The permanent Republican majority: Daughter of jailed governor sees White House hand in her father's fall
Part two of a Raw Story Investigates series on the architects and the execution of backroom Republican politics
In Part II of the RSI special investigation, The Permanent Republican Majority, the daughter of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman sits down for an exclusive interview about the family’s ordeal and her father’s case.
To fully understand what the Don Siegelman case is about, please see “Part I – The Political Prisoner” of this series.
Pictured at center in the above photograph with her mother Lori and father Don, 22 year old Dana Siegelman is passionate and idealistic. There’s a charming innocence in the way she sees the world, despite her family’s troubles.
Throughout a week of phone and email discussions, Ms. Siegelman spoke and wrote about her father’s conviction and imprisonment on bribery and conspiracy charges and about the continued harassment of the family and those around them. The family home was broken into. Her father’s attorney had his office ransacked. Even the key whistleblower in the case – Dana Jill Simpson – had her house burned down and her car run off the road.
She maintained throughout all of these communications that Karl Rove – the former White House Chief of Staff – helped engineer her father’s fate with the help of two judges and two US Attorneys.
Indeed, Republican attorney and whistleblower Simpson testified that Bush-appointed Federal Judge Mark Fuller, who presided over Siegelman's trial, was selected in advance by Alabama Republican operatives working in concert with the US Justice Department. That department was then headed by Alberto Gonzales, who has recently resigned in disgrace.
The other federal judge with an involvement in the case is Judge William Pryor, who as Alabama attorney governor began the investigation of Governor Siegelman that eventually led to his indictment.
Then there are the two US Attorneys whose offices brought charges against Siegelman, Leura Canary, who was appointed by George W. Bush in 2001 as the US Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, and Alice Martin, another 2001 Bush appointee, who is the US Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. Leura Canary is the wife of Bill Canary, an Alabama political operative with strong ties to Karl Rove who has worked as a campaign advisor to both Alabama's current governor, Bob Riley, and former Attorney General Pryor.
Dana Siegelman believes strongly that the two US attorneys and two federal judges appointed by George W. Bush were taking orders from Washington to go after her father.
“What I mean by pressure is the prosecutors knew that in order to please Gonzales, Canary, Pryor, Riley, and the White House, they needed a conviction,” Siegelman said. She added: “Even if he were guilty of what they accused him of, there wasn’t enough evidence to put him away. The entire trial was corrupted by politics.”
Siegelman asserts that her father is only allowed to have visitations in prison with his family and his attorneys and is being denied access to the media and communication with the outside world. She notes, however, that this appears to be prison policy. What is unclear is whether Siegelman is being denied access to reporters. Dana Siegelman says that some reporters have attempted to reach out to her father, but were denied access.
Raw Story's Larisa Alexandrovna: Let's go back to the election of 2002, ultimately where this story begins, and the strange turn of events. Your father was governor from 1999-2003. He was leading in the polls against Republican opponent Bob Riley and it was widely believed your father would win. But something happened on the evening of November 5 . Can you take us back to that night?
Dana Siegelman: It was a strange two days, really. Our family stayed at the RSA building in Montgomery, Alabama for the result proceedings on November 5th. Late into the evening, around 11pm, my dad was winning. My brother and I were exhausted, and our parents had us taken home to go to bed. When we got home, we couldn't sleep, so we sat in the kitchen until the final results were in...Dad had won.
RS: At that point, anyway, that was the belief. Is that correct?
DS: Yes. We ran upstairs, threw on our nice clothes, and ran outside to security and asked them to take us back to the RSA tower quickly. My dad was already onstage saying his thank-yous, when we came up to join him. It was a very special moment for the Siegelman family. We were just so happy for him.
RS: But something changed overnight, is that correct?
DS: Well, the next morning, November 6th, my dad's opponent, Bob Riley, came on Alabama statewide television announcing that he had won, and that there had been an error with the ballots in Baldwin County. How he had news of this and my dad, the governor, did not, is beyond me.
RS: How close was the election?
DS: Close enough for there to be skepticism with Bob Riley's proclamation.
RS: So your father wanted a recount?
DS: My dad wanted a recount because it was blatantly obvious that the ballots had been tampered with.
RS: Blatantly obvious?
DS: They announced that my dad was the winner when there were enough votes accounted to accurately state that. For new votes to mysteriously appear the next morning, it seems clear that they had been tampered with one way or another.
RS: Have you heard of a man by the name of Dan Gans?
DS: I don't know of Dan Gans, but I do know that someone, or some people, are to blame. Baldwin County had always voted predominantly Democrat. For them to suddenly change their mind, in the percentage that was shown, is nearly impossible. Specialists have analyzed this election, and all of them have come to the same conclusion: The ballots were forged in the middle of the night.
