Alabama Governor Bob Riley might have stepped into a brier patch that he would have been wise to avoid when he commented today about the federal criminal case of his predecessor, Democrat Don Siegelman.
Tommy Stevenson, of the Tuscaloosa News, interviewed Riley and presents both a written and video account, which are available on the paper's Web site.
Riley, Stevenson reports, says he warned Siegelman against politicizing the former governor's criminal case. That is bizarre in itself. But the conversation really gets interesting when Riley addresses the issue of Alabama attorney and Republican whistleblower Jill Simpson, who has testified under oath multiple times that she heard GOP operatives planning to "take care" of Siegelman.
Riley proclaims that Simpson has "no credibility." He goes on to state that "anyone who has ever seen her or listened to her knows that." He then says that Simpson's sworn testimony has "no relation to the truth and is never the same."
Those statements from the governor sure sound like they come very close to meeting the legal definition of defamation. I suspect that Simpson and her attorney, Priscilla Black Duncan, will be examining the governor's language carefully.
Stevenson says that more is coming Friday on his conversation with Riley. But here are a few early thoughts about Riley's comments regarding the Siegelman case.
* Riley seems concerned about the fact Siegelman claimed his prosecution was politically motivated. But why should Riley care? And why would Riley think it was any of his business how Siegelman chose to defend himself in a criminal case?
* Riley implies that Siegelman and his associates have made numerous statements regarding Riley's possible involvement in the Siegelman prosecution. But have they? I don't recall seeing such statements. Much has been written about the possible roles of Bill Canary and Karl Rove in launching the Siegelman case. And Riley's son, Rob Riley, has played a prominent role in Simpson's statements regarding a conference call involving Republican operatives. But if Siegelman, or anyone else, has said that Bob Riley had something to do with the federal prosecution, I'm not aware of those statements. A number of reporters have raised questions about the "funny numbers" that changed in the middle of the night and gave Riley the 2002 election over Siegelman. But that is not connected to the Siegelman prosecution. By the way, I wonder if Riley would like to answer questions about those "funny numbers."
* Riley claims that neither he nor any member of his family has ever done or said anything regarding the Siegelman case. Isn't that an overbroad statement? Riley's son, Rob Riley, is a grown man and cared enough about Simpson's sworn statements to file a sworn statement of his own with the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. Isn't it a little silly for Bob Riley to make sweeping statements about the behavior of his adult family members? How could he possibly know what all they might have done or said?
* Finally, Riley reaches deep into the Republican playbook to pull out the old chestnut that goes something like this: "Don Siegelman didn't testify at this trial, but he wants Karl Rove to go to Congress to testify about the trial." I think this is what pundits call a "straw man." The two examples have nothing to do with each other, but Riley uses them as a cute diversionary tactic. The truth? It's standard procedure in a criminal case for a defendant to not testify if his attorney feels the government has not proven its case. The defendant has every right not to testify if it appears the government's case is weak. That's a very different thing from a former public official avoiding a subpoena from Congress.