Dana Siegelman’s Pardon Petition Drive Gains Momentum In DC
Dana Siegelman, daughter of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, argued eloquently Oct. 24 during two lectures and a radio appearance against injustice, including that suffered by upon her father. The remarks came during a trip to Washington, DC as part of her nationwide campaign to obtain signatures for a presidential pardon for her father, now imprisoned in a notorious political proscution.
She said also that her human rights campaign is on behalf of all those involved in politics who might be targeted under vague and selective criteria, and that she strongly supports the president's re-election.
Siegelman's trial judge, U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, ordered the defendant Aug. 3 to resume imprisonment on a seven-year sentence. Siegelman was Alabama's governor from 1999 to 2003 after becoming Alabama's most popular Democrat in lower offices.
A Montgomery jury convicted the former governor in 2006 on corruption charges, primarily because he reappointed wealthy businessman Richard Scrushy to an unpaid state hospital board after Scrushy donated heavily to the Alabama Education Foundation, a non-profit that advocated policies Siegelman supported. Neither Siegelman nor his campaign received funds from Scrushy, former CEO of HealthSouth, Inc. The state and federal investigation, launched by Alabama Republicans shortly after Siegelman took office in 1999, is estimated to have cost taxpayers more than $100 million. Scrushy, a Republican, had previously served on the regulatory board for 12 years, and had donated directly to Republican candidates without controversy.
Siegelman, his supporters, and many outside observers have long argued that the prosecution and trial under Fuller was a highly unfair political prosecution to remove Siegelman from politics. The defendant had been a leading Democrat in the Southeast, with potential of a presidential race.
Other motives for the federal prosecution and the trial judge's highly irregular conduct have been widely reported, including by the Justice Integrity Project. Evidence of improper motives includes resentment against Siegelman by gambling opponents distressed at his plan to fund better education by enacting a state lottery. Also, Mississippi casino owners feared that legalized gambling in Alabama represented a competitive threat. They hired lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who says he arranged $20 million to defeat Siegelman. Compelling evidence exists of other improper motivations by the judge, and the Bush Justice Department, including business interests and career advancement.
Dana Siegelman has suspended her graduate studies in religion and political science to gather petition signatures and other support for the "Free Don" campaign. She powerfully summarized the issues by providing perspective from the family's viewpoint. In two separeate discussions Oct. 24 at the National Press Club, she summarized the clear-cut evidence of bias by the trial judge, Fuller. Other factors included the conflict of interest when the U.S. attorney running the prosecution, Leura Canary, was married to the campaign manager of Siegelman's opponent, Bob Riley. The Justice Department has refused for six years to provide paperwork showing that Canary recused, as she claimed. A
Also, Dana Siegelman said Fuller made a remark in August that puzzled the family because he chastised Siegelman for "21 years" of supposed doubts about the legal system. Siegelman was attorney general at the time, and nothing in the government's many years of prosecution filings alleged any misconduct then by him.
Siegelman's 2002 re-election defeat is regarded in Alabama Democratic circles and among election software critics as one of the first major election software voting thefts. Officials announced him as winning re-election by more than 3,000 vote on election night in 2002, but when he woke up nearly 7,000 votes were mysteriously switched in rural Baldwin County, thereby enabling victory by Congressman Bob Riley, who served two terms until last year.
Dana Siegelman said that Republican Attorney General William Pryor, who was already investigating Siegelman, threatened the arrest in 2002 of anyone who attempted to investigate the vote-switch and that many of the relevant federal judges were Republicans. Under those circumstances, she said, her father decided not to contest the election but instead simply to run again for re-election in 2006.
But Siegelman was indicted in 2005 shortly before the 2006 campaign season by a grand jury that had issued a secret indictment the previous spring. Fuller was selected as judge by a controversial and unknown process. Although a jury acquitted on most charges its compromise verdict found guilt on nine, all but one regarding Siegelman's reappointment of Scrushy to the state board. The trial judge promptly sentenced Siegelman and Scrushy to seven-year terms in 2007 without the normal appeal bonds granted white-collar defendants, and had them hauled off in chains in disgrace. The judge put Siegelman in solitary confinement, keeping him on the move within the prison system, and thus away from the news media and family.