RS: First let me tell you the allegations surrounding Mr. Gans. This is from the Baldwin County Now website: “Glynn Wilson, a former Christian Science Monitor correspondent who now publishes and writes for his news site locustfork.net, posted a piece in June stating that Dan Gans – Riley's chief of staff during the would-be governor's time as a U.S. Representative for Alabama's 3rd District – electronically changed the results, giving a razor thin edge to Riley, who went on to win the state by 3,120 votes."
Is this what you mean about the ballots being tampered with or are you talking about something else?
DS: Absolutely. Like I said, someone is to blame for swinging the election.
RS: Just to be clear, I am not saying Mr. Gans was behind anything. I was just curious about this allegation and if you had heard of it. Let’s move on to the recount. Governor Siegelman – your father – wanted a recount. What happened next?
DS: I am not sure if a legitimate recount was ever performed. Needless to say, my dad conceded the election to Bob Riley. The reason for this has a lot to do with who was in the attorney general's office during this time. That much, I do know.
RS: Are you talking about William “Bill” Pryor?
DS: Yes. He put my dad in a catch-22. Either my dad asked for another recount, in which he knew Pryor would reward Riley and therefore make my dad look like a schmuck, or my dad had to concede the election with his dignity.
RS: What about him as the attorney general?
DS: The attorney general assumes control in an overtime election such as this. For two months the attorney general manipulated the situation on Riley's behalf. There was little my dad could do.
RS: How did he manipulate it?
DS: He had decision-making power. As for the logistics, I don't know.
RS: What happened after he had the ballots sealed? Specifically, what happened with the investigation into your father?
DS: Leura Canary and her husband Bill…
RS: Let me make sure everyone knows who we are talking about. Leura Canary is the US Attorney for the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama and William “Bill” Canary is her husband, a close friend of Karl Rove and GOP operative who during this time was advising the now governor Bob Riley.
DS: That is correct. The prosecution came out of Leura Canary's office and a few months later was thrown out by a judge who thought the indictment was completely contrived. [Editor's note: This prosecution came out of Alice Martin's office. The second indictment was the one from Leura Canary's office.]
RS: This was the first indictment for Medicaid big-rigging, the one Judge U.W. Clemon threw out for lack of evidence, with prejudice, correct?
RS: Then there was the second indictment. Tells us about this indictment.
DS: Yes. The second indictment came out of Washington with more pressure behind it.
RS: What do you mean “pressure?” From whom?
DS: What I mean by pressure is the prosecutors knew that in order to please Gonzales, Canary, Pryor, Riley and the White House, they needed a conviction. In other words, it was going to take more than a scolding from a judge to get the prosecutors to drop the case the second time. Karl Rove and Bill Canary regained their prosecutorial power.
RS: But when you say pressure from Washington, are you saying pressure from the White House?
DS: I mean Washington put pressure on these prosecutors to go after my dad a second time because they failed the first. Rove and Canary's prosecutorial power is the prosecutors, who were, quite literally, just puppets for the Republicans after my dad.
RS: What else can you tell us about this indictment?
DS: A whole new selection of charges that had been conjured up, and a new team of prosecutors to boot. The first indictment had been thrown out, but my dad was already a political target for Karl Rove. My dad was the first governor to endorse Al Gore in his campaign against Bush, and that was enough to keep Rove's prosecutors after my dad. It is obvious that these indictments mean nothing in terms of going after a criminal but mean everything in going after a man.
RS: Do you think your father committed any of the crimes he was convicted of?
DS: I know my dad isn't guilty of a crime. He should have been wiser about those he hired and surrounded himself with, but as for doing something illegal, absolutely not. Even if he were guilty of what they accused him of, there wasn’t enough evidence to put him away. The entire trial was corrupted by politics.
RS: But even if he were, do you think that at this point it would make a difference in terms of how this case was handled?
DS: Not in the slightest. Everything about the case was corrupt. There is even alleged misconduct within the jury.
RS: How do you think your father emotionally handled the trial? Did he think he there was a chance he would be convicted? Was he surprised?
DS: My dad is incredibly strong. He is also the most positive person I know. He never let on that he was upset or scared in any way. Every time we talked, he was encouraging and optimistic. He truly believed this indictment had no stronghold on him. That's one reason the conviction was such a shock. Anyone getting their news from my dad assumed everything was hunky dory.
RS: Did you think there was a chance he would be convicted? Were you worried?
DS: I never for a moment imagined he would be convicted. It was so absurd to even think in that way. We knew there was no evidence, so we had nothing to worry about.
RS: How about your mother and brother? Did they think there was a chance he would be convicted?
