Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales spoke at the University of Alabama School of Law last night and answered tough questions about the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman.
Gonzales spoke briefly to the crowd and then opened up the floor for questions from the audience. Joseph Siegelman, a third year law student and the son of the former governor, asked about Gonzales’ knowledge of inconsistencies that existed during his father’s trial.
“I don’t interject myself into those decisions,” Gonzales said. “That is the responsibility of the Office of Professional Responsibility. I don’t know the intricacies of this case, but I get asked questions like this a lot and I always answer the same: No one lobbied me to move forward or stop with this investigation.”
Siegelman was convicted in 2006 of seven charges of bribery and mail fraud in connection with Richard Scrushy, the founder and former CEO of HealthSouth.
According to al.com, U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers of Michigan sent a letter to Gonzales in July 2007 requesting, “documents and information concerning the prosecution of former Gov. Don Siegelman.” Gonzales resigned in September 2007.
“I felt compelled to ask Gonzales these questions,” Joseph Siegelman said. “I feel the Alabama press has failed to report on things that have been going on.”
Siegelman was not the only student who raised questions about his father’s case. A number of other students also asked Gonzales pointed questions about his knowledge of any wrongdoings in the case.
“I was really honored to see everything that my classmates said as well,” Joseph Siegelman said. “Many of them, because they know me, have shown an interest in the case, but I never thought they’d be compelled to confront the former attorney general of the United States with such questions.”
Gonzales pointed to the many issues that he faced as attorney general as a reason for not having more to contribute about Seigelman’s case.
“As attorney general, you’re not going to weigh in on everything. Sometimes, you have to give it to the deputy attorney general,” he said. “You’re involved in so many situations and decisions that sometimes you have to delegate. Personally, though, it’s troubling.”
Gonzales also addressed Alabama’s anti-immigration law, commonly known as HB 56, and the recent Supreme Court decision invalidating many parts of a similar law.
“I don’t know a lot about Alabama’s immigration laws, but I do think that our states are trying to appease their constituents,” he said. “When you claim authority, as the U.S. Supreme Court has done in this case, you also have responsibility to address the problems in another way.”
Jonathan Thompson, a master’s student in education and history, said he was impressed by Gonzales’ demeanor in addressing the heated questions from the audience.
“I was slightly off guard by the Siegelman questions, but I’m glad they were asked,” Thompson said. “It is just a dicey situation still, especially in the state of Alabama. Gonzales did a great job at addressing them.”
Joseph Siegelman said although he was nervous, he was glad to have an opportunity to address some of the issues surrounding his father’s trial and conviction.
“I was certainly intimidated — he’s the former attorney general of the United States,” he said. “We see a glimmer of hope; we’re just working to make that a little bigger.”