CBS ‘60 Minutes’: Karl Rove Part of ‘Covert Campaign to Ruin’ Democratic Governor

NewsBusters.org - Media Research CenterOn Sunday’s CBS "60 Minutes," anchor Scott Pelley interviewed former Alabama Republican attorney, Jill Simpson, about a supposed effort to smear the former Democratic governor of Alabama, Don Siegelman: "Now this woman tells us there was a covert campaign to ruin the governor, a campaign that she says involved Karl Rove, at the time the president's top political advisor." In a story that violated more journalistic ethics than last week’s New York Times hit piece on John McCain, Pelley went on to ask Simpson: "Karl Rove asked you to take pictures of Siegelman...In a compromising sexual position with one of his aides." Simpson responded: "Yes. If I could."

Siegelman, a Democrat who was governor of Alabama from 1998-2002, is currently in federal prison after being convicted of bribery in 2006. Simpson claimed that this conviction was part of a grand conspiracy led by Rove. Pelley introduced the story this way:

Is Don Siegelman in prison because he's a criminal, or because he belonged to the wrong political party in Alabama? Siegelman is the former governor of Alabama, and he was the most successful Democrat in that Republican state. But while he was governor, the U.S. Department of Justice launched multiple investigations that went on year after year until, finally, a jury convicted Siegelman of bribery. Now, many Democrats and Republicans have become suspicious of the Justice Department's motivations. 52 former state attorneys-general have asked Congress to investigate whether the prosecution of Don Siegelman was pursued not because of a crime, but because of politics.

One of these "Republican" state attorney generals was Grant Woods, whom Pelley interviewed for the story. Woods continued the conspiracy theory as he claimed that "They could not beat him fair and square. This is a Republican state and he was the one Democrat they could never get rid of." However, as Quin Hillyer reports at The American Spectator:

...despite 60 Minutes going to great lengths to stress that Woods is credible specifically because he is a Republican criticizing other Republicans, the truth is that Woods is hardly a GOP stalwart. As long ago as October of 2002, he was publicly threatening to bolt the GOP and become a Democrat...And in 2006 he publicly supported Democrat Harry Mitchell in his bid to unseat conservative Republican U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth.

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

7:00PM TEASER:

SCOTT PELLEY: This is Don Siegelman. He was the governor of Alabama, but now he's in federal prison, some say, only because of his politics.

GRANT WOODS: They could not beat him fair and square. This is a Republican state and he was the one Democrat they could never get rid of.

PELLEY: Now this woman tells us there was a covert campaign to ruin the governor, a campaign that she says involved Karl Rove, at the time the president's top political advisor. Karl Rove asked you to take pictures of Siegelman...

JILL SIMPSON: Yes.

PELLEY: ... In a compromising sexual position with one of his aides.

SIMPSON: Yes. If I could.

7:05PM SEGMENT:

SCOTT PELLEY: Is Don Siegelman in prison because he's a criminal, or because he belonged to the wrong political party in Alabama? Siegelman is the former governor of Alabama, and he was the most successful Democrat in that Republican state. But while he was governor, the U.S. Department of Justice launched multiple investigations that went on year after year until, finally, a jury convicted Siegelman of bribery. Now, many Democrats and Republicans have become suspicious of the Justice Department's motivations. 52 former state attorneys-general have asked Congress to investigate whether the prosecution of Don Siegelman was pursued not because of a crime, but because of politics. Ten years ago, life was good for Don Siegelman. After he became governor, many believed he was headed to a career in national politics. In 1999, Siegelman's pet project was raising money to improve education, so he started a campaign to ask voters to approve a state lottery. He challenged Republicans to come up with a better idea.

DON SIEGLEMAN: You tell us how you're going to pay for college scholarships. You tell us how you're going to put state-of-the-art computers inside every school in this state.

PELLEY: But now, the applause has long faded. This is Siegelman today, emptying a mop bucket at a federal prison camp in Louisiana. He's doing seven years. The main charge against him was bribery, giving a position on a state board to businessman Richard Scrushy, who had made a big donation to that lottery campaign. There was a star witness, Nick Bailey, a Siegelman aide who had a vivid story to tell.

DOUG JONES: Mr. Bailey had indicated that there had been a meeting with Governor Siegelman and Mr. Scrushy, a private meeting in the governor's office, just the two of them.

PELLEY: Doug Jones was one of Siegelman's lawyers.

JONES: And then, as soon as Mr. Scrushy left, the governor walked out with a $250,000 check that he said Scrushy had given him for the lottery foundation.

PELLEY: Had the check in his hand right then and there?

JONES: Had the check in his hand right then.

PELLEY: That Scrushy had just handed to him, according to Bailey's testimony?

