Siegelman aides find fault with Simpson affidavit
By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer
MONTGOMERY — An affidavit cited amid claims that former Gov. Don Siegelman may have been the target of a politicized probe contains an assertion that even the Siegelman camp discounts — that he dropped his call for a recount in the 2002 governor’s race because an apparent dirty trick was about to be exposed.
The affidavit by attorney Jill Simpson of Rainsville, a campaign worker in Republican Bob Riley’s race against Siegelman, has set off controversy over its statement indicating GOP political operatives played a role in the Justice Department’s pursuit of the prominent Democrat.
But most of the affidavit is devoted to an entirely different matter — a man believed to be a Democrat putting Riley signs near the site of a planned Ku Klux Klan rally, and how the threat to expose the apparent dirty trick forced Siegleman to concede.
Siegleman aides at the time say it didn’t happen that way, although they feel the more widely reported part of Simpson’s affidavit is on target.
Montgomery attorney Joe Espy, who represented Siegelman in the 2002 election challenge, said Thursday he doesn’t recall any discussion of a Klan rally in the days before Siegelman dropped his challenge.
“I never heard that. I was never around any talk like that,” Espy said.
Espy said he remembers Siegelman dropped the challenge for several reasons, including: “He had concern about tearing the state up.”
He said Siegelman was also worried about the expense of a protracted election challenge and that the final decision would be made by the Republican majority Alabama Supreme Court.
Simpson did not return phone calls seeking comment Thursday and her office said media calls to Simpson are being referred to Montgomery attorney Priscilla Duncan.
Duncan did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Siegelman, convicted of bribery and other charges with former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, is in federal prison and was not available for comment.
But in an interview prior to entering prison, he told the Montgomery statehouse reporter for New York Times regional papers in Alabama that he dropped out because he did not want a repeat of Al Gore’s challenge of the 2000 presidential race.
Siegelman also has praised other parts of Simpson’s affidavit and said it supports his belief that his prosecution was politically motivated. The lead federal prosecutor in Siegelman’s trial, Louis Franklin, issued a lengthy statement this week denouncing claims of a politicized prosecution and noted that even Siegelman had discredited the part of the affidavit about the Riley signs at a Klan rally.
Siegelman’s campaign press secretary in 2002, Rip Andrews, said he doesn’t remember any discussion of a Klan rally.
But he said he doesn’t discount the substance of Simpson’s affidavit.
“It made sense that the Republicans would do anything to get Siegelman to concede,” Andrews said.
In the affidavit, Simpson said she took pictures of the man placing Riley campaign signs near the site of the planned Klan rally. And she recounts that attorney Terry Butts planned to use that information to get Siegelman to drop his challenge.
She said in the affidavit she received a call later that day from Riley’s son and campaign manager, Rob Riley, who told her: “Terry Butts had talked with Don Siegelman and that Don Siegelman would be resigning before the ten o’clock news.”
Siegelman did resign that evening, but along with his dismissal of her account, Butts also has denied that Siegelman told him the Riley signs at the Klan site were any factor in his concession.
Butts also said an alleged conference call described by Simpson never took place. Rob Riley has said he doesn’t remember any such call. Simpson’s affidavit says the indication of political pressure in the Siegelman probe was made in that call.
University of Alabama political scientist Bill Stewart said it would be unlikely a veteran politician like Siegelman would drop out because of the kind of prank that happens during many campaigns.
“I can’t imagine someone dropping out for something like this,” Stewart said. “Those sorts of things happen in campaigns. It’s not something to be proud of, but on the scale of things that have happened in Alabama campaigns I don’t find it to be very important.”
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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