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Republicans deny lawyer's claims about Siegelman, election

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — A lawyer's claim that former Gov. Don Siegelman was promised an end to a federal probe of his administration if he dropped his challenge of the 2002 governor's race was met with emphatic denials Wednesday by Republicans named in her sworn testimony.

Jill Simpson, a Rainsville lawyer who assisted Republican Bob Riley's campaign in 2002 against the Democratic incumbent, said Riley's son, Rob Riley, told her of the offer to close the Justice Department probe of Siegelman.

Rob Riley said her claim was unbelievable.

"If it had happened, we'd have heard about it before now from Don Siegelman," said Rob Riley.

Siegelman, who conceded the narrow loss in November 2002 but continued to be investigated and prosecuted by the Justice Department, has never made any comment indicating such an offer was made.

Siegelman attorney David McDonald declined to comment Wednesday on the Simpson claim.

“I don’t have any comment on that issue. The only thing I want to comment on is that we have an innocent man sitting in prison and I hope the 11th Circuit will let him out,” McDonald said.

A 143-page transcript of Simpson’s sworn testimony to House Judiciary Committee investigators on Sept. 14 also includes more details of her allegation that White House political adviser Karl Rove manipulated the Justice Department probe of Siegelman at the behest of Bill Canary, a GOP operative whose wife is the U.S. attorney in Montgomery.

“What I understood, or what I believed Mr. Canary to be saying, was that he had had this ongoing conversation with Karl Rove about Don Siegelman, and that Don Siegelman was a thorn to them and basically he was going to — he had been talking with Rove. Rove had been talking with the Justice Department, and they were pursuing Don Siegelman as a result of Rove talking to the Justice Department at the request of Bill Canary,” Simpson says in the transcript.

Career federal prosecutors who handled the Siegelman prosecution have repeatedly denied any political tampering in their case. The U.S. attorney, Leura Canary, recused herself from the investigation in May 2002, months before the alleged deal described by Simpson.

Bill Canary also has disputed the Simpson account.

According to Simpson, Rob Riley told her that Republican attorney Terry Butts told Siegelman the federal investigation would “go away” if he dropped his challenge. She said Siegelman was also told that if he quit the race, pictures showing a Siegelman supporter putting up Bob Riley campaign signs outside a Jackson County Ku Klux Klan rally would also go away.

“And in that conversation basically, Mr. Siegelman had been offered to go ahead and concede, that the pictures would not come out and that they would not further prosecute him with the justice department,” Simpson told the committee attorneys, according to the transcript.

She said Riley also implied that Siegelman was to also drop out of Alabama politics.

Rob Riley vehemently denied making the statements to Simpson.

“Jill Simpson is making up her story as she goes along. It becomes more ridiculous and more unbelievable every time she speaks,” said Riley.

Butts, a former Alabama Supreme Court justice, denied that he had a conversation with Siegelman about dropping his challenge.

In the transcript, Simpson said Rob Riley once assured her that U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, a Republican appointee and the trial judge in Siegelman’s case, would make sure Siegelman was found guilty.

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

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