JONES: That's right, showed it to Mr. Bailey. And Nick asked him, 'well, what does he want for it?' And Governor Siegelman allegedly said, 'a seat on the C.O.N. Board.' Nick asked him, 'can we do that?' And he said, 'I think so.'

PELLEY: The C.O.N. Board regulates hospital construction, and Scrushy ran a health care company. Both Siegelman-- on the left-- and Scrushy were convicted in federal court. But as we found out, the imprisonment of Don Siegelman is not nearly as simple as that.

GRANT WOODS: I haven't seen a case with this many red flags on it that pointed towards a real injustice being done.

PELLEY: Grant Woods is the former Republican Attorney General of Arizona. He's one of those 52 former state attorneys-general of both parties who've asked Congress to investigate the Siegelman case.

WOODS: I personally believe that what happened here is that they targeted Don Siegelman because they could not beat him fair and square. This was a Republican state, and he was the one Democrat they could never get rid of.

PELLEY: Now, a Republican lawyer from Alabama, Jill Simpson, has come forward to claim that the Siegelman prosecution was part of a five- year secret campaign to ruin the governor. SIMPSON told us she did what's called opposition research for the Republican Party. She says that during a meeting in 2001, Karl Rove, President Bush's senior political advisor, asked her to try to catch Siegelman cheating on his wife. Karl Rove asked you to take pictures of Siegelman...

JILL SIMPSON: Yes.

PELLEY: ...In a compromising sexual position with one of his aides?

SIMPSON: Yes. If I could.

PELLEY: She says she spied on Siegelman for months, but saw nothing. Even though she worked as a Republican campaign operative, Simpson says she wanted to talk to us because Siegelman's prison sentence bothers her conscience. Were you surprised that Rove made this request?

SIMPSON: No.

PELLEY: Why not?

SIMPSON: I had had other requests for intelligence before.

PELLEY: From Karl Rove?

SIMPSON: Yes.

PELLEY: Rove was a strategist in Alabama. Simpson says she worked with him on several campaigns. We contacted Rove. Through his lawyer, he denied Simpson's allegations. One of Rove's close Alabama associates was Republican Consultant Bill Canary. Simspon says she was on a conference call in 2002 when Canary told her she didn't have to do more intelligence work because, as Canary allegedly said, 'my girls' can take care of Siegelman. Simpson says she asked, 'who are your girls?'

SIMPSON: And he says, 'oh, my wife, Leura. You know, she's the Middle District United States Attorney.' And he said, 'and then Alice Martin. She is the Northern District Attorney, and I've helped with her campaign.

PELLEY: Federal prosecutors?

SIMPSON: Yes, sir.

PELLEY: Bill Canary denies the conversation ever happened. He told us he never tried to influence any government official in the case. His wife, Leura Canary, and Alice Martin, are top federal prosecutors in the state. Both were appointed by President Bush, and their offices investigated Siegelman. Details of some of those investigations leaked to the press. And Siegelman lost his 2002 re-election campaign narrowly to Republican Bob Riley. Two years later, as Siegelman geared up to run again, the Justice Department took one of its Siegelman investigations to trial -- an indictment involving an alleged medicaid scam.

WOODS: He's indicted. He goes to trial. That's a pretty big deal to have your former governor on trial. Everybody's there. The government gives their opening argument. The judge says, 'I want to see you in chambers because this case, there's no case here.'

PELLEY: Judge throws it out.

WOODS: Judge throws it out.

PELLEY: On the first day.

WOODS: First day, without a witness testifying. The case is so lame that he throws it out.

PELLEY: Vindicated, Siegelman focused on winning the 2006 election. And that's when Jill SIMPSON says she heard that the Justice Department was going to try again. She says she heard it from a former classmate and work associate, Rob Riley, the son of the new Republican governor.

SIMPSON: Rob said that they had gotten wind that Don was going to run again.

PELLEY: And Rob Riley said what about that?

SIMPSON: They just couldn't have that happen.

PELLEY: And how were they going to prevent that from happening?

SIMPSON: Well, they had to re-indict him, is what Rob said.

PELLEY: SIMPSON told this same story under oath to congressional investigators in a closed session. Rob Riley told us that he never talked to Jill Simpson about this. Four months after Simpson says they spoke, Siegelman was indicted on new charges. Doug Jones, Siegelman's lawyer, says one of the prosecutors told him that Justice Department headquarters in Washington had ordered a top-to-bottom review of the case. Today, the Alabama prosecutors deny that it was Washington. But whoever ordered it, there was a big boost to the investigation.

JONES: They started over. People started getting subpoenas that had never gotten subpoenas before -- for testimony, for records. The governor's brother, his bank records started getting subpoenaed. The net was cast much wider than had ever been cast before.

PELLEY: You know, on the other hand, what's wrong with the Department of Justice vigorously investigating a case, if they think there is an indictment to be made on public corruption charges?