The case became notorious because of the context of the U.S. attorney purge and because Alabama attorney Dana Jill Simpson stepped forward in 2007 to prevent the frame-up from continuing by providing sworn evidence that she was in on GOP plot whereby the judge and Bush prosecutors would frame Siegelman. In 2008, CBS 60 Minutes broadcast an expose on the frame-up, which generated a massive public protest of letters and emails to the White House, Congress and Justice Department. In the face of that, the appellate court released the defendant on appeal bond in March 2008. Aside from that, appellate courts -- including the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on which Pryor sits following a Democratic cave-in on his controversial nomination -- have generally rejected all arguments.
Simpson, now an election integrity researcher, attended Siegelman's two press club lectures and confirmed her account.
Siegelman said she was optimistic of meeting her campaign's goal of another 100,000 supporters, with 34,000 signatures so far. She said the petition drive has secured the support of all 112 former state attorneys general who unsuccessfully argued to the Supreme Court that Siegelman's actions did not constitute a crime.
I accompanied her to her afternoon radio interview on the Thom Hartmann show, with her compelling account resulting in an exceptionally large number of Facebook requests from those seeking to spread the petition. The petition is here at Change.org for a presidential pardon or commutation.
In introducing her, McClendon Group chairman John Edward Hurley said, "This is one session that you surely won't want to miss since it deals with with a specialty of our news group: the out-of-control corruption of the courts that has left our Constitution as a clearly asphyxiated artifact of our nation's past. And the Siegelman case is one that you can't blame on the media, since it has been widely covered." Among those attending and interested in helping Siegelman's cause after hearing her presentation was Ski Johnson, the popular jazz saxophonist and film maker now up for consideration for a Grammy.
Hurley, left, is a former White House correspondent, civic leader, and executive director of the Confederate Memorial, which showcased highlights of Southern Civil War history while resisting efforts by racists begun in the late 1980s to make the memorial a headquarters for neo-Confederate movement across the country. Commander of the press club's American Legion post, Hurley has helped lead the McClendon Group speaker society for a quarter century to present important speakers.
"The public exposure of the corruption that Dana refers to has made no difference," said Hurley before Dana Siegelman's remarks. "What will make a difference is identifying the faceless oligarchs, and their minions, who are secretly controlling our judicial system."
Editor's Note: The column above was revised after publication to reflect more squarely the themes of the speaker, not audience members.
Related News Coverage
Below is a sample of recent or otherwise significant columns about the Siegelman case.
Fox News, Former Gov. Don Siegelman Petitions President for Pardon, Neil Cavuto, Aug. 13, 2012. (Video). Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman on the petition for the President to pardon him from his prison sentence for bribery. Host Neil Cavuto describes Siegelman treatment as unfair, and worrisome to business executives from either party making donations.
Pam Miles List Serve (Alabama), This is Pure Meanness, Pam Miles (left), Aug. 28, 2012. On August 3, our Governor Don Siegelman was resentenced to serve the balance of a 78 month term. Don’s reporting date is September 11th. At the sentencing in 2007 Judge Fuller had the Governor hand-cuffed and shackled with chains around his legs and waist -- and taken from the court room and put into solitary confinement in the basement of a maximum security prison in Atlanta at 1 AM.
Democracy Now!, Video interview and transcript of Interview with Don Siegelman and author Craig Unger, Amy Goodman, Sept. 11, 2012. Don Siegelman, the former governor of Alabama, returns to federal prison today to resume his six-and-a-half-year sentence on a controversial bribery conviction that has been compared to a political witch hunt. Siegelman and his supporters say he was the target of a plot, in part orchestrated by former Bush administration deputy Karl Rove, for belonging to the Democratic Party in a state with a Republican majority. "No one wants to go to prison for something that is not a crime, and especially one orchestrated by Karl Rove," Siegelman said. "Everyone remembers the eight U.S. attorneys who were fired by Rove during the Bush administration because they would not pursue political prosecutions. Well, the U.S. attorney in Alabama, appointed by Bush, vetted by Rove, pursued a political prosecution." Sign the petition: www.change.org/pardondon.
