Friday, October 5, 2007
Time magazine reports (here) that a key witness in the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman on corruption charges also told federal investigators that he made illegal campaign contributions to Republican officials, but that none of them were ever investigated. The Siegelman prosecution is the subject of an October 11 hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, and the documents Time claims to have reviewed have been requested by the Committee from the Department of Justice, which has so far resisted producing them. The prosecution has become wrapped up in the larger issue of the politicization of the Department of Justice, and includes a claim by an Alabama attorney that during a 2002 meeting with Republican operatives there was an assurance that Karl Rove would have Siegelman removed as a potential electoral threat.
This latest report will add fuel to the fire on Capitol Hill, but it's not clear exactly how any of this will affect the convictions of Siegelman, who has started serving his 88-month prison sentence while the case is on appeal to the Eleventh Circuit. The allegations raised in the Time article are that federal investigators ignored credible evidence against Republicans and only pursued the Democrat. Siegelman was acquitted on 25 of the 32 counts in the indictment, including those based on the testimony of the key witness. The charges on which he was convicted relate mostly to transactions with Richard Scrushy, former CEO of HealthSouth, who was also convicted and is serving a prison term. Even if the federal prosecutors should have looked into other allegations of corruption, that does not necessarily call into question the propriety of Siegelman's convictions. A claim of selective prosecution is virtually impossible to win, and a decision by prosecutors to pursue a case that turned up more wide-ranging evidence of corruption (i.e. the Scrushy transactions) does not mean the decision to ignore other possible leads violated Siegelman's rights. It is, of course, deeply troubling if prosecutors selected a defendant because of his party affiliation, or avoided pursuing other reasonable lines of inquiry because of their ties to other Republican officials. The ethical lapses of the prosecutors, if in fact they occurred, does not necessarily call into question the strength of the evidence that led to Siegelman's convictions, and the Eleventh Circuit in all likelihood will focus on the narrower legal issues related to the sufficiency of evidence and other possible legal errors and not on whether he was selected for prosecution based on his politics. (ph)