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Last updated 9:10AM ET
February 28, 2021
Attorney says Siegelman dropped challenge to avoid prosecution
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - A lawyer's claim that former Gov. Don Siegelman was promised an end to a federal probe of his administration if he dropped his challenge of the 2002 governor's race was met with emphatic denials Wednesday by Republicans named in her sworn testimony.

Jill Simpson, a Rainsville lawyer who assisted Republican Bob Riley's campaign in 2002 against the Democratic incumbent, said Riley's son, Rob Riley, told her of the offer to close the Justice Department probe of Siegelman.

Rob Riley said her claim was unbelievable.

"If it had happened, we'd have heard about it before now from Don Siegelman," said Rob Riley.

Siegelman, who conceded the narrow loss in November 2002 but continued to be investigated and prosecuted by the Justice Department, has never made any comment indicating such an offer was made.

Siegelman attorney David McDonald declined to comment Wednesday on the Simpson claim.

"I don't have any comment on that issue. The only thing I want to comment on is that we have an innocent man sitting in prison and I hope the 11th Circuit will let him out," McDonald said.

A 143-page transcript of Simpson's sworn testimony to House Judiciary Committee investigators on Sept. 14 also includes more details of her allegation that White House political adviser Karl Rove manipulated the Justice Department probe of Siegelman at the behest of Bill Canary, a GOP operative whose wife is the U.S. attorney in Montgomery.

"What I understood, or what I believed Mr. Canary to be saying, was that he had had this ongoing conversation with Karl Rove about Don Siegelman, and that Don Siegelman was a thorn to them and basically he was going to he had been talking with Rove. Rove had been talking with the Justice Department, and they were pursuing Don Siegelman as a result of Rove talking to the Justice Department at the request of Bill Canary," Simpson says in the transcript.

Career federal prosecutors who handled the Siegelman prosecution have repeatedly denied any political tampering in their case. The U.S. attorney, Leura Canary, recused herself from the investigation in May 2002, months before the alleged deal described by Simpson.

Bill Canary also has disputed the Simpson account.

According to Simpson, Rob Riley told her that Republican attorney Terry Butts told Siegelman the federal investigation would "go away" if he dropped his challenge. She said Siegelman was also told that if he quit the race, pictures showing a Siegelman supporter putting up Bob Riley campaign signs outside a Jackson County Ku Klux Klan rally would also go away.

"And in that conversation basically, Mr. Siegelman had been offered to go ahead and concede, that the pictures would not come out and that they would not further prosecute him with the justice department," Simpson told the committee attorneys, according to the transcript.

She said Riley also implied that Siegelman was to also drop out of Alabama politics.

Rob Riley vehemently denied making the statements to Simpson.

"Jill Simpson is making up her story as she goes along. It becomes more ridiculous and more unbelievable every time she speaks," said Riley.

Butts, a former Alabama Supreme Court justice, denied that he had a conversation with Siegelman about dropping his challenge.

"I would have had no authority of any kind to ever even make an offer. It just didn't happen. Absolutely not," Butts said.

In the transcript, Simpson said Rob Riley once assured her that U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, a Republican appointee and the trial judge in Siegelman's case, would make sure Siegelman was found guilty.

Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy were convicted last year of bribery and other charges in a federal government corruption case. Both men are currently serving federal prison sentences. Fuller ordered them sent to prison immediately when they were sentenced to prison in June and would not allow them to remain free while their convictions are appealed.

Simpson's attorney, Priscilla Duncan of Montgomery, said Wednesday the statement to the committee about the offer to drop the case against Siegelman was not a contradiction to her affidavit about the Riley signs at the Klan rally.

"She's just talking about other things now," Duncan said. "The affidavit was four pages long and this statement took four hours so obviously they got into other things. There's nothing in the statement that contradicted her affidavit."

But Rob Riley questioned why Simpson did not mention Siegelman being told the prosecution would go away if he dropped out of the race.

"If she really believes it today, why didn't she put it in her affidavit?" Riley asked.

In her House committee testimony, Simpson said Rob Riley told her that he knew Fuller when he was in college and that Fuller was a staunch Republican who would make sure Siegelman was convicted.

"He made a statement that Fuller would hang Don Siegelman," Simpson said.

She said Riley also told her about Fuller's interest in a private company with contracts with the government. Earlier this year, Fuller turned down a request by Scrushy's lawyers to give Scrushy a new trial and recuse himself from the case because of the alleged conflict.

Riley said Wednesday that he does not know Fuller and never met him while at the University of Alabama.

Fuller did not immediately return a call Wednesday seeking comment.

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