Scary Politics in Alabama: How the GOP Framed Gov. Don Siegelman

News & Politics
Editor's Note: The following chapter is from "Loser Take All: Election Fraud and the Subversion of Democracy, 2000-2008," (IG Publishing, 2008), edited by Mark Crispin Miller.

On Election Day 2002, the Alabama governorship seemed all but certain to be delivered to the Democratic incumbent, Don Siegelman. In a largely Republican state, the popular Siegelman had been the only person in Alabama history to hold all of the state's highest offices, having served as Attorney General, Secretary of State, Lieutenant Governor and finally, as Governor. When the polls closed on election night, and the votes were being counted, it seemed increasingly apparent that Governor Siegelman had been victorious in his re-election bid against the Republican challenger, Bob Riley. But, sometime in the middle of the night, a single county changed everything, and by the next morning, Alabamians awoke to find that Riley was their new governor.

According to CNN, the confusion over who the actual winner was stemmed from what appeared to be two different sets of numbers coming in from Baldwin County:
"The confusion stems from two sets of numbers reported by one heavily Republican district," the network stated. "Figures originally reported by Baldwin County showed Siegelman got about 19,000 votes there, making him the state's winner by about two-tenths of 1 percent," its reporter added. "But hours after polls closed, Baldwin County officials said the first number was wrong, and Siegelman had received just less than 13,000. Those figures would make Riley the statewide winner by about 3,000 votes."
Riley's electoral victory had rested on a razor-thin margin of 3,120 votes. According to official reports, Baldwin County had conducted a recount sometime in the middle of the night, when the only county officers and election supervisors present were Republicans. While there were many electronic anomalies across the state, the Baldwin County recount had put Riley over the finish line. State and county Democrats quickly requested another Baldwin County recount with Democratic observers present, as well as a statewide recount. But before the Baldwin County Democratic Party canvassing board could act, Alabama's Republican Attorney General William Pryor had the ballots sealed. Unless Siegelman filed an election contest in the courts, Pryor said, state county canvassing boards did not have the authority "to break the seals on ballots and machines under section 17-9-31" of the state constitution.

Framing a political opponent

Pryor had won his reelection bid in 1998 to Alabama's top legal office with the help of two campaign managers, one of whom is remarkably well known because he would later go on to lead the George W. Bush victory in the 2000 election: Karl Rove. Pryor's other campaign manager was a longtime GOP operative by the name of Bill Canary. Canary would emerge as the campaign manager for Siegelman's opponent, Bob Riley, in the 2002 election. After Pryor was re-elected in 1998, he almost immediately began investigating Siegelman, who was then Lieutenant Governor. Siegelman appears to have made an enemy of Pryor as early as 1997, when he criticized the latter's close relationship with the tobacco industry. Pryor's history and relationship with Canary and Rove should have been reason enough for the Alabama Attorney General to recuse himself from the November 2002 election controversy. But Pryor refused.

A year earlier, in 2001, President Bush had appointed Leura Canary to serve as U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama. If that last name sounds familiar, it is because her husband is Bill Canary. Leura Canary had begun working on Siegelman's case almost as soon she took office, when she federalized Attorney General Pryor's ongoing state probe. After spending six months investigating Siegelman, Leura Canary was forced to formally recuse herself from the investigation because of her husband's connections to the Riley campaign. At least she gave the appearance of recusing herself; no evidence of this recusal has ever been found, and all requested documents from the Department of Justice are MIA. By all accounts, Leura Canary continued to conduct the investigation from behind the scenes. This resulted in her delivering an indictment in 2004 of conspiracy and fraud in which Siegelman and two alleged co-conspirators were said to have rigged Medicaid contracts in 1999. However, only a few months after filing the indictment, the U.S. Attorney's prosecuting the case were held in contempt of court, and the case against Siegelman was dismissed.

Finding a more receptive judge

After Siegelman indicated his intention to seek reelection, Canary's original investigation resurfaced in 2005. (Canary had never stopped pushing the investigation along, even against the advice of her professional staff.) As a result, in October 2005, Don Siegelman was once again indicted by a federal grand jury, on 32 counts of bribery, conspiracy and mail fraud.

