The Back Road to Politics, Scandal, and Cover Up

I sometimes wonder what it must have been like for Jill Simpson at night on that rural road in Mississippi.

Route 431 is not a massive highway. It can’t really be said to be historic, at least not in its own right.

It goes along a hundred miles or so to the north of Philadelphia, Mississippi, where Sheriff Cecil Price and few other Klansmen pulled 3 civil rights workers off a rural road in 1964. The civil rights workers were later found buried in an earthen dam.

Route 431 is pretty rural itself in most places. On some stretches, it’s not exactly a one lane road, but cars approaching in opposite directions have to navigate a little to each side to get past each other.

Jill Simpson was driving along Route 431 one evening on her way back from Birmingham Alabama, when she noticed she was being followed. She paid little mind at first. But a few miles turned into several miles, then many miles.

The car behind her sped up, overtook her, and started to pass. Then the other driver swerved into her, nearly colliding, then swerved again, this time hitting her car and forcing her off the road.

Police arrived before the other driver could leave. He was a former police officer. He admitted that he had been told to follow Ms. Simpson that night. Police thanked him for his time and let him go. Professional courtesy.

Jill Simpson was not the sort of person that would set even paranoid imagination into anything approaching panic. She was a lawyer, but not one involved in civil rights cases. In fact, she was an unlikely target, conservative, Republican. She ran in conservative circles and volunteered for Republican campaigns.

But she found herself in the middle of controversy.

She had witnessed a small but unmistakable bit of a national conspiracy involving accusations of missing emails, influence in return for contributions, misuse of official authority, and lying to investigators.

In December 2006, seven US Attorneys, all of them Republican appointees, went public. They jointly leveled a startling accusation. They had been instructed to abandon the usual standards of prosecution. When citizens are accused of crimes and taken to court, it is as a result of investigation and evidence. Investigations result from some sort of reasonable suspicion of criminal behavior.

But the seven had been instructed by the Bush administration to diverge from standard practice. They had been told that, in cases involving Republican politicians, they should hold back. Investigations were to be terminated before charges were brought.

But that was not all. They had also been ordered to target Democrats for prosecution, even where no evidence indicated wrongdoing. Those instructions, they said, came directly from Karl Rove, an intimate advisor to President George W. Bush. Of 49 US Attorneys throughout the country, only those seven had refused to obey Mr. Rove’s instructions.

All seven were fired for refusing to follow orders.

Jill Simpson liked to volunteer in conservative causes. Her legal skills put her several steps beyond stuffing envelopes and answering phones. Part of one volunteer job was to contribute legal analysis of political proposals before they went into planning. She was often asked to listen in on conversations as political professionals tossed around ideas.

That was how she came to hear about orders from Karl Rove’s office. The Democratic Governor of Alabama had been targeted. Now local folks had to come up with an accusation. Did associates in Mississippi have any ideas?

Finally, a strategy was chosen. Governor Don Seigelman had a close friend who was the head of a health care company. The friend had contributed to a good-government ballot initiative that the Governor was also said to favor.

After the Governor took office, he asked his friend for a favor. The friend had volunteered and served on several occasions in the past as an unpaid member of a hospital regulatory board. He had donated his time for three previous governors.

The friend was reluctant, but the Governor insisted. The man was an expert, and the board dealt with an area of regulation that did not affect his health care company. There would be no conflict of interest. The governor finally played the idealism card. The man owed it to the public. He finally agreed.

Jill Simpson listened as instructed when all of those facts, the political donation, the unpaid regulatory board, the volunteer work, was all laid out. She was stunned by what what she heard next. The innocent interaction between a newly elected Governor and his old friend would now be put to legal use against both of them.

And that was how Karl Rove managed to put the Governor of Alabama in jail. As instructed, local prosecutors laid out the case. The head of the health care company had made a huge donation. Then he had been rewarded with a political appointment.

The health care executive was put behind bars. The Governor eventually was convicted as well.

The part of the conspiracy Jill Simpson overheard as she listened left her angry. She called anyone she could think of to protest.

After her house was set on fire (set on fire), she became cautious. A meeting with authorities was set up. She insisted it be somewhere away from Mississippi. Maybe it was silly, but she intended to take no chances. She drove out of state to Birmingham, Alabama. It was on the trip back that she noticed she was being followed, and was forced off Route 431.

She later testified in Washington before Congress. Karl Rove was also called to testify but he refused. Congress issued a subpoena for all email messages pertaining to the orders to change procedures for prosecution, and emails pertaining to the firing of seven Republican US Attorneys.

All White House communications, including emails, were required by law to be preserved. Mr. Rove sent word that every electronic record pertaining to US Attorneys had been accidentally erased, then recorded over.

Sorry about that.

It is not hard to find parallels in current events: The emails, the attempt to perform a public service at no pay, the accusations that resulted. The testimony before Congress differs a little. Conservative lawyer Jill Simpson testified back then. Most of us remember that Hillary Clinton recently testified for 11 hours. But back then, Karl Rove maintained his stand and never testified about the orders he had issued that Democrats should be arrested and Republicans should be let go.

Close friends of Hillary Clinton have donated to the charitable foundation run by her husband, the former President. The charity has been shone to be surprisingly effective at saving lives.

Not surprisingly, some of those same close friends have met with Hillary Clinton from time to time. In some cases, those with expertise in how to save lives in areas of the world experiencing drought or famine have not only contributed substantial amounts to that effort, but have also offered expert advice to Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State. Her interest in saving lives is well documented.

There have been others who sought favors. To date it appears that, without exception, they were directed to go through normal channels.

The accusation against Hillary Clinton, at its root, strikes me as morally convoluted. Had it been true, then those who helped to save millions of lives would have been rewarded by meeting an important government official.

That does not strike me as an unusual or suspicious occurrence.

Some time ago, the retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff started an organization that might have been modeled after the Clinton Foundation. It is similar in many respects. When General Colin Powell became Secretary of State, he continued to run his foundation. Predictably, there was no objection from conservatives, or anyone else, to that wonderful effort.

Life goes on.

Hillary and Bill are Democrats, and the conservative cottage industry of vilification continues. The health care CEO has recently finished his time in prison. He is broke now, his company gone. Former Governor of Alabama Don Seigelman is still in jail. Recently, after speaking by phone to a reporter about his conviction, he was thrown into solitary confinement.

We can only speculate about the degree to which the Governor may regret twisting the arm of his friend the one time health care executive, or the regret of his friend at volunteering his time and knowledge. We can guess that Karl Rove has no regrets.

I am old enough to remember the days when “Murphy’s Law” was a bright new witticism, plastered on posters, regarded by most as a refreshing bit of cynical wisdom: “No good deed goes unpunished.”

That cynicism now seems naive.

The new rule for conservatives, at least as it applies to Democrats, is that no good deed must go unpunished as an immutable legal standard.

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