The U.S. House Judiciary Committee took an important first step by interviewing former Bush White House advisor Karl Rove. But the truth about the Don Siegelman case will not come out unless Congress conducts a thorough investigation and uses that information to confront Rove, and others, with much tougher questions than have been posed so far.
That's the opinion of a central figure in the Siegelman case, which was overshadowed by the U.S. attorney firings in documents released this week by the House Judiciary Committee.
Alabama attorney and Siegelman-case whistleblower Jill Simpson said she was disappointed in the questioning of Rove. She said the questions were too soft, and they were not built on a strong investigation. But the inquiry could be a useful first step if Congress follows up in a thorough and aggressive manner.
"(The questioners) clearly were unprepared, and I had warned folks ahead of time that Mr. Rove and his lawyer might try to practice the art of distraction in the interview--and on several key questions he did just that," Simpson said. "He was even assisted by President Bush's lawyer, Emmett Flood. But it is to be expected, since Mr. Rove has a great deal of experience answering questions when potential criminal charges are looming in front of him."
The key to moving forward, Simpson says, is building a strong base of evidence. "I was disappointed that the House Judiciary Committee had not taken steps to subpoena the phone records of the numerous folks I testified about. I would have liked to have seen the Congressional investigators have the e-mail and phone records of Leura Canary; her U.S. attorney's office in Montgomery; the office of her husband, Bill Canary; their home records; the records of Governor Bob Riley and his son, Rob Riley; Noel Hillman (Public Integrity Section director) and Stewart Hall (head of Ogilvy/Federalist Group).
"Further I think before questioning Mr. Rove they should have questioned former Alabama Attorney General William Pryor. Maybe they should have subpoenaed Pryor's phone and e-mail records.
"For whatever reason, they elected to do no investigation of these key people--as is clear from the line of questions."
Simpson was baffled that no questions were based on her sworn testimony before Congress in fall 2007. "I'm not sure they even reread my affidavit or testimony because there were not any questions regarding what I said in my affidavit or testimony, specifically. I really had expected there would be, but there was not."
Simpson testified that she overhead Bill Canary and other GOP operatives planning a political prosecution of Siegelman and that they had worked it out with "Karl," an apparent reference to Rove. "One good question for Mr. Rove would have been, 'Did Bill Canary speak to you about actions of the Department of Justice, and if he did not, then why do you think he said he did? But they did not press that issue."
Is it possible that the Rove inquiry was a whitewash, with no intention of determining what really happened in the Siegelman case? Simpson fears the answer might be yes. But she does see some hopeful signs.
"I think a few important things came out of this. Clearly there was evidence about Mr. Rove watching the races down here in Alabama--and being involved; he just couldn't recall a single detail, best I could tell from his answers. I think it is clear that Mr Rove appears to be having senior moments that need to be checked out--or he is lying through his teeth. I have my opinion about that, but time will tell. . . .
"The evidence also clearly showed he had a friendship with Bill Canary. But Mr. Rove couldn't recall the name of Canary's wife, the Siegelman prosecutor. Does anyone buy that? Clearly he knew all the Alabama players, and many of them had claimed to barely knowing him in the summer of 2007, when my affidavit surfaced in the Time magazine article by Adam Zagorin. But Mr. Rove couldn't recall one detailed instance of seeing these people in person. That's ridiculous."
Simpson said the Rove testimony reminded her of an ancient Arabian proverb. "If the camel gets his nose in the tent, his body will soon follow, so the tale goes. And before long, all the people sleeping in the tent will be run out into the cold.
"Karl Rove was the camel who stuck his nose into matters at the Justice Department. Before you knew it, he was in the tent and running the whole show, forcing the good honest folks out of the tent."
The key, Simpson says, is to understand how the camel got his nose under the DOJ tent--and to make sure it never happens again. After all, Simpson says with some colorful language, camels like Karl Rove leave an ungodly mess that is hard to clean up.
"We should never allow political camels like Karl Rove in the DOJ tent because their s**t is really hard to clean up. It is hard to restore a tent that has been s**t in by such an unruly camel.
"Always remember: Camel s**t doesn't bother the camel, only the people who have to smell it."