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2008-09-03

Freed from Jail, Fmr. Alabama Governor Don Siegelman Accuses Karl Rove of Orchestrating Political Witch Hunt

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Don Siegelman, Former Democratic governor of Alabama.

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We speak to former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, currently free on bond while he appeals a conviction on corruption charges. Siegelman says he’s the target of a political witch hunt directed by former White House Deputy Karl Rove. More than sixty former state attorneys general have called for a congressional investigation into Siegelman’s case. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, he won’t be getting a headlining speech, though he does discuss headlines: one of the most influential figures at the Republican National Convention this week, former White House deputy Karl Rove. He’s in the Twin Cities to rally Republicans behind the scenes and appear on air as a contributor to Fox News. Since leaving the White House, Rove has continued to play a significant role in Republican Party politics. He’s rumored to have intervened to prevent Senator John McCain from selecting Independent Senator Joe Lieberman as his running mate. That’s according to Politico.

Well, Rove’s name also continues to come up in the case of the former Democratic governor of Alabama, Don Siegelman. Siegelman is currently free on bond while he appeals a conviction on corruption charges. Critics say he’s the target of a political witch hunt that many say was directed by Karl Rove.

I sat down with Don Siegelman at Free Speech TV last week in Denver at the Democratic [National] Convention and asked Siegelman to talk about his journey from the governor’s mansion to a jail cell.

    DON SIEGELMAN:

    I was convicted of something that has never been considered a crime in America, and that is appointing a contributor to a nonpaying, all-volunteer board. In this case, it was a CEO of a Fortune 500 company who had supported my effort to bring free college education to all of Alabama’s high school kids. He had served on this same board through three previous governors, two Republicans and one Democrat. The New York Times has said multiple times this has never been considered a crime in America.

    It was interesting, when 60 Minutes did an exposé on this case, that they interviewed the former attorney general, Republican attorney general, from Arizona who said that the Republicans couldn’t beat Siegelman fair and square, so they targeted him with this prosecution. I was investigated by Karl Rove’s client, the attorney general of Alabama. My opponent, Republican opponent’s campaign manager’s wife was the US attorney who brought me to trial one month before the election. It’s interesting to note that her husband is a political operative from New York, a Republican who was Bush’s special assistant, who —

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Who is that?

    DON SIEGELMAN:

    His name is Bill Canary. Canary has a long, long history in the Republican Party. He was chief of staff of the NRC. He was a deputy to Andrew Card. He was in charge of the ground troops in the Bush-Quayle campaign in ’92. He was someone that Time magazine said was — he was a political paratrooper who was dropped in in states where something needed to be fixed. And another magazine quoted saying that he was a person who couldn’t tolerate Democrats at any level.

    But after the ’92 campaign, he and Rove, who had been friends for a long time, came to Alabama. Both married women from Alabama. Rove built his home on the Gulf Coast, where he still lives today. They ran a number of campaigns out of the state of Alabama, and I did battle with them when they came to steal their first election for the state supreme court in 1994 and again in ’96. In ’98, we did battle with Rove and his bagman, Jack Abramoff, who started running Indian casino money into the state, laundering it through Ralph Reed to defeat me in ‘98.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Abramoff, who’s in jail now.

    DON SIEGELMAN:

    Abramoff, same guy, yeah. And Ralph Reed ran $13 million of Indian casino money into Alabama to defeat me in ‘98, to defeat my lottery proposal, which was going to give free college education to our kids in ‘99.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Ralph Reed, a big fundraiser now for John McCain.

    DON SIEGELMAN:

    Yeah. These national TV hosts who have been running and laundering money, documented, oddly enough, by John McCain himself when he did his report to Congress entitled “Give Me Five,” which meant give me $5 million. And all of this is documented in the McCain report to Congress. And then they again ran Indian casino money in through the Christian Coalition and the Republican National Committee and the Republican Governors Association in 2002.

    In 2002, my election was actually — I won on election night, only to wake up to find that there had been a, quote, "computer glitch.” 5,200 votes of mine were given to my opponent overnight, and the two people who either took credit or who were given credit was Karl Rove’s partner, a woman named Kitty McCullough, and another man, Dan Gans, who later went to work for a Jack Abramoff-Tom DeLay-related company called the Alexander Strategy Group.

    But, back to my prosecution. After the trial, a Republican lawyer who had been hired by this group — she says by Rove and Bill Canary—

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Her name?

    DON SIEGELMAN:

    Her name is Dana Jill Simpson, a woman I had never meant until I got out of prison. She said that she was hired to do negative research on me — and she has given sworn testimony to the House Judiciary Committee to this effect — and that on a telephone conversation, when they were talking about how to get rid of Siegelman — in fact, they described me as a cockroach who will never die — my prosecutor’s husband said, “Look, stop worrying about Siegelman. I’ve talked to — Rove has talked to the Department of Justice, and we’re going to take care of him. Just forget about it.” Well, later, the prosecution’s — the two US attorneys started, one who’s a close friend of, social friend of, Rove’s, who actually did — studied five years under Hickman Ewing, who was the lead prosecutor in the Whitewater — you know, they pursued Clinton for seven years.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Who was that prosecutor?