DS: No, they never thought he would be found guilty. I will say that my mom was a nervous wreck, all the time, and for the most part, still is. She had no problem voicing her anger through all of this. My brother's personality is a mixture of my mom and dad's. He has great composure. Some days he would smile and joke about the situation, and other days he would blow up about it.
RS: Did you get a lot of local support from the community, news outlets, etc.?
DS: People in Alabama are great. Even the Republicans [laughs]. For the most part, people are very kind and supportive. A lot of people see it for what it really is...politics. Very few people think my dad is actually guilty of wrongdoing, and I only know this because of the internet. No one has ever said that to my face.
RS: What about the media? Do you feel they have given this story enough attention?
DS: No. There hasn't been enough press. This isn't just a sad story or a bump in the road for politics. This is the corruption of the United States Justice Department. This is a criminal conspiracy for political reasons at best. We have a team of national players trying to manipulate the government so that they can have unchecked power. I hate to use this as an example, because it upsets me, but truth be told, this is cancer, not a cold. The media which has covered it thus far has done an incredible job. Thank God for intelligent, moral people.
RS: Have you read any of Scott Horton’s work [in Harper’s] on this? He has been covering the case for some time now.
DS: He is one of my heroes. I haven't talked to him personally, but when I get the chance to shake his hand, I'm going to hug him instead.
RS: What about interviews with your father? Has any media outlet attempted to interview him in jail?
DS: Many have tried to get an interview with him. From what I've heard, they are not letting anyone in.
RS: Who would have had the authority? The warden?
DS: I suppose, but in this case, I doubt the warden would ban the media from seeing my dad.
RS: Then who do you believe is behind this and why? Do you know this to be the case for sure or is this just rumors you have heard? Has your father attempted to reach out to the press as well?
DS: My dad has been looking forward to meeting with the press. It is my belief that the Justice Department has a hand in keeping the press away. They just finished getting my dad out of the way. The last thing they want is him speaking out from prison.
RS: The question that is always on my mind about this whole thing is that this is a great deal of trouble to go through just to get rid of a [former] governor who had already lost the  Democratic primary. Isn’t it? Even if we assume that the seven charges your father was convicted of were in fact valid, that still does not explain the rest of the issues around this case. Looking at it objectively, the only time I have seen these types of extremes is usually to silence someone. Do you think your father knows something?
DS: He knows a lot. I think what they were afraid of is the fact that my dad will never stop the good fight. The men and women behind this conspiracy have a lot against my dad. My dad wanted an education lottery, brought jobs to the state, made big businesses pay their taxes, sought to completely change Alabama's constitution, raised teachers' salaries, gave African Americans jobs that Caucasians had supremacy over for years, helped in fundraisers for other Democrats, supported the arts, was well-respected on a national level, etc... It was a battle against a truly liberal leader, not some moderate Democrat. He held the highest offices in the state and was Alabama's longest running politician. Republicans wanted their state back, and they got it.
RS: Okay. Let me ask you about his communications with the outside world now. What about email? Does your father have access to email?
RS: Just him or is that the prison policy for all prisoners?
DS: All prisoners, I believe.
RS: How about the legal bills. How did your family pay for everything?
DS: We couldn't possibly. My dad never made enough money as a politician, and unlike most public officials, doesn't have a business on the side. It's no secret, we have lots of help.
RS: What type of help and from whom?
DS: I can't disclose that information. This is a dangerous situation. When Dana Jill Simpson came forward with her testimony, her house was burned down. My dad's lawyer's office was broken into. Our house was broken into. My point is, I would tell you if I thought it was safe to do so for the people helping out.
RS: I had no idea your house was broken into. What happened? Was anything taken? Did the police find the perpetrator?
DS: We figured it was Big Brother dropping in for a visit. A plug here...a plug there...this happened twice during the trial. Nothing was stolen.
RS: Now you are starting to sound like me when my anger is overpowered by my Jewish sarcasm.
RS: How has all of this affected you? What are you doing now?
DS: It affected me greatly. My entire philosophy on life has changed. You start questioning everything. In fact, I was in Israel when my dad was shackled and taken into custody. I immediately began to question what I was doing there, why I wasn't home, what I should be doing with my life, etc. It was very scary. Now I won't let myself be scared. There isn't time for those feelings. My dad is the type of person who wants no sympathy. He doesn't need it. He wants to know that people are being active, doing something to remedy the situation, and moving their lives forward in a positive direction.
RS: When was the last time you saw your father? What did he say?
DS: I saw him Thanksgiving weekend, and he was very positive. Everyone likes him at the prison, and even the guards come up to talk to him. I'm happy to know his disposition hasn't changed just because his environment has. He wants to know what's happening out here. He has ideas on what more we could be doing, or new people to contact. That's mainly what we talk about.