Fox News, Former Gov. Don Siegelman: I’m Here Seeking My Freedom, Neil Cavuto, Sept. 4, 2012. Former Gov. Don Siegelman, (D-Ala.), on being sentenced to prison for bribery. Cavuto: "This judge had it in for you from the beginning."
Guardian (United Kingdom), Former governor Don Siegelman lobbies for presidential pardon at DNC, Andrew Gumbel, Sept. 5, 2012. The former Alabama governor was perhaps the highest profile victim of Karl Rove's political machine, sentenced to six years for bribery. Now his last hope for freedom is a presidential pardon. Siegelman is in Charlotte at the pleasure of a federal judge, and is just days away from resuming a six-and-a-half-year prison sentence, following a widely publicised conviction on bribery charges stemming from his time in office more than a decade ago. His goal at the convention is to drum up support for a presidential pardon, which he knows can come only once President Obama is safely back in the White House for a second term. It's not as much of a long shot as it may sound, because Siegelman is no ordinary felon. The magazine of the American Trial Lawyers Association has described him as "America's No 1 political prisoner", and his well-connected friends and supporters include more than 100 former state attorneys general and former Democratic presidential candidates Al Gore and John Kerry.
Huffington Post,The Curious Case of Don Siegelman, Mimi Kennedy, Sept. 3, 2012. Don Siegelman should be a star in the Democratic Party. Instead, he's a former elected official sentenced to prison by a right-wing judge in Alabama.
Legal Schnauzer, Karl Rove Acts Like a Jackass to Don Siegelman's Daughter at Democratic National Convention, Roger Shuler, Sept. 7, 2012. Dana Siegelman, the daughter of Alabama's former governor, approached Karl Rove this week at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. Showing Rove more politeness than he deserved, Ms. Siegelman introduced herself and tried to ask if there is anything Rove could do to help her father. After all, Don Siegelman is due to report to federal custody next Tuesday as the victim of perhaps the most notorious political prosecution in American history. Did Karl Rove care about the human costs of gross injustice? Not on your life. What did Dana Siegelman get for her trouble? An epic lesson in Republican rudeness. The TYT Network interviewed Dana Siegelman about her brief experience in Rove's orbit, and you can view the full video at the end of this post. If you ever have asked yourself, "Just how big a jackass is Karl Rove?" Dana Siegelman provides the answer with the following words: "I had no idea that Karl Rove would dare step in this building. And when I found out this morning that he was here, I sort of felt . . . I need to meet this person and let him know what he's done to my family."
Harper's No Comment, Boss Rove: Six Questions for Craig Unger, Scott Horton, Sept. 3, 2012. After four years in the political penalty box, Karl Rove has returned as the undeniable mastermind of the G.O.P.’s electoral effort. Vanity Fair contributing editor Craig Unger, left, has just published a new book, Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove’s Secret Kingdom of Power, that focuses on Rove’s fall from grace during the Bush years and his remarkable political resurrection. It shows how Rove’s tactics are remaking the nation’s political landscape and explains why, win or lose in 2012, he is likely to be a dominant force in Republican politics for some time.
Legal Schnauzer, Siegelman Resentencing Serves as a Grim Reminder That His Prosecution Was Bogus from the Outset, Aug. 3, 2012. Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman was resentenced today to serve five years and nine months on top of the time he already has served in federal prison -- plus three years of probation, a $50,000 fine, and 500 hours of community service. All of this for committing what we have termed a "crime that doesn't exist." And that is an accurate statement because U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller did not include the "explicit agreement" language that is required by law to form an illegal quid pro quo in the context of a campaign contribution. But today's events are disturbing for reasons that go way beyond legal lingo. Lost in all of the reporting about what does or does not constitute bribery in the political realm, is this undisputed fact--the charges against Siegelman and codefendant Richard Scrushy were barred by the applicable statute of limitations.
