, also known as “Bush’s Cleaner,” or Montgomery Republican Tommy Gallion, who after months of intensive discussions with Ms. Simpson, indicated he was in regular contact with President Bush on her matter.
Ms. Simpson asks that you withdraw from any representation of the President on these matters due to your conflicts and those of Williams & Connolly in this area. If you respect the legal Code of Professional Conduct, you must take action to remedy the damage you have done to Ms. Simpson, Mr. Shelby and the legal profession.
We would appreciate an answer no later than three business days.
Priscilla Black Duncan
Attorney for Jill Simpson
Roger Shuler resides in Birmingham, Alabama. A 1978 graduate of the University of Missouri, Shuler spent more than a decade as a reporter and editor for the Birmingham Post-Herald. He spent 19 years working in several editorial positions at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). He blogs at Legal Schnauzer.