JONES: Well, you still have to investigate crimes, not people. It undermines the entire system of justice, because at that point, anybody can be a target. Any prosecutor can look across the table and say, 'you know what, I just don't like you.'

PELLEY: The prosecution was handled by the office of U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, whose husband, Bill Canary, had run the campaign of Siegelman's opponent, Governor Riley.

WOODS: Why would you do it that way? Why wouldn't you say, 'you know what, we're going to bring in another, someone from another jurisdiction to do it. There's a lot of United States attorneys around the country. We'll have somebody come in and do this case.' That's not what happened in Alabama. Every time they had the chance to go the extra mile to be independent and objective, they didn't do it.

PELLEY: Leura Canary handled the case for eight months. When defense attorneys objected, she turned it over to her assistants, and says that she had nothing further to do with it. In this new investigation, prosecutors zeroed in on that vivid story told by Siegelman's aide, Nick Bailey, who said he saw the governor with a check in his hand after meeting Richard Scrushy. Trouble was, Bailey was wrong about the check, and Siegelman's lawyer says prosecutors knew it.

JONES: They got a copy of the check, and the check was cut days after that meeting. There was no way possible for Siegelman to have walked out of that meeting with a check in his hand.

PELLEY: That would seem like a problem with the prosecution's case.

JONES: It was a huge problem, especially when you've got a guy whose credibility was going to be the linch pin of that case. It was a huge problem.

PELLEY: And there was another problem with the prosecutor's star witness: Nick Bailey was a crook. Unknown to Siegelman, Bailey had been extorting money from Alabama businessmen. Facing ten years in prison, Bailey agreed to cooperate with prosecutors to get a lighter sentence. We went to talk to Bailey in the prison where he is today. The Justice Department wouldn't let our cameras in, but we met with him for hours. Bailey told us that before the Siegelman trial, he spoke to prosecutors more than 70 times. And he admitted that during those conversations, he had trouble remembering details. He told us that the prosecutors were so frustrated, they made him write his proposed testimony over and over just to get his story straight. If Bailey is telling the truth, then his notes, by law, should have been turned over to the defense. But Siegelman's lawyers tell us they never saw any such notes, and they never had a chance to show the jury just how much Bailey's story had changed. No one at the Justice Department would be interviewed for this story, but they did send us a statement which read, in part: 'This case was brought by career prosecutors...based upon the law and the evidence alone. After considering that evidence...a jury of Mr. Siegelman's peers found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt' But Grant Woods, the former Attorney General of Arizona, says the case should never have gone to trial.'

WOODS: The prosecutor's got to look at it and say, 'hey, is this the sort of thing that we're really talking about when we're talking about bribery?' Because what the public needs to know here is there is no allegation that Don Siegelman ever put one penny in his pocket.

PELLEY: Richard Scrushy did make donations totaling $500,000 to that education lottery campaign. And after serving on the hospital board under three previous governors, Scrushy was re-appointed by Siegelman. But Woods says that's politics, not bribery.

WOODS: You do a bribery when someone has a real personal benefit, not, 'hey, I would like for you to help out on this project which I think is good for my state.' If you're going to start indicting people and putting them in prison for that, then you might as well just build nine or ten new federal prisons, because that happens every day in every state house, in every city council, and in the Congress of the United States.

PELLEY: What you seem to be saying here is that this is analogous to giving a great deal of money to a presidential campaign, and as a result, you become ambassador to Paris.

WOODS: Exactly. That's exactly right.

PELLEY: Siegelman was campaigning in the 2006 Democratic primary as he went to trial.

SIEGLEMAN: We're going to turn this bus into what we call the night shift, because after the trial, every day, we're going to be hitting the trail, every day.

PELLEY: But he lost in the primary. After two months, the jury deadlocked twice, then voted to convict on its third deliberation. Many legal minds were shocked when federal judge Mark Fuller, at sentencing, sent Siegelman directly to prison without allowing the usual 45 days before reporting.

WOODS: He had him handcuffed, he had him manacled around his legs like we do with crazed killers, and whisked off to prison just like that. Now, what does that tell you? That tells you that this was personal. You would not do that to a former governor.

PELLEY: Would you do that to any white-collar criminal?

WOODS: No, I haven't seen it done.

PELLEY: Help me understand something. You're blaming the Republican administration for this prosecution. You're saying it was a political prosecution. You are a Republican. How do I reconcile that?

WOODS: We're Americans first. And you got to call it as you see it. You got to stand up for what's... what's right in this country.

PELLEY: Karl Rove and others at the White House were subpoenaed to testify before Congress, but they refused to appear. And the Justice Department has refused to turn over hundreds of documents in the case. Don Siegelman has six years and eight months to go on his sentence.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC