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Judge orders jailed governor's release

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  • NEW: Justice spokesman responds to court decision on jailed governor
  • Ex-Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman to be released from prison pending appeal
  • Attorney: "This is really huge, and we're gratified"
  • Siegelman was found guilty of bribery and conspiracy in 2006
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- A federal appeals court Thursday ordered former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman released from prison on bond pending his appeal, saying he is not a flight risk and has shown his appeal will raise "substantial questions of law or fact."

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made the ruling on the same day a House Judiciary Committee spokesman said the committee would ask that Siegelman be briefly released from prison in Louisiana so he can testify in its inquiry into selective prosecutions.

"It's been a lot of work," said Hiram Eastland of Greenwood, Mississippi, lead counsel for Siegelman. "This is really huge, and we're gratified."

He said he had not spoken to the former governor yet and wasn't sure if he knew of his impending release, which Eastland said would likely happen Thursday evening.

Siegelman's appeal is pending before the 11th Circuit, Eastland said, adding it involves "profound issues that should concern every American, Republican or Democrat" regarding political expression through campaign contributions.

Earlier, another Siegelman attorney, David McDonald, said his client is "emphatically" eager to appear before the House committee.

"We welcome the inquiry," said McDonald, of Mobile, Alabama. "We will continue to cooperate in every way to the extent that it does not interfere with the governor's appeal." But he said he did not expect it to affect Siegelman's legal fight negatively.

Siegelman began serving a sentence of more than seven years in prison in June 2007, after he was convicted of corruption charges stemming from his time in office.

Critics of the prosecution say Siegelman was the target of a smear campaign by President Bush's long-time strategist, Karl Rove.

Rove, who left the White House last year, has denied the charge through his lawyer, who called it "false and foolish."

The House Judiciary Committee has been investigating claims Rove was involved in the dismissal of several U.S. attorneys, and is interested in Siegelman's case as part of the inquiry.

In a statement Thursday, Brian Roehrkasse, a Justice Department spokesman, said of the appellate court's decision, "We are reviewing that decision ... Because Mr. Seigelman's conviction remains pending before the appeals court, the Department of Justice will continue to litigate this matter in the courts and not the media or Congress."

Testimony in previous hearings and a recent news report on Siegelman on CBS' "60 Minutes" raised questions about whether the prosecution was "purely political," the committee spokesman said.

The former governor's congressional testimony is scheduled for May, the spokesman said.

Siegelman, a Democrat, served as governor of Alabama for one term, from 1999-2003. A jury in 2006 convicted him of bribery, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, mail fraud and obstruction of justice, but acquitted him of other charges, including racketeering and extortion.

Prosecutors alleged Siegelman's mail fraud convictions arose from a "pay-for-play" scheme in which he exchanged official acts and influence for cash, property and services from a businessman and consultant.

He also was accused of taking part in a scheme under which his co-defendant, ex-HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, allegedly paid Siegelman $500,000 in laundered money to obtain a seat on the state regulatory board governing HealthSouth.

Scrushy was sentenced to six years and 10 months in prison.

Upon his release, the court said, Siegelman will be required to abide by the same conditions governing his earlier release pending sentencing. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

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