News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Siegelman case still troubling

Most Alabamians may not care terribly much that former Gov. Don Siegelman faces sentencing on federal corruption charges in the coming weeks. But all Alabamians should care if the process that may put him in a federal prison was fair and free of politics.

A federal jury in Montgomery found Mr. Siegelman and Richard Scrushy, founder and former CEO of HealthSouth, guilty of corruption in 2006.

Mr. Siegelman came to Decatur on Tuesday to retell a story of political intrigue that helped convict the pair. He came armed with new information to feed the political tapestry woven with readily recognizable names: Karl Rove, embattled U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former state Attorney General Bill Pryor, Gov. Bob Riley, discredited lobbyists Michael Scanlon and Jack Abramoff, and more.

The looming scandal involving Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Rove over the sacking of eight U.S. attorneys who refused to do political investigations has Mr. Siegelman retelling his story with more vigor. The U.S. attorney scandal is part of a convoluted political pattern that he contends reaches into Alabama as a successful Republican plot to rid the state of a Democratic governor — Mr. Siegelman. He gave the impression that he would love for congressional investigators to take up his case. His is an involved story that includes millions of dollars in questionable Mississippi gambling money and an effort to stop casino competition from Alabama.

Mr. Siegelman also was convicted on a lesser charge of obstruction of justice, but it is the bribery conviction and his charge of political plotting from the White House to the state Capitol and through the federal court system that he talks about.

The verdict was one that bothered us from the beginning. The way federal Judge Mark Fuller conducted the trial and his rulings on subsequent motions leave outsiders with the impression he intended to help hang the former governor and prevent him from regaining the governor's office he lost in a controversial recount of Baldwin County ballots. That 2002 recount gave the office to then-U.S. Rep. Bob Riley.

Prosecutors contended that Mr. Scrushy paid Mr. Siegelman $500,000 to buy himself a seat on a state hospital regulatory board. Yet, the prosecution never proved a quid pro quo, or that there was an agreement of money paid for the board seat. Actually, the money went to help pay for Mr. Siegelman's 1999 education lottery campaign that failed.

The government charged the pair with a crime that hasn't been a crime in Alabama, or anywhere. Countless contributors to political campaigns end up holding some kind of public office just as Mr. Scrushy did.

Why did that activity suddenly become a crime in Alabama? The judge and prosecutors saw beyond the law and convinced jurors the two committed a crime. The case smells of politics.

Just as the alleged political firing of the U.S. attorneys is troubling, so is this case because the suspicions go to the heart of our system of self-governance.

Congress should look beyond those firings and into this case. Mr. Siegelman tells a good story.

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