Former Ala. Governor Turns Tables on Justice Department
Sunday, April 13, 2008
The successful criminal prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman (D) has become tangled in political charges and countercharges that reflect contrasting views about the independence of the Justice Department.
In the two weeks since his release from prison pending an appeal, Siegelman has sharply increased the volume of his assertions that he was railroaded. He says that Karl Rove, who was a White House adviser, targeted him for prosecution to ensure he did not win reelection to the governor's office and displace a Republican there.
Siegelman is seizing on a theme that is newly popular with politically connected defendants: turning the tables on a Justice Department vulnerable to accusations of interference because of missteps last year under then-Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.
An appeals court panel in Atlanta will decide whether Siegelman, the governor from 1999 to 2003, should win a new trial because of what he contends are faulty jury instructions underpinning his 2006 conviction on bribery, conspiracy, mail fraud and obstruction charges.
Yet Siegelman has not petitioned the court to hear his allegations of political tampering, choosing instead to make them on television programs and in newspapers and magazines. He asserts that Rove, two Republican U.S. attorneys, the son of his successor as governor, career prosecutors and former leaders of the Justice Department's public integrity unit conspired to manufacture a case and thwart Siegelman's ambitions to return to the governor's mansion.
Rove denies the assertions and derides the evidence offered by his accusers as vague and scanty. Federal prosecutors respond that they will argue in the courtroom, not in the court of public opinion.
Siegelman's assertions have attracted the attention of the House Judiciary Committee, which has launched an investigation into Justice Department actions under President Bush. But Siegelman acknowledges that he has no specific evidence tying his fate to White House political interference. "We don't have the knife with Karl Rove's fingerprints all over it, but we've got the glove, and the glove fits," Siegelman said in a telephone interview.
In arguing his case, Siegelman relies heavily on the sworn account of a lawyer with GOP ties who said she overheard state party officials plotting against Siegelman in a conference call on the same day in November 2002 when Siegelman conceded that Republican Bob Riley had won the gubernatorial election.
That lawyer, Dana Jill Simpson, said officials told her Rove would "take care of" Siegelman by talking to Justice Department officials in Washington overseeing an existing criminal investigation of him.
Two of the men who allegedly took part in that call, Terry Butts, a lawyer for HealthSouth founder Richard M. Scrushy, and Rob Riley, the son of the state's current governor, submitted affidavits last year saying they did not remember any such call and did not exert political influence in the investigation.
The other alleged participant, Bill Canary, a Republican campaign consultant who is the husband of the U.S. attorney in Montgomery, has told reporters he has "no recollection" of the call and did not intervene in Justice Department decision-making or discuss Siegelman's case with the White House.
Simpson is represented by Joseph Sandler, a former general counsel to the Democratic National Committee. He did not return calls.