Siegelman was accused of accepting a $500,000 donation from HealthSouth founder Richard M. Scrushy in exchange for an appointment to the Alabama hospital regulatory board. That donation supposedly went to pay off a debt incurred by a non-profit foundation set up by Siegelman and others to promote an education lottery in a state referendum. However, Siegelman's attorney argued that Siegelman did not control the foundation by which the debt was incurred, nor did he take money from or profit from the foundation.

The case was assigned to Judge Mark Fuller, whom George W. Bush had nominated for a federal judgeship to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama in 2002. Prior to his promotion to the federal bench, Fuller had served as District Attorney for Alabama's 12th Circuit. Fuller had been replaced as D.A. by Gary McAliley, who in investigating his predecessor's accounting practices, found that Fuller had been defrauding the Alabama retirement system by spiking salaries.

There were many irregularities during the trial, including strong indications of jury tampering involving two jurors. Eventually, in June 2006, Siegelman was convicted of seven of the charges against him, after the jury had deadlocked twice and been sent back each time to deliberate by Judge Fuller. When it came time for sentencing, Fuller imposed a sentence of seven years and four months, and would not allow Siegelman to remain free while his case was under appeal. Within hours of his sentencing, Siegelman had been taken to a federal penitentiary in Atlanta.

A letter sent to then-U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales by members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee revealed numerous questions about the indictment and the trial:
"There have been several reported irregularities in the case against Mr. Siegelman that raise questions about his prosecution. In 2004, charges against Mr. Siegelman were dropped by the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Northern District of Alabama before the case went to trial, and the judge harshly rebuked prosecutors bringing that case. In the RICO case filed in the Middle District of Alabama in 2005, there have been allegations of jury tampering involving two of the jurors who convicted Mr. Siegelman. These and other irregularities prompted 44 former state attorneys general to sign a petition 'urging the United States Congress to investigate the circumstances surrounding the investigation, prosecution, sentencing and detention' of Mr. Siegelman."
However, this story became even more twisted when a long time Alabama Republican attorney who had handled opposition research for Bob Riley's 2002 campaign against Siegelman came forward with some astonishing allegations. Dana Jill Simpson had spent the 2002 election cycle digging into Don Siegelman's background. In 2007, Simpson filed an affidavit in which she alleged direct White House involvement in the 2002 Alabama election. According to Simpson's affidavit, Siegelman had conceded the election and did not push for a recount because Riley's team had threatened him with prosecution if he did not withdraw from the race. In addition, Simpson also revealed an alleged conference call that took place on November 17, 2002 between herself, Bill Canary, Rob Riley-Governor Bob Riley's son-and other members of the Riley campaign:
"Rob Riley told her in early 2005 that his father and a Republican operative met with Rove months earlier to discuss Siegelman's prosecution. Simpson said Rob Riley told her Rove spoke to Bob Riley and William Canary. 'He proceeds to tell me that Bill Canary and Bob Riley had had a conversation with Karl Rove again, and that they had this time gone over and seen whoever was the head of the department' at Justice overseeing the Siegelman prosecution, Simpson testified."
Expanding on her original allegations, Simpson testified on September 14, 2007 before lawyers for the House Judiciary Committee and dropped a bombshell revelation. Describing a conference call among Bill Canary, Rob Riley and other Riley campaign aides, which she said took place on November 18, 2002-the same day Don Siegelman conceded the election-Simpson alleged that Canary had said that "Rove had spoken with the Department of Justice" about "pursuing" Siegelman and had also advised Riley's staff "not to worry about Don Siegelman" because "'his girls' would take care of" the governor.

The "girls" allegedly referenced by Bill Canary were his wife, Leura, and Alice Martin, another 2001 Bush appointee as the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. Simpson added that she was told by Rob Riley that Judge Mark Fuller was deliberately chosen when the Siegelman case was prosecuted in 2005, and that Fuller would "hang" Siegelman.

Before Simpson testified before the House Judiciary Committee, her house was burned down and her car was run off the road. Simpson was not the only one to have had experienced such bizarre misfortune. Dana Siegelman, Don Siegelman's daughter, said that her family's home was twice broken into during the trial and that Siegelman's attorney had had his office broken into as well.

In the end, what then are we to make of the Alabama election of 2002 and its aftermath, during which not only did Don Siegelman lose, but so did those of us who believe in the rule of law, the Constitution, fair elections, and a Justice System above politics? Is this the type of story you expect to read about in the United States of America?

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