Ex-Siegelman lawyer says Washington steered case
Former governor's prosecutor disputes Jones' testimony to panel
By Ben Evans
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON — A former lawyer for Don Siegelman told a congressional committee Tuesday that Washington officials — not local prosecutors — appeared to be steering the case against the former Democratic Alabama governor.
Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney in the Clinton administration who later defended Siegelman, said he believes local prosecutors were in control early on.
But he said after the case appeared to stall in 2004 and prosecutors hinted that it may be dropped, Washington officials became much more involved and were "fishing around for anything they could find."
"All of this was absolutely stunning and a complete reversal of what we had been told only a few months before," Jones said at a House hearing on whether the Bush administration has used the justice system for partisan gains. "It was not a review. It was as if the case started all over again."
Louis Franklin, the chief prosecutor in the case, disputed Jones' testimony later in the day, saying he and other career prosecutors in Montgomery always directed the prosecution and that no one ever suggested that it might be dropped.
"We never told him that we were backing off of that case. Not at any point did we ever say that," Franklin said in a phone interview. "I made him aware that we had a strong case and we were moving forward unless they showed us something proving that we're looking at this the wrong way."
Franklin said Justice's Office of Public Integrity in Washington helped, as they routinely do on public corruption case. But Washington didn't pressure prosecutors to pursue it, he said.
Jones testified before a House Judiciary panel examining the Siegelman case and two others from Wisconsin and Pennsylvania as potential examples of "selective prosecution" by the Justice Department under President Bush. Siegelman's wife, Lori, attended the hearing, sitting in the front row.
Republican attorney Jill Simpson of Rainsville — who has given sworn testimony that she heard fellow Republicans on Gov. Bob Riley's campaign discussing Bush adviser Karl Rove's involvement in the Siegelman prosecution in 2002 — was not called to testify.
But Rep. Artur Davis, a Birmingham Democrat, said Jones' testimony Tuesday and the earlier allegations from Simpson should prompt Congress to ramp up its investigation. Striking a more aggressive tone on the Siegelman affair than he has before, Davis called on the committee to subpoena Rove to get more information.
"Every time you look at the twists and turns of this case, you see the presence of partisan politics," Davis said. "Politics influenced this case. That's the irresistible conclusion based on the facts."
Republicans on the committee, however, said there was no evidence of prosecutorial misconduct and accused Democrats of meddling with the justice system, particularly with the Siegelman case under appeal.
"Gov. Siegelman was found to be a corrupt politician who sold his public office for money," said Rep. J. Randy Forbes, R-Va. "His credibility is no different than any other criminal with a motive to say anything to get out of prison. What is unusual today is that the majority is conducting an investigation based on these claims."
Siegelman, who was elected in 1998 and served one term, was convicted last year on federal bribery, conspiracy, mail fraud and obstruction of justice charges.
In the key charge, he was accused of appointing former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy to an influential hospital regulatory board in exchange for Scrushy arranging $500,000 in contributions to Siegelman's campaign for a state lottery.
Siegelman, who has long alleged that his prosecution was politically motivated, recently began serving a sentence of more than seven years in a Louisiana prison.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Save $84.50 a year off our newsstand price:
Subscribe today for only 38 cents a day!