Former attorneys general request probe
WASHINGTON – Forty-four former state attorneys general have asked Congress to investigate whether politics at the Justice Department influenced the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman on corruption charges.Siegelman, a Democrat, was convicted last year of bribery and other charges. He began serving a seven-year prison sentence last month.Democrats have long maintained that his prosecution was politically motivated, and recent allegations that White House officials were steering decisions at the Justice Department have added weight to the claims.Last month, a GOP lawyer who once worked on the campaign of Republican Gov. Bob Riley signed a sworn affidavit saying she overheard conversations among campaign officials in 2002 suggesting that the White House was involved in Siegelman’s prosecution. She has offered to testify to any investigative agency or in court.”The only way to convince the public that the governor is not the victim of a politically motivated double-standard is for Congress to investigate all aspects of the case thoroughly,” the former attorneys general wrote to the chairmen of the House and Senate judiciary committees.The group is made up mostly of Democrats but includes a handful of Republicans. It is led by Jeff Modisett, an Indiana Democrat; Bob Abrams, a New York Democrat; Bob Stephan, a Kansas Republican; and Grant Woods, an Arizona Republican.Congressional Democrats already are investigating whether the White House ordered the firings of several federal prosecutors last year for political reasons. President Bush and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales have denied wrongdoing, maintaining that federal prosecutors are political appointees who can be fired by the president for almost any reason.Bush has, however, acknowledged that Gonzales poorly handled explaining the firings to Congress.So far, Democrats in Washington have shown little interest in pursuing the Siegelman case. Doing so would involve publicly rehashing corruption evidence that led a jury to return a guilty verdict.A spokeswoman for the Senate Judiciary Committee said Monday the panel had not yet seen the July 13 letter from the former attorneys general. But she said the committee is “considering all relevant information to our overall investigation.”In her affidavit, Alabama attorney Dana Jill Simpson said Republican operative Bill Canary told her and others in a 2002 conference call that he had spoken with top White House aide Karl Rove, referred to in the document as “Karl,” and had been assured the Justice Department was pursuing Siegelman.Simpson said that Riley’s son asked about Siegelman being a problem in the future, and that Canary said “not to worry about Don Siegelman that ‘his girls would take care of him.”‘ The affidavit says Canary identified “his girls” as his wife, Leura Canary, the U.S. attorney in Montgomery; and Alice Martin, the U.S. attorney in Birmingham.Leura Canary stepped down from the investigation after the former governor’s attorneys demanded her recusal, and the federal prosecutors who handled the case have insisted there was no political involvement.Siegelman, who was elected governor in 1998 and served one term, was convicted along with former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy on bribery, conspiracy and mail fraud charges. The government accused Siegelman of naming Scrushy to a hospital regulatory board in exchange for $500,000 in donations to Siegelman’s 1999 campaign for a state lottery for education. The defense contended there was no quid-pro-quo or personal benefit.Modisett said the group gained two supporters for the petition after sending the letters Friday, for a total of 46.