Forty-four former state attorneys general have sent a petition to Congress asking legislators to investigate the Justice Department’s prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman on corruption charges.
“We urge the Congress to take immediate action to investigate this entire matter so that the public may be assured that the outcome is just,” the former officials wrote in a letter sent Friday to the House and Senate judiciary committees.
Siegelman, a Democrat who also served as Alabama attorney general from 1987 to 1991, was convicted last year of bribery and obstruction of justice. He was taken in shackles from his sentencing hearing last month to begin serving a seven-year prison sentence.
Most petition signatories are Democrats, but several are also prominent Republicans, including former Arizona Atty. Gen. Grant Woods and former Kansas Atty. Gen. Robert T. Stephan.
Siegelman and his supporters have maintained for years that his prosecution was politically motivated.
Those claims received more attention in recent months as Congress considered allegations that White House officials were involved in Justice Department decisions.
A Republican lawyer from Alabama added fuel to those claims when she signed an affidavit stating that, in 2002, she overheard conversations among GOP gubernatorial campaign officials suggesting that White House political strategist Karl Rove may have been involved in -- or at least aware of -- Justice Department efforts to prosecute Siegelman.
“The only way to convince the public that the governor is not the victim of a politically motivated double standard is for Congress to investigate all aspects of the case thoroughly,” the former attorneys general wrote to the committee chairmen.
Senate Judiciary Committee spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said the panel was unlikely to launch a separate inquiry into the case but would consider the issues raised in the petition.
“The committee will consider all relevant information as it pursues its investigation” of the Justice Department, she said.
The House Judiciary Committee appears more interested in pursuing the matter. A staffer said that the committee was looking at the Siegelman prosecution in an examination of whether the Justice Department tilted public corruption cases against Democrats.
The House panel has already received a copy of the sworn statement from Dana Jill Simpson, the Republican lawyer who assisted the successful 2002 gubernatorial campaign of Siegelman’s opponent, Bob Riley.
In her statement, she said that during a conference call with other GOP campaign aides, she heard Riley strategist Bill Canary tell other campaign workers not to worry about Siegelman because “his girls” -- meaning two U.S. attorneys in Alabama, one of whom was his wife -- “would take care of” Siegelman. Simpson’s affidavit also noted that she heard Canary say that “Karl” had assured him that the Justice Department was pursuing a case against the former governor.
Canary has worked on campaigns with Rove in the past.
His wife, Leura, is the U.S. attorney whose office brought the case against Siegelman. After Siegelman’s lawyers raised that potential conflict of interest, Leura Canary recused herself from the case, which was subsequently handled by career prosecutors.
The former attorneys general, many of whom served while Siegelman was attorney general, cited the Simpson affidavit in noting that the case “may have had sufficient irregularities as to call into question the basic fairness that is the linchpin of our system of justice.”
In addition to the affidavit, the signers noted that Siegelman was denied bail and given a harsh sentence pending an appeal that includes “numerous apparently legitimate” issues.