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Ken Hare In Depth: Siegelman blitzes the media

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman is all over the news lately, clearly trying to build public sympathy for his attempt to gain a presidential commutation of his sentence for bribery.

But Siegelman also feels that eventually, the Supreme Court will clarify the law on bribery involving campaign contributions. If that happens, he said it could provide "grounds for relief" in his case.

"But it's a fact of our judicial system that it takes sometimes years before these cases can be set right," Siegelman told me. He said he "may be long out of prison" before the courts finally settle the issue of when campaign contributions cross the line into bribery.

Siegelman, who faces almost six years in federal prison for bribery and related charges, is scheduled to report to federal custody on Sept. 11. He is using much of his remaining time as a free man in a media blitz. Among those to whom he has granted interviews are the Associated Press, Alabama Public Television, Fox Business Network, and WAFF in Huntsville.

While he still maintains he was the victim of a politically motivated investigation, and while he filed an appeal this week to seek to have his sentence reduced, Siegelman admits that his only real shot at freedom in the short term is a presidential commutation.

Last week we predicted in a column that Siegelman would end up serving about two years or less of his remaining sentence, with the president intervening to commute his sentence to time served.  If President Obama does intervene and if he loses the election, it would have to happen prior to his leaving office in January. If Obama wins, we believe it is probably most likely to occur after the congressional elections in two years.

After that column appeared, Siegelman called to underscore that he still feels he eventually will be vindicated by the federal courts.

"I know that eventually this is all going to be set right," Siegelman said. "The Supreme Court is going to have to make a decision on what standards of evidence will be necessary for an indictment on a campaign contribution."

The former state attorney general said that currently those standards are unclear and that different lower courts are interpreting them differently.

But, again, he said it could take years for such a determination to be made, and that it is possible he will have served out his term before it happens.

Meanwhile, Siegelman faces an uphill battle for a commutation of his sentence by the White House. Out of the more than 5,700 people convicted of federal crimes who have asked Obama for a commutation, he's granted just one, according to the Associated Press.

However, presidents tend to grant more commutations and pardons after they have faced re-election.

Siegelman was convicted in 2006 of appointing the founder of HealthSouth, Richard Scrushy, to a state hospital regulatory board in exchange for Scrushy arranging $500,000 in contributions to Siegelman's unsuccessful campaign for a state lottery. The contributions were made in 1999, but weren't reported to the secretary of state until 2002.

Siegelman's commutation and pardon efforts are being led by his daughter Dana and son Joseph. Dana Siegelman has organized an online petition effort and Joseph Siegelman, a law student, is helping to prepare the formal application, the former governor said. He said their efforts are heartwarming.

"I couldn't have better support," Siegelman said. "My spirits are strong and have been buoyed by support from a lot of people over the past years."

Although the judge in the case said he would recommend that Siegelman be allowed to serve his sentence close to his home in Birmingham, Siegelman said that the federal Bureau of Prisons policies probably would prevent him from being assigned to one of the federal facilities in Alabama -- including the one at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery or the facility in Talladega -- because is a former state attorney general.

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