Freed Alabama Ex-Governor Sees Politics in His Case
By Adam Nossiter
The New York Times
Saturday 29 March 2008
Montgomery, Alabama - Former Governor Don Siegelman of Alabama, released from prison today on bond in a bribery case, said he was as convinced as ever that politics played a leading role in his prosecution.
In a telephone interview shortly after he walked out of a federal prison in Oakdale, La., Mr. Siegelman said there had been "abuse of power" in his case, and repeatedly cited the influence of Karl Rove, the former White House political director.
"His fingerprints are smeared all over the case," Mr. Siegelman said, a day after a federal appeals court ordered him released on bond and said there were legitimate questions about his case.
Mr. Rove has strenuously denied any involvement in the conviction of the former governor, who was sentenced to serve seven years last June after being convicted in 2006. He could not immediately be reached for comment today.
Mr. Siegelman served nine months while his lawyers appealed a federal judge's refusal to release him on bond, pending the ex-governor's appeal of his conviction. That refusal was overturned by the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit on Thursday.
The former governor, a Democrat, said he would "press" to have Mr. Rove answer questions about his possible involvement in the case before Congress, which has already held a hearing on Mr. Siegelman. On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee signaled its intention to have Mr. Siegelman testify about the nature of his prosecution.
In June of 2006 he was convicted by a federal jury here of taking $500,000 from Richard M. Scrushy, the former chief executive of the HealthSouth corporation, in exchange for an appointment to the state hospital licensing board. The money was to retire a debt from Mr. Siegelman's campaign for a state lottery to pay for schools, and the ex-governor's lawyers have insisted that it was no more than a routine political contribution.
On the telephone outside the prison today, Mr. Siegelman said he had confidence that the federal appeals court, which will now consider his larger appeal, would agree with his view of the case - that he was convicted for a transaction that regularly takes place in American politics.
Otherwise, Mr. Siegelman said, "every governor and every president and every contributor might as well turn themselves in, because it's going to be open season on them."
His case has become a flash point for Democratic contentions that politics influenced decisions by the Justice Department, fueled by testimony from an Alabama campaign operative that suggested Mr. Rove may have had some involvement.
In Alabama, the Siegelman case has inflamed partisan passions, with Republicans insisting that Mr. Siegelman's term from 1998 to 2002 was deeply corrupted, and Democrats furious over what they depict as a years-long political witch-hunt.
Before his release earlier in the day, the ex-governor completed his prison chores for the day - mopping a barracks area - and waited for his wife and son to pick him up for the eight-hour drive to his home in Birmingham, Ala.
"It feels great to be out," Mr. Siegelman said. "I wish I could say it was over. But we're a long way from the end of this."