It has been a decade since former Democratic Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman was convicted by a federal court for allegedly taking “thousands of dollars in bribes” from Clayton “Lanny” Young Jr., a lobbyist and landfill developer.
At the time, the Justice Department successfully argued Siegelman was guilty of mail fraud stemming from a pay-for-play scheme in which Siegelman used his office to amass cash, property and services from Young. A jury also found that Siegelman awarded contracts to companies Young controlled in exchange for thousands of dollars in bribes.
In addition to Siegelman’s convictions, the jury found former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy guilty of participating in “a bribery scheme,” which saw Scrushy paying Siegelman $500,000 to obtain a seat on a state regulatory board that governed HealthSouth.
That sounds like quite the laundry list of wrongdoing, but considering that Siegelman was only convicted of seven of the 33 counts with which he was charged, it seems clear the federal government was out to get him on something, anything.
Since then, Siegelman has challenged his convictions on appeal and successfully had two of the charges dismissed. But in 2009, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the rest of the charges and since then Siegelman has been serving out his sentence in solitary confinement at a federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana, and is slated to be released next August.
Initially Siegelman and his allies tried to use the unpopularity of the Bush administration to accuse then-Bush adviser Karl Rove of targeting Siegelman with a politically motivated prosecution. And although the allegations reached mainstream news outlets such as Time Magazine and CBS’s “60 Minutes,” the argument that Siegelman’s prosecution was motivated largely to help then-Republican Gov. Bob Riley’s re-election bid never quite caught on.
Fast-forward to August 2016. We’re in the middle of a heated presidential election cycle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. One of the weapons Trump has used against Clinton on a number of occasions has been a New York Times bestselling book by Peter Schweizer called “Clinton Cash.”
In the book, Schweizer lays out possible benefits Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, received in the form of donations to their family charity and speaking fees in exchange for possible favors granted to these parties while Hillary Clinton served as secretary of state.
Arguably the best case the book recounts is the story of how Bill and Hillary Clinton helped a Canadian financier named Frank Giustra and a Canadian company now called Uranium One obtain a lucrative uranium mining concession from the government of Kazakhstan. The company also bought uranium concessions in the U.S.
Vladimir Putin’s Russian government sought to buy Uranium One; that selloff would reportedly generate a sizable profit for the company’s investors. However, that sale required the Obama administration’s approval, including that of the State Department, where Hillary Clinton was in charge.
According to Schweizer, nine of Uranium One’s shareholders gave more than $145 million in donations to the Clinton Foundation prior to receiving approval by the State Department. The sale was approved and the Russian government now has a 20 percent stake in our country’s uranium assets.
Schweizer admits there is no direct evidence the deal was orchestrated by the Clintons for their personal gain. However, he does call this and other deals into question, highlighting them as a pattern of behavior that warrants investigation.
In response to an email, Siegelman compared his case to what has been alleged in “Clinton Cash” about the Clintons, arguing that in his case the contributions were not for his personal benefit but instead to promote his failed 1999 lottery ballot initiative.
“The difference between my case and theirs is, I did not benefit by a single penny, there was no self-enrichment scheme and the contribution wasn’t even to my re-election campaign but to a ballot initiative campaign to establish a lottery to benefit public education,” Siegelman wrote. “It was the first in American jurisprudence.”
Siegelman cited a 2012 column from the Washington Post’s George Will — titled “Is it bribery or just politics?” — which argued there were dangers in prosecuting cases such as Siegelman’s because it threatens “the exercise of constitutional rights of political participation and can imprison people unjustly.”
The former Alabama governor didn’t offer response on how he thought the Clinton allegations should be handled, but he did say the legal standard for prosecuting these types of cases should be called into question.
“My lawyers — the last being former White House counsels Greg Craig and Clifford Sloan of Skadden, 112 former state attorneys general and a host of U.S. constitutional law professors — would tell you that my trial judge and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals used the wrong legal standard, the ‘run of the mill standard,’ which allowed the jury to convict,” Siegelman said. “So there is ample confusion about what legal standard can be used to convict public officials who take campaign contributions and later perform some ‘official act’ like voting or making an appointment that is in line with the donor’s interest.”
If the allegations aimed at the Clintons outlined by Schweizer’s book were deemed to be legit by federal investigators, and if the same criteria used to prosecute Siegelman were applied, the Clintons better lawyer up.