    DON SIEGELMAN:

    Her name is Alice Martin.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    And the other?

    DON SIEGELMAN:

    The other is Leura Canary, Bill Canary’s wife, the gentleman that I described earlier as having this long pedigree, Republican pedigree, of political operations for the Republican Party. I was —- when I was sentenced, my sentence was enhanced, because I refused to stop speaking out about the political nature and the political origins of this prosecution. The judge -—

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Who was the judge in your case?

    DON SIEGELMAN:

    I’ve been instructed by my lawyers not to discuss the judge, so — but, so we’ll just leave it at that, if you don’t mind. But the judge said that I was corrupting the executive branch of government by — because I was accusing the executive branch of selective prosecution, which, of course, Time magazine also did an exposé agreeing with me that it was selective prosecution.

    After sentencing, I was immediately handcuffed, shackled, and I was taken out of the courtroom without even having a chance to turn around and see my wife, much less say goodbye to my family. I was taken to a maximum security prison, put in solitary confinement.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Where?

    DON SIEGELMAN:

    In Atlanta, which is the worst federal prison in America. It was built in the late 1800s. And I stayed in prison a total of nine months, until I was released by the — in what I think is an extraordinary ruling by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Not just in Atlanta. You were then moved around the country.

    DON SIEGELMAN:

    Oh, yeah. I was flown to New York, Michigan, Oklahoma, and I stayed in solitary confinement in Oklahoma for a while, then to Oakdale, Louisiana, the swamps of Louisiana.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    You were taken out of Atlanta in the middle of the night?

    DON SIEGELMAN:

    About 3:00 in the morning. The —

    AMY GOODMAN:

    All because of being convicted on this charge that, what they say was, you took a bribe giving a position on a state board to a businessman named Richard Scrushy, who had made a contribution of $250,000 to a lottery —

    DON SIEGELMAN:

    To the Educational Lottery Fund. It’s also interesting to note that this guy had been a big Republican contributor, and he switched, and he started supporting me in my effort to give free college education to these kids. And that was when his troubles began, too. It’s really a pitiful story.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Is he in jail?

    DON SIEGELMAN:

    He is still in prison. And I have to tell you the story. I mean, I called him and asked him to serve on that board, and he said, “Oh, Governor, do I have to?” He said, “I’ve already — I’ve been on that board for years.” He said, “I just resigned. I don’t want to be on the board.” And I said, “You know, do this for the state, because, you know, you’re a prominent businessman. You’ve served three governors. I want you to serve me.” And this poor guy is still in prison.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Doug Jones, one of your lawyers, said Mr. Bailey, who was your aide, had indicated there had been a meeting with Governor Siegelman and Mr. Scrushy, a private meeting in the governor’s office, just the two of them. Then, as soon as Mr. Scrushy left, the governor walked out with a $250,000 check that he said Scrushy had given him for the lottery foundation. Scott Pelley of CBS, who did the exposé, said, “had the check in his hand right there and then, had the check in his hand right there and then. According to Bailey’s testimony, Scrushy had just handed it to him.” And “That’s right, showed it to Mr. Bailey. And Nick asked him, ‘Well, what does he want for it?’ And Siegelman allegedly said, ‘A seat on the CON board.’ Nick asked him, ‘Can we do that?’” And you, Don Siegelman, Jones said, said, “I think so."

    DON SIEGELMAN:

    The problem with it was that the check was not signed by Richard Scrushy. And the check was dated days after Nick Bailey said that this incident occurred. It was a totally fictitious meeting and check that he was describing that never existed.

    So, you know, he also admitted on 60 Minutes that he had been interviewed by the prosecutors over seventy times and that he was asked to change his testimony, to write it down in a three-ring binder. And when he finally got his answers to the point where the prosecution wanted them to be, then he was allowed to testify. They withheld that evidence from my lawyers. And, of course, none of this was brought out during the trial.

    What was so extraordinary was after the trial and after the sentencing, fifty-four former state attorneys general, both Republicans and Democrats from all over the country, petitioned the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, saying that what I did was not a crime and what the judge did was unconstitutional, by increasing my sentence for speaking out using my First Amendment rights.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Among those was the attorney general of Arizona, a very strong supporter.

    DON SIEGELMAN:

    Among those were — strong supporter.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    John McCain’s team.

    DON SIEGELMAN:

    He’s on John McCain’s national advisory committee and is a very good lawyer. And there were a number of other Republicans, as well, who joined in this.

    But I want to make it clear that I’m not here today on this show or doing what I’ve done in Denver these past few days to highlight my case. This is not about me. This is about our country. This is about America. This is about restoring justice. It’s about finding out who hijacked our Department of Justice and used it as a political tool.

