Dear Mr. President,
My family and I would like to extend our heartfelt congratulations to you for winning your second term. I am grateful America stepped up and did the right thing. Now that the election is over, I am asking you to please pardon my father, Don Eugene Siegelman, who, I believe, was targeted by prosecutors, wrongfully convicted, and unjustly imprisoned for something that has never been a crime in this country.
My dad was one of the longest serving Democrats in the Southeast and the only person to ever hold all of Alabama’s highest elected positions. He was touted as a dark horse candidate for president in 2002 by a conservative journal and was the first governor to endorse Al Gore for president in 2000. He was also targeted by Karl Rove for ruin. Mr. Rove, according to a Republican whistleblower, was instrumental in my father’s prosecution.
Rove was said to have personally directed the Department of Justice to pursue Don Siegelman. His best friend and long-time partner was running my father’s opponent’s campaign when his wife, U.S. prosecutor appointed by President George W. Bush, brought charges against my dad. Both husband and wife had a vested interest to dispose of my father. My dad was charged under the RICO statute; because the statute of limitations had expired, and brought to trial one week before his reelection campaign.
The lead witness in the case, a young man who had been sentenced with money laundering just a few years earlier and threatened with forty years behind bars, agreed to work with the prosecution to get a lighter sentence. According to 60 Minutes, the witness was forced to memorize his testimony and practiced more than seventy times. He lied under oath, his testimonies contradicted each other, and yet, his words were used to convict my father. My dad received seven years in prison and the witness received eighteen months.
The prosecution was also able to secure a favorable judge, Mark Everett Fuller. Judge Fuller was a man with a strong Republican background. He had served on Alabama’s G.O.P Executive Committee, he had run campaigns against my father for years, and his company, Doss Aviation, stood to gain hundreds of millions of dollars in Defense contracts with the Bush Administration, and did, following my father’s conviction.
It was Judge Fuller who ultimately lowered the standard of evidence in my father’s case in order to convict my father of an implied quid pro quo, despite the witness’ contradictions. My dad was charged with implicit bribery, for appointing a contributor to a state board, without any proof of agreement and no self-enrichment scheme. The contributor had served on the board for two previous governors, whom he had directly contributed to. Only my father was charged and the other governors were not.
My father had been naïve. He had trusted the judicial system, yes, the system itself, with correcting the course of his prosecution. He is, according to those who have worked with him and observed his ethics, a man not unlike yourself. He is one of the hardest working and caring politicians they have ever known, but he is also preconditioned to see the good in people, at the expense of missing the bad. My father trusted those in the system to do the right thing, including, if not especially, the judge.
My father’s incarceration is a travesty of justice. Given the plethora of articles about the case, from the New York Times to The Washington Post, from Erwin Chemerinsky to George Will, any person, Republican or Democrat has a reason to want Don Siegelman’s sentence reversed. On average, 99.9% of those articles tell a story of injustice, wrongful prosecution, and government error. There is little debate that my dad was targeted by those who simply wanted him out of politics.
Like most of us, my father only learned the facts of this deception after it was too late, and the case was closed. Appeal after appeal was denied, and dad’s faith in the system was slowly eroded and replaced by his acceptance of political economic bonds, which undercut justice to maintain power. Particular corporations, politicians, and GOP operatives were given the perfect amount of cover to benefit at my father’s expense under Bush-Rove’s Department of Justice.
It is my hope, indeed my utmost wish, that your second term will bring renewal to a government that has placated the fears of the uneducated, fed the desires of the powerful, and avoided injustices in order to take the path of least resistance. I believe you are the man for the job. At the same time, I do not blame you for seeking stability. We are always balancing the odds. Even in writing this; I wonder how much frustration I may safely convey to you.
Like most Americans, I also held a sacred view of the justice system, believing those in power knew best and had our best interest at heart. What I found, however, was not a guilty dad but a faulty system. That revelation changed my life. It forced me to question how much of our government is held together by civil society and how much has been corrupted. Will the powerful finally sacrifice some of their security, stability, and survival for transparency, justice, and righteousness?
A handful of officeholders spoke out publicly at the end of the Bush years to help my dad. Several former politicians, both Republican and Democrat have continuously sought justice in my father’s case. Most notably, former co-Chair of the John McCain Presidential Campaign and former Republican Attorney General of Arizona Grant Woods has gone over and beyond partisan lines to right this wrong. He is joined by 111 Attorneys General, from across the country, who have written you asking for clemency in my father’s case.
We all want our faith in the Department of Justice restored. We want to know that the system of justice will not be used to targeted political opponents - or allow prejudice to prevail in our courtrooms. The precedent set in my father’s case endangers us all. Despite our differences, I am certain that, our deepest shared concern is with justice. We cannot allow a witch-hunt, which results in burning a woman alive, to become a public lynching of a Black youth, to become a political persecution of a White male Democrat.
I am not asking that you start a federal investigation against Rove or others involved in my father’s incarceration. I am asking only that you release one man. Though a small act, my father’s freedom will provide a sense of justice to those who love him and will help return faith to those who have been wronged by the system. My father's experience may have a great purpose, to help those without a voice, to fix loopholes in our system, to offer advice on prison reform, and to counsel the less fortunate. Freedom will give him that opportunity.
Mr. President, like my father, I want to work with you in these next four years to make our country stronger. Like you, I want to level the playing field. My father’s biggest wish was that every Alabama child would have the same opportunity for a higher education - that each would embrace his or her individualism, would champion diversity, spread tolerance, enhance love for others and ultimately reap fairness. However, the system is protected by corporate elites who fear fairness, who dread sharing, and who ultimately have intolerance for those unlike themselves.
I believe the beginning of change starts with the self. That is why one of your greatest honors as President is pardoning those people you believe deserve it, without the vetting, processing, or politicking of others. It is precisely that deep-seated knowledge of individual justice that a President offers the country in order to level the playing field. After all, it is the earth’s gravitational pull, which keeps the sun and moon from collapsing. I believe your unique understanding and powers as President are precisely what the Unites States needs over the next four years to remain a leader in this ever diversifying and globalizing world.
As a daughter who loves her dad, and wishes for him to be home for Christmas, to attend her graduation, to possibly walk her down the aisle, and to watch her grow up, I humbly ask you to pardon Don Siegelman this year.
Thank you sincerely,
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A version of this letter will be published in OpEd News