In an extensive interview with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, who was released from prison on bond last month pending an appeal of his conviction on corruption charges, laid the blame for his prosecution squarely on Karl Rove's "hijacking" of the federal Department of Justice.
"This is not about me, it's not about my case," Siegelman emphasized in his appearance on Air America's Ring of Fire, a show hosted by Kennedy and Mike Papantonio available online at GoLeft.tv. "This is about America, and about a quest now that must be pursued to find out who was responsible for hijacking the Department of Justice and using it as a political tool to win elections. I believe that person that Congress will ultimately hold responsible is Karl Rove."
Siegelman noted that even before Republican whistleblower Dana Jill Simpson implicated Rove directly, "I suspected from the circumstantial evidence that Karl Rove was deeply involved in my prosecution. I mean, it was just so obvious that it was easy for me to put two and two together and connect those dots."
"I grew up with your father being the Attorney General," Siegelman told Kennedy, "and the heroic deeds that he did, and you know, you always thought that the Department of Justice was the last place that you could look to for justice and for fair play. But I think Karl Rove learned two things out of Watergate. ... He learned that you didn't have to create a secret plumbers unit within the White House when you had the Department of Justice. If you just appointed the right U.S. Attorneys, you could accomplish the same thing and more. And the second thing I think Rove learned was, you don't leave evidence behind like Nixon did with his tapes. You destroy e-mails."
Siegelman made clear his belief that, even though the corruption investigation launched against him by a Republican state attorney general just a few weeks after he was sworn in as governor in 1999 may have begun as a matter of local politics, once the Bush administration took office it became something far larger. By then, Siegelman was a rising star among Democratic governors, and after losing his bid for re-election in 2002 he became an increasingly visible critic of the administration. That in itself was reason enough for Rove to want to bring him down.
In support of his argument that he was targeted at the highest levels of the Department of Justice, Siegelman cited the involvement of several highly-placed figures. One was Noel Hillman, formerly the head of the Public Integrity Section at the department, whom Kennedy described as "a crooked federal judge from Camden, New Jersey, who is one of the other people who has completely corrupted the democratic process in our country and taken the Justice Department ... and turned it into a political outlet for muzzling and jailing political opponents."
According to Siegelman, Hillman "actually came to Alabama several times to speak up for the prosecution, even at a time when there were questions whether or not they were going to move forward with the case. He called the U.S. Attorneys to Washington and told them to go back and take a top-to-bottom review of the Siegelman case once they had lost their first run at me in 2004."
Another was Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who visited U.S. Attorney Leura Canary in Alabama after the first case against Siegelman was thrown out by the judge and, far from criticizing her failure, offered his strong support. "Shortly after the case was lost by the U.S. Attorney in Birmingham, who is a close social friend of Karl Rove's, Alberto Gonzales comes to Alabama to give her an applause and to pat her on the back and to shore her up and to tell everybody what a great U.S. Attorney she was."
Siegelman also noted that when the government witness who was preparing to testify against Siegelman told a room full of Department of Justice representatives that he had also given cash and blank checks to two prominent Republicans -- former Attorney General William Pryor and Senator Jeff Sessions -- "not one word was said and nothing was done."
"Every single one of those people had a conflict and should have stepped out of that room at that time," Siegelman explained. "It cries about selective prosecution, but it also cries out, who is holding this umbrella of protection over these people so that they felt comfortable operating in that environment where they were possibly, certainly violating the cannons of ethics, but possibly violating laws and certainly subverting my right to a fair trial?"
Siegelman added that "the Department of Justice, still to this day, is withholding over 500 documents that would shed some light on the origins of this case."
Karl Rove has denied having ever met Dana Jill Simpson, the Republican whistleblower who linked him directly to the prosecution of Governor Siegelman, and has rejected her allegations. He told GQ in an interview following Simpson's appearance on 60 Minutes, "She's a complete lunatic. I've never met this woman. This woman was not involved in any campaign in which I was involved. I have yet to find anybody who knows her. ... CBS is a shoddy operation. They said, 'Hey, if we can say "Karl Rove," "Siegelman," that'll be good for ratings. Let's hype it. We'll put out a news release on Thursday and then promo the hell out of it on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.'"
Video and audio of the interview follow.
RAW STORY's Larisa Alexandrova has reported extensively on the Siegelman case and related matters in a series titled The Permanent Republican Majority: