Out of prison, ex-Alabama governor still arguing innocence

By BILL BARROW Markets Associated Press

After more than six years in federal prison and house arrest, former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman is campaigning again.

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The 71-year-old Democrat isn't asking for votes. But he hopes to convince people that the bribery and obstruction of justice charges that put him behind bars were the fruits of a Republican conspiracy that extended to President George W. Bush's White House and lingered into the Obama administration.

"I'm going to advocate for changing the justice system," Siegelman told The Associated Press on Thursday at Netroots Nation, an annual liberal confab that draws thousands of activists from around the United States. He added, "It's still extremely important that light be shined on the government's misconduct."

Siegelman, accompanied by his son Joseph, who was a teenager when his father was investigated and convicted, offered that message again and again as he greeted well-wishers, talked to reporters and hosted a screening of a new documentary that renders a damning portrait of his prosecution.

The last Democratic governor in a state now dominated by Republicans, Siegelman was elected by a landslide in 1998, but narrowly lost re-election in 2002 amid budding controversies over state contracts issued on his watch. One subsequent indictment was thrown out, but a second indictment lead to his 2006 conviction on seven felony counts.

The key charges revolved around accusations that Siegelman reappointed a health care executive, Richard Scrushy, to a key regulatory board in exchange for Scrushy contributing to the campaign for Siegelman's proposed state lottery. Siegelman had personally guaranteed the lottery campaign's debt. Siegelman was acquitted on other charges, including racketeering and mail fraud stemming from what prosecutors alleged was a "pay-for-play" scheme involving a lobbyist.

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Siegelman and his backers have alleged for years that Karl Rove, top political adviser to then-President Bush, targeted Siegelman with the help of Republican prosecutors, including Leura Canary, a U.S. attorney at the time whose husband was a Rove ally. Billy Canary remains a key Republican player in Alabama politics as head of the state chamber of commerce.

The documentary adds a new allegation: That Democratic President Barack Obama's attorney general, Eric Holder, refused to seriously pursue allegations of misconduct because Rove had plied his former law firm with lucrative government legal work.

Siegelman lost multiple federal appeals in his case, and his backers were unsuccessful in urging Obama to pardon Siegelman.

At the request of Democratic members of Congress, the Justice Department apparently conducted an internal review of how the government handled Siegelman's case. But the department has never publicly released any findings.

Joseph Siegelman, 28, is now suing the Justice Department in federal court for access to the records.

His father now lives in Birmingham. "That's where my wife and my dog are," the elder Siegelman said.

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(A previous version of this story incorrectly stated, based on Department of Justice records, that Siegelman was convicted of mail fraud charges related to his dealings with a lobbyist. He was acquitted on those charges and of racketeering).

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