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t r u t h o u t | 05.19
Q&A With Don Siegelman:
"I Think This Will Make Watergate Look Like Child's Play"
By Markeshia Ricks
The Anniston Star
Sunday 18 May 2008
Birmingham - Almost two months after being released from a federal prison in Oakdale, La., former Gov. Don Siegelman looks noticeably healthier.
The ghostly pallor and thinness that seemed to cling to him when he was released is all but gone.
He's got color in his cheeks, a little more weight on his body and a fierce determination to not only clear his name but to do his part to expose a scandal in the U.S. Department of Justice that he says is bigger than Watergate.
While he's got plenty to say about President Bush's former deputy chief of staff Karl Rove and the conspiracy he believes was cooked up to oust him and other prominent Democrats from office, he has nothing to say about his nine months in prison.
"That's just not something that's on my mind, and it's not relevant," he said. "That's pretty much over with, but the things that are ongoing - those are the real issues."
Siegelman will take the next step in his attempt to overturn his conviction when he files his appeal with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday.
Two years ago, he was convicted on one count of bribery, one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, four counts mail fraud and one count of obstruction of justice. He was prosecuted along with Richard M. Scrushy, the founder and former CEO of HealthSouth Corp., who was convicted of six counts of bribery, conspiracy and mail fraud.
Siegelman sat down with The Star recently to talk about his appeal, Rove, lawyer and Republican whistleblower Dana Jill Simpson, who claims to have been privy to a plot to keep Siegelman out of office, and the national media attention his case has attracted.
Between working on his appeal, trying to get his voting rights restored, trips to Washington to testify before Congress and making national television appearances, he keeps his eyes on the ongoing investigation of the U.S. Justice Department.
He's aware of the back-and-forth between the House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., and Rove.
Rove was to respond to a request by Conyers to testify under oath before the committee, but failed to answer by the May 12 deadline.
"He of course let that deadline come and pass without agreeing to testify," Siegelman said. "At some point - they will deal with the issue of whether or not to subpoena Karl Rove."
The Star: Why do you believe Rove hasn't agreed to testify under oath?
Siegelman: He doesn't want to run the risk of lying under oath and being prosecuted for perjury.
You know, I think it's telling that he talks a good game. He wrote a, I think it was a five-page letter to [MSNBC anchor] Dan Abrams basically asking Dan Abrams questions about why he should testify under oath. When Conyers invited him to testify under oath, he's dodged that, he's skated, and I think it's clear he's got something to hide. Otherwise, there is no reason why he wouldn't testify under oath.
The Star: Since 1998, you've been the subject of some kind of investigation. Why do you think that is?
Siegelman: It's all part of the same case. It started when Karl Rove's bag man, I call him, Jack Abramoff, started putting Indian casino money into Alabama to defeat me in 1998.
Shortly after I endorsed Al Gore in 1999, Karl Rove's client, the attorney general of Alabama (Bill Pryor) started an investigation. In 2001, Karl Rove's business associate and political partner's wife, Leura Canary, became a U.S. attorney and started a federal investigation.
It started with the attorney general and the state investigation, followed by the federal investigation, followed by indictments in 2004, and then another series of indictments leading up to the 2006 election - but, yeah, it's all part of the same case.
The Star: More specifically, why do you believe you were a target?
Siegelman: I don't feel picked on. It wasn't just me. He was looking at and going after a lot of people around the country.
I think that what happened, and this is just pure speculation, he was here and taking on Democrats in the Supreme Court, and he tried to defeat me in 1998 and defeated the lottery in 1999. He defeated John England, a man that I had appointed to the Alabama Supreme Court in 2000.
He had his hand in the election of 2002, and so he was active in many of my races and activities in the state of Alabama beginning in 1998.
But then he goes to the White House. So it's at that point he has another tool available. It's no longer a state attorney general. He has access to the Department of Justice, where he can - and not only the Department of Justice but U.S. attorneys around the country, that he can use for political reasons.
The Star: Your case has gotten a lot of national media attention. Are you surprised at that?
Siegelman: [MSNBC anchor] Keith Olbermann had a segment about the three worst scandals in the Bush administration, and they had something called "Siegelman Gate" (chuckle). They had this case, Blackwater and the war in Iraq as the worst.
I think this will make Watergate look like child's play when it is fully investigated, not so much this case because certainly it's not about me. It's about restoring justice and protecting our democracy and, because this case shows the lengths to which those who are obsessed with power will go in order to gain power or retain power, it has attracted the attention of the national press.
Specifically, because it is tied to the White House because Karl Rove is not only a political adviser to the president but he's a close personal friend of the president, and you asked me if I was surprised, no I'm not surprised that the national media has focused on this because it is the only case that has led Congress directly to the doors of the White House.
The other cases that are being mentioned or being talked about are primarily the eight U.S. attorneys who were targeted for removal either for failing to move quickly enough or for not following really the party line - the Karl Rove party line - of trying to do damage to Democrats who were involved in an elections contest.
What Congress is seeing in this case is the other side of that coin, which is what happens when a U.S. attorney does follow the party line and a person is selectively prosecuted to impact the outcome of an election.
What gave this case its viability was the sworn testimony of a Republican whistleblower, Dana Jill Simpson. Had she not had the courage to come forward and relate under oath to Congress what had happened on that conference call with Bill Canary and the governor's son, Rob Riley, then you know there wouldn't be any story. We wouldn't be talking about this today.
