With all the local insanity over the past few weeks, I haven’t had time to get around to columnizing about the Luv Guv and an article about his current sticky situation that appeared in GQ magazine recently.
But some time on vacation this past week has offered a chance to reread the article that had everyone in the state talking a couple of weeks ago, and there are some rather interesting takeaways.
First off, the article is full of information from unnamed sources, but it does appear author Jason Zengerle talked to a lot of people and managed to get some interviews that have eluded in-state media thus far. So while I may question whether Gov. Robert Bentley and his alleged paramour Rebekah Mason really sat in staff meetings with his hand on her thigh and her wiping food off his chin (Sexy!), the general description of events does seem to follow most of what we’ve already heard — there’s just greater detail. And Zengerle did a great job of putting the timeline together and explaining how the churchy nerd governor got caught up in a sex scandal that shook Alabama and moved Wanda’s desk.
The article is great in terms of filling in the blanks for the voyeur in all of us. We learned one of the Guv’s downfalls was accidentally texting a rose emoji intended for Rebekah to his wife, Diane. Rookie move, Bob! And that the lovers liked to sneak off to a secluded pond.
But from the standpoint of breaking what could be considered really important news, there’s not a lot there — until we get to Spencer Collier. Apparently the former head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Association decided to make himself available to GQ — something he’s not done for many in-state news organizations. And if what he said to Zengerle was accurately reported, I think it not only shows an abuse of government resources on Bentley’s part, but also a dereliction of duty and highly questionable behavior by Collier.
As the story goes, in August 2014 Bentley climbed into the state SUV that was to drive him to Greenville, only to find Ray Lewis, head of his security detail, and Collier waiting for him. While this isn’t new information either, Zengerle says Collier explained how he and Lewis talked with Bentley about the affair and Collier warned him that if he was using state resources to conduct the affair it would constitute a crime.
“As they set out toward Greenville, Collier told the governor that it was his duty, as Alabama’s top law-enforcement official, to warn him that if he was using state money or campaign funds to facilitate the relationship, it would be a crime. Bentley said that he wasn’t. Collier then told his friend that he loved him, that everyone makes mistakes,” the article reads.
OK, I’m not sure it’s the duty of the state’s top law enforcement officer to “warn” people they are committing a crime. But maybe if you’re governor the head of law enforcement can cut you some slack instead of actually investigating it as he should. Most Alabamians wouldn’t be afforded such a courtesy, but I suppose that type of good ol’ boy behavior is expected in Alabama, especially between buddies like Collier and Bentley.
Foolishly, we might expect the head of law enforcement to actually conduct an investigation into whether the governor was illegally using state resources, instead of just telling him he loved him. But such expectations are naive. It does make me wonder how many people in state government might have gotten such a free ride from Collier because he “loves” them.
Still, the part of the story I found most shocking is that Collier may even have actively engaged in trying to keep the Bentley/Mason affair a secret.
“One night, to chase down a rumor that Bentley’s scheduler may have leaked the beach-house tape to the Democrats, Collier and a state trooper rushed to her home to interrogate her. When she denied it, Collier concluded that his boss’s secret was still safe,” Zengerle wrote.
Zengerle doesn’t directly attribute this information, so we’re left assuming it came from his interview with Collier. If so, it’s a jaw-dropping admission.
The concept that the chief law enforcement officer in Alabama would jump into a car with a state trooper and go interrogate a state employee for possibly “leaking” information about an illicit affair is mind blowing. That would be a huge abuse of power by Collier. If Bentley knew about it or even ordered it, such Gestapo tactics would also clearly show a misuse of state resources.
I’ve written before that Collier’s behavior in this sordid affair was highly questionable. He’s tried to make himself look like a victim of a political vendetta and even a hero to some degree, but more and more it seems obvious Collier was perfectly willing to play the political game and help his old buddy. Collier just got in a political ménage a trois with people who have even less integrity than he does and ended up being discarded.
The fact that Collier continues to try to shape the message by talking with news organizations that don’t appear willing to focus much on his behavior also sends a pretty strong message. He’s rejected many requests for interviews by our reporter, as well as others in the Mobile market. If he was really sweating the governor’s scheduler on his behalf it’s easy to see why.
Collier’s protective actions and ALEA using a helicopter to fly Bentley’s wallet to Fort Morgan after he stormed out of his house following an affair-related argument with the now ex-First Lady provide pretty clear evidence taxpayer money was used to further or conceal the relationship. Once again, it’s time Gov. Bentley resigns and fully answers to the people of the state instead of consistently acting as if this has all been brought to a head by exterior forces out to “get” him. And the Legislature should proceed with plans to impeach him.
As this is all being investigated, though, I hope Collier, too, is forced to answer tough questions about his own behavior and why he acted unethically, and maybe even illegally, to help the one he loves.