RS: How does he usually find out what is happening “out here,” is it through his attorney and your visits? Does he have access to the papers and/or the Internet?
DS: No Internet. I believe there might be a few papers allowed into the prison. Mostly, he hears the news through letters people write.
RS: Again, do you know if this is prison policy for all prisoners or is your dad being denied access?
DS: I believe it is the same for all of them. I'm sure my dad would have mentioned if there were discrepancies.
RS: Why do you think this was done to your father and who do you think is behind this?
DS: Like I said, Karl Rove wanted him out of the way. I know this happened because of [Rove’s experience with this type of] politics. Rove was managing Pryor's campaign for the Attorney General's office in Montgomery, Alabama. That is where the indictment came from. It is the same office [Bill] Canary worked out of. It doesn't get more obvious than that. Karl Rove had the perfect connections to make this happen, and there is sufficient evidence linking him to the conviction. My dad was a political threat they wanted removed, pure and simple. In addition, our government is supposed to have laws in place that protect against partisan prosecution. In my dad's case, every one of those laws were tampered with. A partisan judge presided over the case, and everything that should have been checked and balanced was manipulated instead.
RS: You are speaking of Judge Mark Fuller, is that right? What specific evidence? Can you give an example or two?
DS: For instance, when my dad's lawyers found out that the jury had been privy to information outside the courtroom that was negative in respect to [HealthSouth founder Richard] Scrushy [who Siegelman was found guilty of taking bribes from], Judge Fuller overlooked it. When a juror said he believed Scrushy was guilty before the case began, he was allowed to stay and was eventually made foreman!
RS: But President Bush nominated both Judge Fuller and Judge Pryor and used a recess appointment to confirm Pryor. Do you think the President knew what was going on? Do you think this is why Karl Rove resigned?
DS: The President absolutely knew what was going on. Perhaps Rove resigned so that he could spend time with his family before they put him on trial.
RS: [Laughs] I see you have a healthy sense of humor. But how can you say the President absolutely knew? Do you have proof or you believe he had to have known?
DS: I wrote [President Bush]. But that's hardly proof. I doubt he read my letter. I'm just assuming he knew because he should know what his Deputy Chief of Staff is up to.
RS: What about Bill Canary? He continues to be a player in Alabama politics even now, doesn’t he? He is President of the Business Council of Alabama. He serves on various advisory boards for Governor Riley. Do you think this has tainted him at all, and if not, why not?
DS: He tainted his wife. He put his wife on the front line, and she has taken all the blame. He had her do the dirty work. In reality, Bill Canary is just as guilty as his wife.
RS: If you had a moment, a chance to face Judge Mark Fuller and now-Judge William Pryor, what would you say to them?
DS: May God forgive you.
RS: What about the tobacco industry? Do you think they played a role in this?
DS: Quite possibly. The tobacco industry hates my dad. They wouldn't hesitate to get rid of him.
RS: How would you place your father’s case in the context of the US Attorney scandal?
DS: Up front and center. My dad's imprisonment brought light to several other corrupt cases. When we went to Washington, family members of other indicted men and women were thanking us because my dad helped expose the injustices they've endured. The US Attorney scandal goes hand-in-hand with my dad's case.
RS: And together, that is, your father’s case and the ones you allude to, what do they mean collectively? Is this about elections?
DS: It is more than elections. It is ultimate power they're after. It went from dirty campaign ads that hurt a person's reputation, to dirty politics that destroyed that person's life.
RS: If you could tell the world something about your father, what would it be? What kind of man is he?
DS: My dad is my hero. I know no one more caring, dedicated, smart, and positive than him. He notices everyone and sees situations for what they really are. He knew what the people of Alabama needed for more than 25 years...and he did just that. My dad will never give up on his life's calling. Even in prison, he remains the most caring, dedicated, smart, and positive person I know.
RS: There are people who say your father was a crooked politician and deserved what he got. What do you say to that?
DS: I'd say those people see all politicians that way.
RS: What happens next?
DS: We continue fighting for justice. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals."
RS: Thank you for your time Dana. I know you generally don’t give interviews, so I thank you for taking the time and allowing me to ask you some of these questions.
DS: Thank you for choosing to focus on this case. I have a newfound respect for journalists and writers since this trial. There is power in the pen.
Raw Story Investigates Special Coverage – The Permanent Republican Majority series
The Five Part Series:
- Part I – The Political Prisoner
Part II – Exclusive Interview with Governor Siegelman’s daughter, Dana Siegelman
Photograph courtesy of the Siegelman family.