April 21, 2008
Dear Mr. Rove:
I write in response to your letter about my coverage of the Siegelman case -- a case we have been covering extensively. Its potential significance to the American justice system extends well beyond the halls of the Alabama Statehouse.
Your letter poses questions that you believe I should have asked as part of our coverage, but many of the most significant ones only you can answer. I address your specific critique below, but I begin by wondering, based on many of your questions, whether you actually saw, or reviewed, all of our coverage. Or perhaps, as you put it, "you don't want the facts to get in the way of a good fable."
You accuse me of "diminishing the search for facts and evidence," yet thus far you have refused to answer any questions under oath or even from me that would aid in that very search.
In that respect, I want to be very clear that we repeatedly sought, through your lawyer, your presence on my program to respond to allegations made about you. I repeated that invitation on the air last week. I repeat it again by this letter.
In your letter, you ask:
Does it bother you, as your coverage asserts, as Governor Siegelman summarized it in his April 7th appearance on your program, that he is the victim of a vast conspiracy involving two US Attorneys, the Alabama Attorney General, unnamed career officials in the Public Integrity Unit at the U.S. Justice Department, unnamed higher ups in the Justice Department, and, oh yes, Karl Rove and that there is not a single piece of paper, not a single email, not a single conversation, not a single disgruntled career employee who's come forward, not one credible witness to the workings of a conspiracy?
First, my coverage never "asserted" that Governor Siegelman is "the victim of a vast conspiracy," or even that he is necessarily innocent. I do not, and did not, feel comfortable passing judgment on that ultimate question. I repeatedly stated that on the air. Reading your letter, one would falsely presume that I have blindly accepted all of his claims at face value.
This is a prosecution, however, that led over 50 former Attorneys General from around the nation -- Democrats and Republicans -- to express their concern to Congress about the basic fairness of the case. I share many of those concerns. I too have serious questions about the way the case was handled. Given that, is it your contention that it's journalistically unsound to allow the former Governor of the state of Alabama to even state his position on the air?
Or would you expect a responsible journalist to say something like this to the Governor: "Anyone looking at the record would say, 'wait a second, you were convicted by a jury of seven counts.' This is, you know, a jury of 12 ordinary folks who looked at the evidence with regard to bribery, conspiracy, mail fraud and said, 'Governor Siegelman is guilty.'" That I did in my interview with Governor Siegelman on April 7, 2008.
And would you expect a good journalist to seek out and read the denial from Karl Rove's attorney? That I did as well.
And maybe even to have said, "Governor, it sounds like you are alleging corruption on so many different levels. I mean -- I think some people can accept the notion that, you know, there are certain Republicans who are out to get you, etc, but as we talk more about this, there are more people involved and it sounds like you're saying that the corruption here was pretty deep?" I also did that. But maybe my questions do not fit with, as you put it, your "pre-selected" story line?
My "pre-selected story line" was not pre-selected at all. It was my considered conclusion -- and my only conclusion -- after assessing a number of troubling aspects about the case and the prosecution of it, that the Federal Court of Appeals in Atlanta should order the release of the former Governor pending his appeal. The appeals court did just that over the objection of the trial judge. The appellate judges cited "substantial questions of law and fact."
I too have substantial questions of law and fact about the case and some of them involve you.
You seem particularly incensed that I interviewed Dana Jill Simpson, a Republican who had volunteered for the campaign of Siegelman's opponent and claimed, in sworn testimony, that she heard conversations about you and your involvement.
You ask why only later did she claim that you asked her to follow the Governor to attempt to take compromising photos. Specifically, you wrote, "Did it not bother you Ms. Simpson failed to mention the claim she made to CBS for their February 24, 2008 story, that you then repeated on February 25th?"
Fair question. Which is why I asked her the following on February 25, 2008:
ABRAMS: And why have you never mentioned before the allegations of Rove and the pictures?
