U.S. House leaders are beginning an investigation of the case of Don Siegelman, the former Democratic governor of Alabama who was imprisoned in June on federal corruption charges, reports the New York Times. Democrats are trying to show that the Justice Department engaged in political prosecutions. Jill Simpson, an Alabama lawyer who said she overheard a Republican operative connect the prosecution of Siegelman to Karl Rove, will be questioned under oath by investigators for the House Judiciary Committee.
Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) has asked the Justice Department to turn over its documents in the case. The department refused, saying, “we want to avoid any perception that the conduct of our criminal investigations and prosecutions is subject to political influence.” Conyers said “this concern should lead to precisely the opposite result.” The case is considered unusual because actions like those Siegelman was accused of – exchanging a seat on the state hospital licensing board for a contribution to an education lottery campaign he was pushing – are hardly uncommon in state capitals. Some experts say federal prosecutors have wide latitude in interpreting bribery statutes and that Siegelman's actions could have crossed the line. Stephen Gillers, a professor at New York University School of Law, said the defense claim that the prosecution had not proved corrupt intent does not undermine the conviction. Forty-four former state attorneys general, including some Republicans, have signed a petition urging Congress to look into Siegelman's conviction, which he is appealing.