OpEd News, What Federal Judge Fuller's Ugly Divorce Has to Do with Don Siegelman, (Interview of Andrew Kreig by Joan Brunwasser), May 25, 2012. The government's frame-up of Siegelman, Alabama's most popular Democrat, was the culmination of a two-decade plan by Karl Rove and his business allies to transform Alabama state politics and courts from historically Democratic to overwhelmingly Republican. Parallel developments occurred also in Mississippi and Louisiana, but it was most dramatic in Alabama, where Rove and the Bush family have longstanding ties and where the historically Democratic black population is the smallest of any Deep South state. This rout of Democrats has left the party so enfeebled that the national party has in effect ceded to Republicans much of the control over the justice system in these regions, as otherwise in the guts of government. For example, the Obama administration left in office until last spring the Bush-appointed U.S. attorney who helped frame Siegelman, and then named as her successor a man who as a defense attorney represented the chief witness against Siegelman. This created a perverse incentive to keep a lid on the scandals. Further, Congress is abandoning its watchdog role except in a few partisan matters. In this case, we now know that some prominent Democrats from Alabama in effect sold out Siegelman for their own selfish purposes by bad-mouthing him and trial critics behind-the-scenes in Washington.
Montgomery Independent / Wetumpka Herald, Fuller’s ethics called into question in suit, Bob Martin, May 16, 2012. The past judicial record of U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller of Montgomery has demonstrated his failure on many occasions to step aside from cases thought by lawyers to be compromised by his personal, financial or political interests. This past month personal interests came to the forefront of Fuller’s life with the filing of divorce papers by his wife, Lisa. The long term abuse of trust by Fuller, described to me from sources inside the U.S. Courthouse in Montgomery and others continues today and has lasted at least 4 years. It involves a former female courtroom deputy in her late 30s with children ages 9 and 14. Her husband obtained a divorce several months ago.
Legal Schnauzer, George Will, Of All People, Stands Up for Justice in the Don Siegelman Case, Roger Shuler, Feb. 12, 2012. Who could have imagined that George Will would prove to be more progressive than Barack Obama on fundamental matters of justice? Will, probably the nation's foremost conservative columnist, writes in his most recent piece that the U.S. Supreme Court should review the convictions of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman and co-defendant Richard Scrushy to ensure that overzealous prosecutors are not criminalizing standard political behavior. CBS 60 Minutes, Did Ex-Alabama Governor Get A Raw Deal? Scott Pelley, Feb. 24, 2008. Is Don Siegelman in prison because he's a criminal or because he belonged to the wrong political party in Alabama? Siegelman is the former governor of Alabama, and he was the most successful Democrat in that Republican state. But while he was governor, the U.S. Justice Department launched multiple investigations that went on year after year until, finally, a jury convicted Siegelman of bribery.
Harper's No Comment, The Pork Barrel World of Judge Mark Fuller, Scott Horton, Aug. 6, 2007. For the last week, we’ve been examining the role played by Judge Mark Everett Fuller in the trial, conviction, and sentencing of former Alabama Governor Don E. Siegelman. Today, we examine a post-trial motion, filed in April 2007, asking Fuller to recuse himself based on his extensive private business interests, which turn very heavily on contracts with the United States Government, including the Department of Justice. The recusal motion rested upon details about Fuller’s personal business interests. Huffington Post, Siegelman's First Trial Judge Blasts U.S. Prosecutors, Seeks Probe of 'Unfounded' Charges, Andrew Kreig, May 21, 2009. One of the most experienced federal judges in recent Alabama history is denouncing the U.S. Justice Department prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Retired Chief U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon of Birmingham calls for a probe of misconduct by federal prosecutors ─ including their alleged "judge-shopping," jury-pool "poisoning" and "unfounded" criminal charges in an effort to imprison Siegelman.
Huffington Post, Siegelman Deserves New Trial Because of Judge’s ‘Grudge’, Evidence Shows….$300 Million in Bush Military Contracts Awarded to Judge’s Private Company, Andrew Kreig, May 15, 2009. The Alabama federal judge who presided over the 2006 corruption trial of the state's former governor holds a grudge against the defendant for helping to expose the judge's own alleged corruption six years ago. Former Gov. Don Siegelman therefore deserves a new trial with an unbiased judge ─ not one whose privately owned company, Doss Aviation, has been enriched by the Bush administration's award of $300 million in contracts since 2006, making the judge millions in non-judicial income.