Blogger Comments: We know that Bentley knew how dirty Luther Strange is. We sent him information. He read the blog. He knew how heavily involved Luther Strange was with Sheriff Ana Franklin. The dilemma Bentley had with dealing with Luther was that they are both dirty.
Bentley wanted to 'get rid' of Luther Strange, lawmaker says
Vice President Mike Pence administers the Senate oath to Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., joined by his wife Melissa Strange, center, during a re-enactment ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Former Gov. Robert Bentley appointed Luther Strange to the U.S. Senate in February to rid the state of him because of concerns over corruption, a state lawmaker said Wednesday.
State Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, said Bentley explained the rationale behind his then yet-to-be-announced selection during a private meeting at the state capitol. Hours later, Bentley named Strange to replace the seat vacated by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
In an interview Wednesday with AL.com, Henry said Bentley told him there was a lot of corruption in the state. "(Bentley) said, most of it is in the AG's office, and Luther's the head of it, and I'm just going to appoint him and get him out of this state," Henry said.
U.S. News & World Report first told of Henry's conversation with Bentley in a story posted late Tuesday afternoon.
"I said 'Are you kidding me?'" Henry said of his response to Bentley. "You're going to appoint a man that you know is corrupt to the U.S. Senate where we may not get rid of him for 30 years?'
"He said, 'Ed, I've got to get rid of him. I've got to get him out of this state or we're not going to be able to straighten anything out.'"
Henry said that had impeachment proceedings continued against Bentley, the conversation would have been brought out to demonstrate that Bentley was in neglect of his duties as governor.
Henry's account is perhaps an indicator that part of the fallout over Bentley's resignation is already landing on Strange. As the Alabama attorney general, Strange had been obligated to oversee the investigation into Bentley at the point when Bentley sent him to D.C.
The state investigation into Bentley came to a head with Bentley's resignation on Monday after pleading guilty to two misdemeanors related to misuse of state and campaign funds. And with the release of state investigative findings. the timeline around Strange's appointment has become clearer:
- On Oct. 20, 2016, Strange's office issued a press release clearing former ALEA Director Spencer Collier of any wrongdoing. But the impeachment committee's report, released Friday, outlined more than 100 pages of possible impropriety by Collier.
- On Nov 3, 2016, Strange called on the House impeachment committee to suspend its work because of a "related" investigation and the committee granted that request. Five days later, Donald Trump was elected president in a stunning upset and then-Sen. Jeff Sessions was widely expected to join the administration, which was announced on Nov. 18.
- On Feb. 9, Bentley announced his decision to appoint Strange to succeed Sessions, who had been confirmed as attorney general by the Senate the day before. Strange, on the day he was appointed to the Senate, declined to confirm such an investigation of Bentley existed.
- On Feb. 15, Steve Marshall, who was appointed by Bentley to replace Strange as state attorney general, recused himself from the ongoing Bentley investigation and appointed a special prosecutor, Ellen Brooks.
- Less than two months later, the impeachment committee - which Strange requested suspend its work -- released its scathing report that resulted in Bentley's resignation, which also included a guilty plea to two misdemeanor charges.
"It looks awful," said Perry Hooper Jr., a finalist for the senate job that went to Strange. "It does. It looks awful. I understand why so many Alabamians are upset. It just looks bad - period."
Shana Teehan, spokeswoman for Strange, addressed the timeline in an email to AL.com:
"The Senator believes that former Governor Bentley made the right decision to resign, and that the people of Alabama are in good hands with Governor Kay Ivey.
"The timeline and facts surrounding the Attorney General Office's investigation into Governor Bentley are crystal clear, and can only be misconstrued by those with a personal vendetta."
Hooper - who co-chaired Trump's campaign with Henry in Alabama -- is also urging Gov. Kay Ivey to set a special election for the senate seat. Bentley had announced there would be no special election, saying it would instead be on the ballot during the November 2018 general election.
I certainly hope and pray that there was not a quid pro quo on Luther's part. I'd find it hard to believe.
But Hooper said he did not believe there was a deal between Bentley and Strange to stall the impeachment process so that the governor could appoint Strange to the Senate.
"I certainly hope and pray that there was not a quid pro quo on Luther's part," Hooper said Tuesday. "I'd find it hard to believe."
Hoover attorney Scott McLure, however, isn't as sure. McLure, along with six other state citizens, filed a complaint about Strange with the Alabama Bar Association last week. McLure said he is also considering a possible complaint with the state ethics commission.
McLure filed his complaint the day before the lengthy report compiled by Jack Sharman for the impeachment committee was released. But that report, he said, only builds the case against Strange.
"It strengthens the question and the case in that it doesn't appear this evidence was hard to find," McLure said Tuesday of the case against the former governor.
"Did Strange not find this evidence that seems like it was very accessible? If he didn't find it, did he not try hard?" asked McLure. "If it was that accessible, it makes it harder for him to say there was nothing there. 'I didn't see anything. I told the legislature to stand down and I took it on and I didn't see anything. It just so happened coincidentally that Gov. Bentley appointed me to the U.S. Senate.'
"It makes it a lot harder for that to pass the baloney meter."
The senator made a public appearance in Montgomery on Tuesday and said that his request to put the impeachment committee's work on hold was part of a "cooperative effort."
"The letter we sent them before the election, before anyone knew Donald Trump would be elected President, came out of a meeting we had with the legislative leadership," Montgomery TV station WSFA reported Strange said Tuesday. "It's a joint meeting of the legislature at our office that they requested. The point of the meeting was to make sure our investigation was unimpeded and their impeachment proceedings, as they unfolded, were unimpeded so that we were working together. That was something we, unfortunately, couldn't talk about at the time because they were investigations that were ongoing. It was a cooperative effort to get to the bottom of the truth."
Hooper described himself as a longtime friend of Strange and said it has long been his desire to serve in the U.S. Senate.
"We've been friends since my days in the legislature and he was a big-time lobbyist in Washington," Hooper said. "So returning to Washington as a senator has been his lifelong goal - period."
Henry described his conversation with Bentley as "surreal" and acknowledged that it would be disputed by Bentley's attorneys.
Henry said he left that meeting with Bentley and returned to his office in the State House, where state Reps. Mike Ball, Ken Johnson and Connie Rowe were visiting with Henry's wife.
"I said you guys are not going to believe the conversation I just had," Henry said.
Ball, Johnson and Rowe were not available for comment on Wednesday.
"Bentley's lawyers, of course, are saying it's bogus and he never said it," Henry said. "The bad side is that it's my word against his. There was just two of us in the room. It's hearsay; it wouldn't be admissible in court. But it is what it is."