Siegelman Prosecution Continues to Unravel | Harper's Magazine

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Siegelman Prosecution Continues to Unravel


Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman finds himself in a curious position. He was tried, convicted and sentenced on corruption charges brought by a U.S. Attorney whose husband happened to be advising Siegelman’s political opponent. In the meantime, spectacular public charges leveled by Republicans against figures in their own party have turned the tables on the prosecutors, who are now increasingly fighting a rear-guard action attempting to save their careers. Under intense Congressional pressure, the Justice Department acknowledges that its Office of Professional Responsibility has started multiple investigations into accusations of ethics lapses and illegal conduct leveled at the prosecutors and investigators they directed.

Evidence of the involvement of former senior Presidential Advisor Karl Rove continues to mount, and Rove’s denials become more strangely qualified as time progresses. Congress is demanding Rove’s testimony under subpoena and has rejected his efforts to weasel out of a public appearance under oath. At this point, Rove appears prepared to defy the Congressional subpoena and face imprisonment for contempt.

In Atlanta, the Court of Appeals, after issuing a series of increasingly irritated orders challenging the conduct of the trial judge, ordered Siegelman’s release from prison, remarking that his appeal had substantial prospects for success. This is particularly remarkable because the court ruled on the basis of the trial record itself, whereas the most dramatic evidence of misconduct and abuse was only unearthed after Siegelman went to prison. The disclosures link the prosecution team to illegal witness coaching and to the suppression of vital exculpatory evidence. Key roles were played in the process by CBS News’s 60 Minutes and MSNBC’s Dan Abrams.

In another clear sign of reversal, the Bush Justice Department’s prosecution team—itself now under investigation—has abandoned its own appeal of the Siegelman sentencing. The Associated Press reports:

Federal prosecutors are no longer seeking stiffer prison sentences for former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy.

The prosecutors do not offer any explanation for their forfeiture of the appeal.

Siegelman’s appeal on the merits is proceeding with historically unprecedented support. Fifty-four former attorneys general have submitted a brief amicus curiæ in the case calling for the conviction to be thrown out. Conventionally, amicus briefs argue some narrow issue of law in which the group submitting them has an interest. This brief is unusual in that it takes lethal aim at the essence of the Bush Justice Department’s case, lashing out against the good faith of the prosecution itself.

The attorneys general express their “strong conviction” that the prosecution of Siegelman was improper. “Completely absent from the trial record is any evidence that Governor Siegelman and Mr. Scrushy entered into an explicit agreement whereby Mr. Scrushy’s appointment to the Con board was conditioned upon Mr. Scrushy’s making the political contributions in question,” the attorneys general state. They also level serious charges at the trial judge, noting that his decision to up Siegelman’s punishment because Siegelman protested over the political influences at play in the case—charges now substantially vindicated—raised “serious first amendment issues.” It increasingly appears likely that Siegelman was rushed off to prison for telling the truth.

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