As the trial gets underway this week in the felony ethics prosecution of sitting Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, Governor Robert Bentley got bad news about the renewed vigor of the federal investigation into his potential crimes while in office. Any illusion that Bentley is being investigated by a bunch of Alabama good old boys who will sweep his numerous alleged crimes under the rug has vanished like a soap bubble.
Bill Britt at Alabama Political Reporter reported today that the previous leader of the federal investigation, U.S. Attorney George Beck from the Middle District of Alabama in Montgomery, has recused himself because of his ties with people close to the investigation. Beck has been replaced by U.S. Attorney John A. Horn from the Northern District of Georgia in Atlanta. Horn is a career prosecutor with a long list of high-profile convictions and is unlikely to be drinking buddies with any of Bentley’s associates (I refrained from using the word “friend” because right now it is not clear Bentley still has any).
That is not improving Bentley’s chances of spending his retirement outside of a jail cell. Hear that, Governor? That’s the barking of the hounds hot on your trail.
Britt, who clearly has the best inside sources of any journalist covering Montgomery, states:
A task force from the FBI, the Postmaster General, and the IRS are conducting the investigation into allegations of obstruction of justice, fraudulent use of campaign contributions, improper use of State resources, and other potential criminal acts, according to former Bentley confidants and staffers who are cooperating with the investigators. The most serious scrutiny surrounds Bentley’s involvement with Rebekah Caldwell Mason, his former senior advisor and alleged paramour.
Bentley, of course, denies any wrong-doing and recently let everyone know that he is carrying out God’s will since He apparently elected him governor, as opposed to the voters of the state who listened to campaign ads funded by Mike Hubbard’s dark money contributors. It wasn’t Charles Koch, it was God. What a crock
According to the APR story, the state ethics investigation is also gaining momentum, with new subpoenas issued last week to a number of potential witnesses to Bentley’s alleged ethical lapses.
Meanwhile, down in Opelika opening statements are set to begin tomorrow morning in Hubbard’s felony ethics trial. The witness lists reads like a Who’s Who of Alabama politics and big business. One of the potential witnesses is none other than Governor Bentley himself.
I cannot imagine any lawyer with sense allowing Bentley to testify with the investigations swirling around him. The correct thing for him to do from a legal standpoint is to assert his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. That’s what I would advise him to do if I was his lawyer. But if he does assert the Fifth, in the public’s mind it will be an admission that he did wrong. I doubt that will matter since Bentley’s political career is as dead as fried chicken, although Bentley now lives on a planet where he retains great political influence, a strange world indeed.
The nets slowly tighten around Hubbard and Bentley and the odds either of them escapes the grasp of justice continue to shrink. Neither plans to do the right thing and resign.
This is what you get when you have an outdated constitution that encourages corruption so that big money interests keep control of an all-powerful state legislature. Add to that a foolish old governor who let an adolescent infatuation with a married woman young enough to be his daughter cost him every shred of dignity and respect and you have the reeking muck of corruption that is today’s Alabama politics.