Rove Linked to Alabama Case

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A Republican lawyer claims she was told that Karl Rove — while serving as President Bush's top political adviser — had intervened in the Justice Department's prosecution of Alabama’s most prominent Democrat. Longtime Alabama G.O.P. activist Dana Jill Simpson first made the allegation in June, but has now provided new details in a lengthy sworn statement to the House Judiciary Committee. The Committee is expected to hold public hearings on the Alabama case next week as part of its investigation of possible political interference by the Bush Administration in the activities of the Department of Justice.

Simpson said in June that she heard a close associate of Rove say that the White House political adviser "had spoken with the Department of Justice" about "pursuing" Don Siegelman, a former Democratic governor of Alabama, with help from two of Alabama's U.S. attorneys. Siegelman was later indicted on 32 counts of corruption, convicted on seven of them, and is currently serving an 88-month sentence in Federal prison.

If Simpson's version of events is accurate, it would show direct political involvement by the White House in federal prosecutions — a charge leveled by Administration critics in connection with the U.S. attorney scandal that led to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. But her account is disputed; those who she alleges told her about Rove's involvement during a G.O.P. campaign conference call claim that no such conversation took place. Rove himself has not responded to Simpson's allegations, which are clearly based on second-hand information, and the White House has refused to comment while Siegelman's case remains on appeal.

Still, the Judiciary Committee plans to air Simpson's testimony as part of its probe into political involvement in federal prosecutions. TIME has obtained a copy of Simpson's 143-page sworn statement to the Judiciary Committee. She recalls conversations in early 2005 with Rob Riley, Jr., son of Alabama's current Republican governor, over his father's coming gubernatorial race, in which Siegelman appeared to be the top Democratic challenger. The younger Riley, she says, told her that his father and Bill Canary, the state's top Republican political operative and a longtime friend of Rove, contacted Rove in late 2004, after which he intervened with the Justice Department's Public Integrity section to push for criminal prosecution of Siegelman. Months later, in May 2005, Siegelman was indicted, setting off a chain of events that led to his imprisonment and the end of his political career.

Simpson also claims Riley, Jr., named the judge who would eventually be assigned to the case, and says Riley told her the judge would "hang Don Siegelman" because of a grudge against the former governor. She says he also specified one of the exact charges that Siegelman would later face. She says Riley, Jr., told her that Siegelman had conceded the close 2002 governor's race to his father only after being told he would no longer be subject to possible federal corruption charges.

Contacted by TIME, Riley said, "Ms. Simpson's statements have gone from being not only untrue to absurd and ridiculous." He added, "She has now gone way beyond her original affidavit, to make claims so important that it's inconceivable they would not have been included in her original statement."

Simpson also provided evidence aimed at refuting the younger Riley's claims, when the allegations first surfaced last June, that he barely knew Rove. This evidence includes a letter, over which a message is scrawled in what Simpson says is Riley's handwriting. The message reads, "To: Jill — I e-mailed this to (name redacted), Karl … (signed) Rob". Simpson says Riley's reference is to Karl Rove. Riley counters that "Karl" refers to another lawyer. The president of the company whose case Riley was handling at the time said: "Rob Riley mentioned Karl Rove about four or five times as someone he was getting in touch with to help settle our business in Washington."

When the Judiciary Committee publicly examines the Siegelman case next week, sources close to the panel say that former Alabama U.S. attorney Doug Jones will likely be a witness. Jones had been Siegelman's lawyer until 2005, and says that in July 2004, he was told by federal prosecutors that only three areas of potential wrongdoing by the former governor were under investigation. Yet when Siegelman went to trial, he faced a 32-count indictment. "We on the defense believed that the case would soon be over, based on that conference with Federal prosecutors in July 2004," Jones said.

By late 2004, the same prosecutors had rethought the entire case. Jones claims he was told by one prosecutor that the reason for the change was that the Justice Department in Washington had ordered a "top-to-bottom review," revisiting all possible charges against Siegelman after more than three years of investigation. After that, Jones says, the case unexpectedly "kicked into high gear" as witnesses were called before a grand jury.

But Steve Feaga, a U.S. attorney who dealt with Jones, has a different recollection. "The offenses charged against Siegelman were the same ones we discussed all along with his lawyers," Feaga says. "The prosecution never conducted a top-down review at the direction of DOJ in Washington; that review was done at our own initiative."

The Judiciary Committee will examine the timing of prosecutors' “top-to-bottom review” of their case with the timing of Rove’s alleged intervention with the Justice Department. That's one reason Simpson was summoned before the Judiciary Committee last month to explain herself under penalty of perjury.