Was anyone truly surprised when the special grand jury charged with looking into the Luv Guv and his cohorts came back with nothing more than whining complaints our laws aren’t right for keeping a horny, power-mad governor from engaging in behavior almost any one of us might consider patently illegal?
I doubt it. This is, after all, Alabama, land where political corruption is as much a part of the landscape as dogwood trees and barbecue joints.
When special District Attorney Ellen Brooks released the results of the grand jury’s findings last week, it felt once again like the fix was in. Robert Bentley may have been in over his head when it came to actually running the Alabama government, but the man was a genius when it came to orchestrating his escape from a jail cell. The Luv Guv just wasn’t going to the slammer, no matter how many conjugal visits from his beloved Rebekah they might promise.
Brooks, the special DA appointed by the attorney general appointed by our corrupt ex-governor, did her job well. She came back and blamed the system for not being able to go after Bentley for his criminal behavior. The grand jury, she said, pleaded with lawmakers to create stronger ethics laws so this kind of thing can never happen again.
It’s a perfect ruse. Blame the system and throw it on the backs of legislators we all know are never going to willingly make stronger ethics laws that might curtail their own graft and corruption.
So, in the end, Brooks essentially told us there just aren’t any laws against what Bentley did. I think what we have here is the antithesis of the adage about a prosecutor being able to get a jury to indict a ham sandwich. The converse must also hold true. If that prosecutor wants that ham sandwich to go free and return to a medical career of CoolSculpting fat off of the citizens of Tuscaloosa, then she could probably make that happen, too.
Let’s briefly note here that in 2012, Brooks also found the law lacking to prosecute ex-Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard and former Gov. Bob Riley for numerous PAC-to-PAC transfers. In that instance as well she called on politicians to strengthen the ethics laws governing them, so this isn’t her first rodeo.
Even if you don’t believe Bentley foresaw all of this — getting Big Luther Strange off his case by dangling that sweet-sweet fruit of a U.S. Senate seat — then appointing Steve Marshall to fill the AG’s position, knowing Marshall would then recuse himself from any investigation and appoint Brooks to let him walk free — there are a number of other things we are now supposed to believe. And they are some doozies.
By Brooks’ estimation, the following activities are perfectly legal in Alabama:
• The governor can have an affair with his top adviser and use an outside source to pay her hundreds of thousands of dollars to do government work.
• The governor can hire his lover’s husband to run an agency for which he has no background or experience and pay him a six-figure salary.
• The governor can charter a private jet to carry him and his lover on government trips, thus avoiding public manifests detailing who is aboard his plane.
• The governor can threaten to fire his employees because he suspects they are talking about his affair.
• The governor can have a state helicopter fly his wallet from Montgomery to Fort Morgan because he forgot it while storming out of the house after a fight with his wife about his girlfriend.
• The governor can order the state’s top law enforcement official to go to his scheduler’s house after hours to interrogate her as to her knowledge of a tape of him talking to his lover.
• The state’s top law enforcement officials can serve as the governor’s henchmen, interrogating state employees, offering the governor strategies as to how he can either end or hide his affair and spending hours meeting with one another about how to keep the governor’s secret under wraps.
• The governor can attempt to have state officers investigate political opponents, and the heads of ALEA can participate in those discussions.
• The Alabama attorney general can meet with a governor under investigation by his office and solicit an appointment to the U.S. Senate.
Those are just a few of the things we now know are totally legal in this state because of the absence of law, according to DA Brooks. Anyone who takes the time to read the mind-blowing 120-plus page House investigation report into Bentley’s impeachment would have to come away saying, “How is THAT not illegal?!”
Let’s just focus on one particular passage in that report talking about ALEA Secretary Spencer Collier and the head of Bentley’s security detail, Ray Lewis, riding with the governor on a trip to Greenville.
“Collier dismissed Gov, Bentley’s security detail so that he and Lewis could personally drive Gov. Bentley to Greenville. Collier and Lewis discussed whether they should read Gov. Bentley his Miranda rights, but they decided against it,” the report reads.
Collier and Lewis, according to the report, went on to serve the governor as if they were all involved in some kind of high school drama. They had meetings to discuss Bentley’s affair and Lewis even served as a surrogate to try to “break up” with Rebekah Mason for the governor. Of course Collier went so far as to jump in a car and go harass Director of Scheduling Linda Adams at her home one night. But I suppose that’s not a misuse of government resources, right?
Somehow throughout all of this insanity, we’re told no crimes were committed other than two campaign finance misdemeanors. We’re expected to buy the concept that Robert Bentley did some bad things, but — darn it! — they just weren’t covered by state law. We’re expected to swallow the notion Spencer Collier was a noble whistleblower and not a political crony willing to do nearly anything Bentley asked, who only spoke up once Bentley fired him.
At the end of the day, it looks like Alabamians have been played like a fiddle and there’s not going to be a drop of blood spilled for this outlandish scandal. At least next time we’ll know going in to expect nothing more than the status quo.