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House asks for Siegelman documents

By Ben Evans
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON — House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers asked the Justice Department on Tuesday for documents involving its prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman.

Conyers, D-Mich., said in a press release that the committee is "exploring claims that (Siegelman's) recent conviction, among others, may have been a part of a pattern of selective, political prosecutions by a number of U.S. attorneys across the country."

Siegelman, a Democrat, was convicted last year of bribery and other charges and recently began serving a seven-year prison sentence.

He has long maintained that his prosecution was politically motivated, and recent allegations that White House officials were steering decisions at the Justice Department have drawn new attention to the claims.

Conyers' letter, signed by several other Democrats and sent to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, also requests information on corruption cases against Wisconsin state procurement official Georgia Thompson and against Cyril Wecht, a Pennsylvania coroner.

The lawmakers asked for documents in which Justice officials discussed whether charges should be brought, as well as communications with the White House, members of Congress or other political operatives.

A spokeswoman for the committee characterized the inquiry as a review of the cases, not necessarily an investigation.

Conyers' letter comes after 44 former state attorneys general asked Congress on Friday to investigate the Siegelman prosecution.

He said the inquiry stems from the panel's ongoing investigation into whether the Bush administration fired federal prosecutors for political reasons, a charge the administration has denied.

"Evidence suggests that at least some of the nine terminated U.S. Attorneys were forced out due, in part, to their reluctance to pursue charges against Democratic officials," the letter states.

"On the other hand ... serious allegations have been made that some U.S. Attorneys who were not terminated engaged in selective and improper targeting of Democrats for prosecution."

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 his 1999 campaign for a state lottery for education.

The defense contended there was no quid-pro-quo or personal benefit.

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 — particularly top aide Karl Rove — was involved in the prosecution. She has offered to testify to any investigative agency or in court.

U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., has asked Conyers to include the Siegelman case in any investigation of selective prosecution.

The chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, state Rep. Mike Hubbard, said Congressional Democrats should not try to help Siegelman.

"Rather than working to solve the problems that face our nation, Artur Davis and the Congressional Democrats are standing shoulder to shoulder with convicted felons who violated the people's trust," Hubbard said. "The only conspiracy that put Don Siegelman in prison is the one he created by accepting bribes for political favors."

The Justice Department has insisted there was no political involvement.

"The federal jury in Alabama convicted Siegelman on charges of fraud, bribery and obstruction of justice after hearing the evidence laid out by the trial team of career prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Public Integrity Section," Bryan Sierra, a Justice spokesman, said Monday in response to the letter from the former state attorneys general.

"As this verdict shows, the prosecution was not politically motivated ... These allegations of political motivation are nothing more than a desperate and cynical attempt to discredit the career investigators and prosecutors who brought this case."

U.S. Attorney Leura Canary of Montgomery recused herself from the Siegelman investigation in 2002 after his attorneys complained that the probe was politically motivated. She was an appointee of President Bush and her husband, Bill Canary, was a Republican political consultant who had worked with the Bush White House. Career Justice Department lawyers in Montgomery handled the prosecution of Siegelman and Scrushy.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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