(Editor's note: Riley and Canary have denied Simpson's allegations.)
The Star: You've got a lot on your plate with your appeal. Why are you working so hard at this appeal to Congress?
Siegelman: It's much bigger than me because it's not just my case. This was not an isolated incident. This was a pernicious, political plan that was set in motion by Karl Rove to further his espoused dream of establishing a permanent Republican majority in this country, and what he left out was by any means necessary.
It is clear to me - and I think to those who have been investigating, and that's why they're so hot about this case - it is clear that Karl Rove abused his power and misused the Department of Justice as a political tool to win elections, and that is something that would happen in a police state. That is something that we might have read about in history books as happening in Russia , but it is not something that should be allowed to happen in the United States of America . And Congress, and I believe John Conyers, clearly sees this as a wrongful action against democracy in this country, and he wants to make a statement that is clear and unequivocal that this kind of abuse of power is not going to be tolerated under any administration whether it's a Democratic administration or a Republican administration.
We have got to regain control over our system of justice, and it's got to be put back in order, and not allowed ever to be used in this manner again.
That's why I've been working not just on my legal appeal, but on an appeal to the United States Congress to keep digging in and fighting for the truth.
The Star: Where are you in your appeals process?
Siegelman: We file on the 23rd of this month, and then the government has 60 days in which to file their reply, and then we have another 60 days after that to file our reply brief, so it's going to be an eight-month to a year process before we, I think before we hear anything definitive from the court.
The Star: What are some of the possible outcome scenarios that you're looking at?
Siegelman: It could range from - really it goes across the board. The 11th Circuit could agree with the district court and say, "You were right all along. We were wrong. We shouldn't have let him out. He should have stayed in Oakdale and served his seven years and four months," or they could say, "We reverse the district court's findings and vacate the judgment," which means I would basically be found not guilty on all counts.
So and anything in between really is possible. I mean, they could order a new trial on all or part of the charges; they could reverse on all or part of the charges; reduce the sentence; or keep the sentence as it is.
They have a number of different options. Of course what we hope and believe will happen is that based on their earlier order releasing me from prison, that because of the substantial questions of law and fact that are likely to result in reversal, that we will be successful in convincing the court that they should indeed reverse the conviction, and that would be the end of it.
The Star: Will what you're doing at the national level play into your appeal?
Siegelman: We are arguing that even if you take all the evidence that was presented as true and looking at it in a light most favorable to the government's position that there was still not sufficient evidence for reasonable people to conclude that I was guilty.
We're looking at that, and then the other arguments are that the judge gave the wrong jury instructions relating to a campaign contribution for the lottery foundation. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that campaign contributions are viewed differently because people who give money are frequently appointed to positions either immediately before and immediately afterward and you can't just assume that someone gave a campaign contribution as a bribe, and not that they didn't give it as a campaign contribution simply because they got appointed.
There are well over 100 appointments that President Bush has made to people who gave money to his campaign, and you can't assume that they all bribed him to get those positions. It's something that happens on a local level, mayors, county commissioners, certainly you know governors make appointments to people who have given money or supported their campaign. So there has got to be evidence, according to the Supreme Court, of an explicit agreement to trade a campaign contribution for either a favor or an appointment, and there was no such testimony in this case. We're hopeful that the 11th Circuit will see that the evidence is insufficient to convict.
The Star: What is the outcome that you're hoping for personally and at the national level?
Siegelman: We're hopeful and excited about the prospects of getting this legal battle over with because it's been going on for nearly 10 years. And it's been extremely costly to me both in personal terms with my family, my daughter, my son, who had to live through this - my son for nearly half his life, he's 19 years old. It's been obviously costly financially, and of course it's cost me my opportunity to represent the state of Alabama .
But the more important issue, frankly, is for Congress to dig in and to seek the truth. And once they discover who hijacked the Department of Justice and used it as a political tool to hold those people accountable, and to make a very clear statement that this kind of conduct is not going to be tolerated in this country ever again.
In Public Comments, Karl Rove Denies Any Involvement in Case
In his public comments since the saga of Don Siegelman began making national headlines, Karl Rove has denied involvement in the case.
Siegelman's main point-of-proof: Lawyer and whistleblower Dana Jill Simpson's sworn testimony linking Rove to Siegelman's prosecution and subsequent ouster from Alabama politics.
Speaking on TV in February, Rove, a former White House deputy chief of staff, said of Simpson's charges, "It's a lie what she said."
More recently Rove called Simpson a "complete lunatic."
Rove has consistently denied allegations that he had anything to do with Siegelman's prosecution, but he has refused to testify under oath before the House Judiciary Committee.
While Simpson has testified that she received direct orders from Rove to find dirt on Siegelman, Rove has denied that he even knows her.
In a letter to MSNBC host Dan Abrams, one of his most substantive responses to the national attention the Siegelman case has garnered, Rove repeatedly questioned Simpson's credibility.
In the April 13 letter, he wrote, in part, "As a matter of fact, I had other things to occupy my time in the White House in 2002 rather than 'structuring' a campaign for an Alabama gubernatorial candidate, calling people to raise money for his race, and going through the arduous task of 'putting together a strategy. And I certainly didn't meet with anyone at the Justice Department or either of the two U.S. Attorneys in Alabama about investigating or indicting Siegelman."
From staff and wire reports.
Markeshia Ricks is capitol correspondent for The Star.
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