    The House Judiciary Committee has subpoenaed Karl Rove. He said he would testify, then he said he wouldn’t, then he said he would tell them — answer questions under oath, if they gave him the questions in advance in writing and, by the way, if nobody was there was to take down what he had to say. It doesn’t sound like he was planning to tell the truth. And then, when they did subpoena him, he left the country.

    Now, my point is this: are we going to have two standards of justice in this country, one for the powerful, those connected to the Bush White House, and another standard of justice for you and your family and these people in this studio? Or are we going to have one standard of justice? And if we’re going to have one standard of justice, then Congress must hold Karl Rove in contempt.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    For?

    DON SIEGELMAN:

    For thumbing his nose at this subpoena and failing to testify, not only about my case, but the US attorneys who were fired for not prosecuting Democrats.

    And, you know, to do otherwise sends a terrible message. Karl Rove has been cloned. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Rove believers, whom he has trained, who are his political operatives, who are spread out all over this country. If he is not held accountable for what he has done, for subverting our Constitution, for using the Department of Justice as a political weapon to go after their political enemies, then it is going to send a message to all of those Rove clones that they are free to do whatever they want to do, any time they want to do it. They will know no boundaries, either law or in morals.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Our guest is the former governor of Alabama, Don Siegelman. He’s out of jail now. He’s here in Denver during the Democratic Convention. What are you calling for here? Who are you talking to?

    DON SIEGELMAN:

    I am talking to every member of Congress, every House member, every senator whom I have known, every governor and former attorney general that I have run into, and I’ve asked them to use their influence with members of the House to ensure that this contempt citation, that the Judiciary Committee, under the leadership of John Conyers, has favorably approved and recommended to the full House, be brought up for a vote when they come back from recess in September.

    I am terribly fearful that — because I know Democrats — we are so magnanimous in victory, we are so excited about the future, we are so sure that we can bring positive change, that we want to forget about the past, let bygones be bygones. When Jimmy Carter was elected, he forgot about Watergate. When Bill Clinton was elected, he forgot about Iran-Contra. And what is the tendency and the history of Democrats when they win is to not dwell on the negatives.

    Well, my point is positive change. Yes, you know, the war is important, and we must end it, and we must bring our troops home safely. We must work for healthcare for every American. We must work to save our environment. But we also must work to save our democracy and save our election system and ensure that people have the hope and belief that when they vote, their vote’s going to be counted, and when they run for office they’re not going to be prosecuted by some Rove clone who wants to do this guy in or woman in because they don’t like them. If it can happen to the governor of Alabama, it can happen to you, and it can happen to any member of your family at any time for any reason.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Have you spoken to President Clinton?

    DON SIEGELMAN:

    I have. It was a private conversation. He called the other day. He was concerned and wanted to know how he could help.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Al Gore?

    DON SIEGELMAN:

    Al Gore has called.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    And what can they do?

    DON SIEGELMAN:

    Talk to their friends in Congress, ensure that this contempt citation is voted on. I really believe that this is the linchpin, if we’re going to get to the truth. And here’s why: if we let Rove off the hook, if he gets in his getaway car, thumbing his nose at the Constitution, Congress and the American people, laughing all the way to the bank, then all of these other people who were engaged in misdeeds, perhaps crimes, with him are going to breathe a collective sigh of relief, because they’re going to say, “Whew, we’re off the hook too.” If Rove is held in contempt, they know that a judge has ordered — that there is no blanket executive privilege. He will have to come to the Judiciary Committee at some point to answer questions. And they know that their subpoena may be next, and they are not going to — all of them are not going to go to prison for Karl Rove. Somebody is going to come forward and say, “He told me to do it.” We already have the sworn testimony of a Republican lawyer who places Rove at the scene of the crime, who has identified Rove in a conspiracy to abuse his power and misuse of the Department of Justice for political reasons.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Who and what?

    DON SIEGELMAN:

    Dana Jill Simpson.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    On the [inaudible] —

    DON SIEGELMAN:

    With regard to using the Department of Justice to knock me out.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    To try to do opposition research on you.

    DON SIEGELMAN:

    Well, to — no, to use the Department of Justice to prosecute me. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If all roads lead to Rove, my point is, this case is the shortest route to get there.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Governor Siegelman, how did you get out of jail? You were sentenced to seven years. You got out in nine months. What happened?

    DON SIEGELMAN:

    Well, I think what happened was, these now sixty attorneys general who signed this letter to Congress asking for an investigation caused the House Judiciary Committee to start looking and taking more seriously this sworn testimony of Dana Jill Simpson, the Republican lawyer. And I think once the committee got into it — Linda Sanchez was the subcommittee chairman who did the investigation, and I think they saw that there was merit to these sworn statements that Karl Rove was involved in misusing the Department of Justice. And then, secondly, frankly, our legal appeal was obviously pretty solid, because the 11th Circuit said that there were substantial questions of both law and fact likely to result in a reversal of my conviction.

AMY GOODMAN:

Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.

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