SIMPSON: Oh, I mentioned it to people. They just did not use it. Because nobody wanted to go into the fact that I had been following Don Siegelman trying to get pictures of him cheating on his wife.
ABRAMS: But some of your critics have said, "You know, in front of Congress she had a lot of opportunities. Why didn't she mention this before?"
SIMPSON: Well let me explain something to you. I talked to congressional investigators, Dan. And when I talked to those congressional investigators I told them that I had followed Don Siegelman and tried to get pictures of him cheating on his wife. However, they suggested to me that that was not relevant because there was nothing illegal about that and they'd just prefer that not come up at the hearing that day.
We repeatedly offered your attorney a chance to rebut the claims. Dana Jill Simpson testified under oath about this case while thus far you have refused to do so. If she is lying, she should be prosecuted. But as a journalist isn't it fair to ask why you don't welcome the opportunity to testify as well? With sworn false testimony, there are repercussions. Without it, there is no accountability.
You ask, "do you feel you have a responsibility to dig into the claims made by your guests..." Anyone who actually saw or even read the transcript of my coverage would have seen that I asked the Governor a whole series of pointed questions including this one: "You're not hinging this all, though, on Dana Jill Simpson are you? Because there have been a lot of people who have questioned how she could have been at certain meetings, how many times she actually met with people, where she was at the time, etc. I mean your allegations that Rove -- you believe Rove is behind this does not hinge entirely on the credibility of Dana Jill Simpson?" I also asked his daughter a similar question in a separate interview on February 27, 2008.
But many of their answers come back to you -- to your relationships with various Alabama officials, to the timing of the prosecution, to why new charges were filed after the first ones were dismissed. It seems that since they have not provided definitive documentary evidence to prove their contentions, many of which involve what they say they witnessed, heard or experienced, you think either I should not have interviewed them on air or dismissed their allegations out of hand.
In the end, the real answer to those questions can only come from a congressional investigation and an under-oath statement, not from some decision by me. In that respect, I am aware that you have been requested by the House Judiciary Committee to testify about these issues. You can be sure that I will report fairly and in detail whatever is said before that committee -- particularly if you appear before it.
In the wake of the US Attorney controversy and all of the questions surrounding this case, it is more than fair to ask -- in fact I would say its my journalistic duty to ask -- whether Karl Rove had any role in instigating the prosecution of a prominent Alabama Democrat given that you knew many of the players, and in a state where you had significant political connections. With that in mind, and in light of our seemingly shared desire to mine for the truth, I would invite you to answer some crucial questions about this case on my program or in a written response:
1) You say you "certainly didn't meet with anyone at the Justice Department or either of the two US attorneys in Alabama about investigating or indicting Siegelman." Did you talk to, or otherwise communicate with, any of them about it even if you did not meet? Did you have any discussions with any of them about this topic?
2) What about your old friend Bill Canary, whose wife initially led the prosecution? Are you denying that you spoke with him about anything related to the case?
3) You worked for former Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor. Did you ever talk to him about anything related to the Siegelman matter?
4) Did you ever ask anyone else to communicate with any official in the Justice Department about the Siegelman investigation or case?
5) Do you know why your lawyer told us that you would testify about this case if you were subpoenaed but now, after you have been invited to do so, he states that there are issues of executive privilege: "Whether, when and about what a former White House official will testify ... is not for me or my client to decide" he said.
6) You have said you never spoke with the White House about the case. If true, what is the possible "executive privilege?"
7) You ask why I did not further question one of my guests when he discussed your effort to help now Governor Riley in his campaign. Did you consult in any way with Riley or anyone else working with him on the campaign?
8) Did you ever discuss, with anyone, the possibility of media leaks about the Siegelman case? Did you speak with any members of the media about Siegelman during his campaign?
Rather than continuing a spin campaign against the media and me, I hope you join me in attempting to restore faith in a hallmark of this nation; our apolitical Department of Justice now understandably and regrettably enveloped in a cloud of suspicion.
Follow Dan Abrams on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@danielabrams