WASHINGTON – The House Judiciary Committee asked the Justice Department on Thursday to allow imprisoned former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman to testify before Congress about possible political influence over his prosecution.
Siegelman, a Democrat sentenced to serve more than seven years in a Louisiana prison, would travel to Washington in May under guard of the U.S. Marshals Service, said Melanie Roussell, a spokeswoman for the committee.
Committee Chairman John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, believes Siegelman could provide important information about Justice Department practices under President Bush, Roussell said.
"The chairman ... believes he would have a lot to add to the committee's investigation into selective prosecution," she said.
The Justice Department had no immediate comment on the request.
A member of Siegelman's defense team said the former governor has agreed to testify.
"He's delighted to cooperate," attorney Vince Kilborn said. "There are no restrictions on questions they can ask him."
Democrats last year began reviewing Siegelman's 2006 corruption conviction as part of a broader investigation into allegations of political meddling in Justice affairs by the Bush administration.
Justice and the federal prosecutors who handled the prosecution have denied any political influence, emphasizing that Siegelman was convicted by a jury. But critics, including a group of former state attorneys general, have called for an independent review and said the case raises a number of questions.
The effort gained momentum after a Republican lawyer who had volunteered for Siegelman's re-election opponent -- current Republican Gov. Bob Riley -- said she overheard conversations suggesting that former White House adviser Karl Rove was talking with Justice officials about Siegelman's prosecution.
Last month, CBS's "60 Minutes" reported that a key witness against Siegelman said that prosecutors met with him some 70 times and had him repeatedly write out his testimony because they were frustrated with his recollection of events.
Grant Woods, a former Republican attorney general from Arizona who has criticized the prosecution, said the list of former attorneys general calling for a review continues to grow and now has about 55 signatures.
"It's really unprecedented to have that many people continuing to ask for an investigation," Woods said.
Personal testimony from the former governor, Woods said, could force lawmakers and the public to see Siegelman as a human being instead of as a partisan politician.
"I think if they see him live and in person the congressmen and congresswomen would be willing to take a new look at this," he said. "But I wouldn't hold my breath for the Justice Department to go along with it."
Siegelman was elected governor in 1998 and served one term before narrowly losing re-election to Riley in 2002, as reports of corruption investigations clouded Siegelman's administration.
Siegelman was originally indicted in 2004 on charges of conspiring to rig bids on state Medicaid contracts. Prosecutors dropped the case, however, after a judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to support key charges.
Siegelman was indicted again a year later in a separate bribery and corruption case.
In June 2006, he was convicted on six bribery-related charges and one obstruction of justice charge. He began serving his sentence last June.
Siegelman was accused of appointing then-HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy to an important hospital regulatory board in exchange for Scrushy arranging $500,000 in disguised contributions to Siegelman's campaign for a statewide lottery. Siegelman was also convicted of a separate obstruction of justice charge concerning $9,200 he received from a former lobbyist to help with the purchase of a motorcycle.
In prepared remarks for a speech Thursday to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco about public corruption, Attorney General Michael Mukasey said politics plays no role in the department's investigations.
"I consider it one of my paramount responsibilities to ensure that the department continues to handle its public corruption investigations and prosecutions in a consistent, nonpartisan and appropriate manner," Mukasey said. "Just as important, though, I also consider it my duty to ensure that the department continues to pursue public corruption wherever we find it."