Selective Justice in Alabama?

Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman

Rob Carr / AP

On may 8, 2002, Clayton Lamar (Lanny) Young Jr., a lobbyist and landfill developer described by acquaintances as a hard-drinking "good ole boy," was in an expansive mood. In the downtown offices of the U.S. Attorney in Montgomery, Ala., Young settled into his chair, personal lawyer at his side, and proceeded to tell a group of seasoned prosecutors and investigators that he had paid tens of thousands of dollars in apparently illegal campaign contributions to some of the biggest names in Alabama Republican politics. According to Young, among the recipients of his largesse were the state's former attorney general Jeff Sessions, now a U.S. Senator, and William Pryor Jr., Sessions' successor as attorney general and now a federal judge. Young, whose detailed statements are described in documents obtained by TIME, became a key witness in a major case in Alabama that brought down a high-profile politician and landed him in federal prison with an 88-month sentence. As it happened, however, that official was the top Democrat named by Young in a series of interviews, and none of the Republicans whose campaigns he fingered were investigated in the case, let alone prosecuted.

The case of Don Siegelman, the Democratic former Governor of Alabama who was convicted last year on corruption charges, has become a flash point in the debate over the politicization of the Bush Administration's Justice Department. Forty-four former state attorneys general — Republicans and Democrats — have cited "irregularities" in the investigation and prosecution, saying they "call into question the basic fairness that is the linchpin of our system of justice." The Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney's office strongly deny that politics played any part in Siegelman's prosecution. They say the former Governor, who recently began serving the first months of his more than seven-year sentence, got exactly what he deserved. But Justice officials have refused to turn over documentation on the case requested by the House Judiciary Committee, which scheduled a hearing on Siegelman's prosecution for Oct. 11.

Now TIME has obtained sensitive portions of the requested materials, including FBI and state investigative records that lay out some of Young's testimony. The information provided by the landfill developer was central to roughly half the 32 counts that Siegelman faced for allegedly accepting campaign contributions, money and gifts in exchange for official favors. (Siegelman was acquitted on 25 of those counts and convicted on seven. Young pleaded guilty to bribery-related charges and, in recognition of his cooperation with the government, received a short two-year sentence and fine.) But what Young had to say about Sessions, Pryor and other high-profile Alabama Republicans was even more remarkable for the simple fact that much of it had never before come to light.

The Young transcripts will probably add fuel to charges that the Bush Administration pursued selective justice in Alabama. Leura Canary, the U.S. Attorney whose office drove Siegelman's prosecution, is married to Bill Canary, Alabama's most prominent political operative and a longtime friend of Karl Rove's. In May an Alabama lawyer and Republican activist named Dana Jill Simpson gave a notarized statement that she heard Canary say Rove "had spoken with the Department of Justice" about "pursuing" Siegelman, with help from two of Alabama's U.S. Attorneys. Bill Canary called her charge "outrageous," and other alleged participants in the phone conversation issued similar denials. (The White House declined to comment, citing Siegelman's pending appeal.) But last month Simpson testified behind closed doors before the House Judiciary Committee. Sources tell TIME that, under penalty of perjury, she repeated her allegations about Canary and Rove.