The Magazine

A Conspiracy So Lunatic...

Only 60 Minutes could fall for it.

May 26, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 35 • By JOHN HINDERAKER
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Jill Simpson is an unusual woman. A lawyer, she has scratched out an uncertain living in DeKalb County, Alabama. Fellow DeKalb County lawyers describe her as "a very strange person" who "lives in her own world." The daughter of rabid Democrats, she has rarely if ever been known to participate in politics as even a low-level volunteer. Yet today, she is a minor celebrity who is unvaryingly described in the press as a "Republican operative." Those who know her in DeKalb County scoff at the idea that she is a Republican at all.

Recently, Simpson's house and law office were on the auction block. Rumor has it that she is leaving DeKalb County for good and heading for the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Jill Simpson, who barely got by in Alabama, is now toasted by the national Democratic party and featured on network and cable news. All this because she has testified--without a shred of supporting evidence--to a conspiracy so vast as to be not just implausible, but ridiculous.

Simpson claims to have participated in a phone conversation with several Alabama Republicans in which she was made privy to a plot involving the Republican governor of Alabama, Bob Riley, a former justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, a federal judge, two United States attorneys, several assistant United States attorneys, the Air Force, and, apparently 12 jurors, to "railroad" former governor Don Siegelman into his 2006 conviction for bribery and mail fraud. Every person whose name Simpson has invoked has labeled her story a fantasy, including Siegelman; she claimed to have played a key role both in his giving up his unsuccessful contest of the 2002 gubernatorial election and in his defense of the criminal charges against him.

Normally one might expect a person of uncertain mental health who alleged such a comprehensive conspiracy to be ushered quietly offstage. Instead, in late February, CBS's 60 Minutes gave her a starring role. This can be explained only by the fact that Simpson included in her fable, as she related it to CBS, a final conspirator: Karl Rove, who, according to Simpson, orchestrated the plot against Siegelman.

In her 60 Minutes interview, Simpson claimed to have been Rove's secret agent in Alabama. She said that during Siegelman's term as governor of Alabama, Rove had asked her to follow Siegelman around and try to get photographs of him "in a compromising sexual position" with one of his aides. This led to one of the great moments in recent broadcast history:

60 Minutes's Scott Pelley: Were you surprised that Rove made this request?
Simpson: No.
Pelley: Why not?
Simpson: I had had other requests for intelligence before.
Pelley: From Karl Rove?
Simpson: Yes.

Pelley was at a crossroads: He knew that either (1) he was on the verge of uncovering a whole series of Rovian plots, the stuff of which Pulitzers are made, or (2) he was talking to a lunatic. Intuiting, no doubt, which way the conversation was likely to go, Pelley discreetly chose not to inquire further.

Simpson can offer no evidence that she has ever spoken to or met Karl Rove. Moreover, when she told her story of the alleged conspiracy against Don Siegelman to John Conyers's House Judiciary Committee staff, she said that she heard references to someone named "Carl" in the aforementioned telephone conversation--she made the natural inference that this must be Karl Rove--but never offered the blockbuster claim that Rove himself had recruited her to spy on Siegelman. Neither in the affidavit that she submitted to the committee, nor in 143 pages of sworn testimony that she gave to the committee's staff, did she ever claim to have met Karl Rove, spoken to Karl Rove, or carried out any secret spy missions on his behalf, even though the whole point of her testimony was to try to spin out a plot against Siegelman that was ostensibly led by someone named "Carl."

60 Minutes chose to highlight Simpson's claim that she was Rove's secret agent without telling its viewers that this sensational allegation had been altogether absent from her sworn accounts. Subsequently, MSNBC's Dan Abrams invited Simpson to repeat her slur against Rove. This prompted Rove to write to Abrams, posing a series of questions about whether Abrams had used elementary journalistic methods to check the accuracy of Simpson's account.

Rove's letter drew a response from Abrams:

[Y]ou wrote, "Did it not bother you Ms. Simpson failed to mention [in her sworn statement to House Judiciary Committee staff] the claim she made to CBS for their Feb. 24, 2008 story, that you then repeated on Feb. 25th?"

Fair question. Which is why I asked her the following on Feb. 25, 2008: ABRAMS: And why have you never mentioned before the allegations of Rove and the pictures?  .  .  .