Rove Looms Large in Siegelman Case

Alabama ex-governor's prosecution raises many questions about political interference.

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There is a distinct aroma attached to the trial, conviction, and imprisonment of former Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman of Alabama. The figure of Karl Rove, President Bush's ultimate strategist, looms large in this strange case.

Siegelman was convicted last June of taking a $500,000 bribe, though he claims it was a campaign contribution. He was released from prison last week by a federal appellate court pending a probe of the matter. It was a rare move by an appellate panel in a criminal case.

Siegelman is unknown to me. If he took a bribe, he deserves hard time. But if he was railroaded on what he claims was an "abuse of power," his accusers should answer for it.

The Siegelman case was featured in a recent segment on CBS's 60 Minutes. Several attorneys general, including some Republicans, said the prosecution was handled improperly. Rove's lawyers denied their client had anything to do with Siegelman's fall. But Rove may have to answer for himself at a House of Representatives committee hearing on the case.

Rove is no stranger to Republican politics in Alabama. Early in his career, he handled campaigns for judicial candidates in the state. One Democratic loser said that Rove wanted to destroy his opponents, not just defeat them.

Rove's sledgehammer tactics in Texas races and then presidential campaigns are well known. Politics is not for the faint of heart, but smears and alleged unethical behavior are another matter.

Siegelman was defeated for re-election in 2002 while the investigation of him was drawing widespread coverage. His sentence was seven years in prison.

Two authors in Texas wrote a book years ago on Rove titled Bush's Brain. It was a finely detailed picture of Rove's scorched-earth approach to politics and campaigns.

Rove's methods are a direct contrast to the conduct of two now deceased GOP consultants of the past, John Deardourff and Bob Teeter. Deardourff was the TV ad specialist, while Teeter did the polling and strategizing. As a team, they played to win, but they operated with class and integrity.

Rove has neither.