By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY — The newly appointed Attorney General, Steve Marshall, has officially recused himself from an active investigation of Gov. Robert Bentley and has decided to appoint a special prosecutor to continue the case.
After meeting with the staff of the Special Prosecutions Division in his office, headed by Division Chief Matt Hart, Marshall determined that it would be best to recuse himself from the investigation.
Marshall has appointed former Montgomery County District Attorney Ellen Brooks as the supernumerary district attorney leading the investigation.
“Ellen Brooks has a long and distinguished legal background, including 35 years in the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office where she served as District Attorney from 1993 to 2014,” Marshall said in a statement today. “Ellen is an experienced prosecutor handling a variety of matters throughout her career, and I am confident she will ensure that all the facts are pursued in this investigation.”
Brooks, who also served a year as a deputy attorney general in 1991, retired from the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office in 2014 after serving as the DA for 21 years. For two years, she also served as the director of the district attorney’s office’s white collar crimes unit.
Marshall contacted Brooks and asked her if she was willing to serve as the supernumerary prosecutor. She said yes.
Hart — who successfully prosecuted former House Speaker Mike Hubbard — is currently supervising the investigation, but will report to Brooks on the matter. She, as the special prosecutor, will have the full powers that were formerly vested in the Attorney General.
The Attorney General’s Office also confirmed Thursday that Marshall met with Rep. Mike Jones, chairman of the House committee considering a Bentley impeachment, yesterday. The meeting comes as some legislators are considering paths to get around the suspended committee investigation in the House.
Bentley appointed Marshall to the State’s highest law-enforcement post last Friday, amid questions over whether an investigation into the Governor existed and what power the new appointee would have over that investigation.
Those questions, for the most part, were answered today.
“After I took the oath of office, I pledged to the people of Alabama that my first priority as Attorney General would be to determine if my recusal from a possible investigation was necessary,” Marshall said. “Over the following 48 hours, I met with my special prosecutions staff, made the decision to personally recuse, and I appointed Ellen Brooks to lead the investigation. I believe this course of action fulfills my commitment to the people that this matter be handled thoroughly and fairly.”
Marshall, who served for more than a decade as the district attorney for Marshall County, interviewed for the post last week, according to the Governor’s Office.
Marshall said that the Governor did not bring up the possible investigation or any of his other legal woes during his interview and, if he had, Marshall would have “walked away.”
Bentley announced last week that then-Attorney General Luther Strange would replace former Sen. Jeff Sessions as Alabama’s next senator after Sessions was confirmed last week by the US Senate as President Donald Trump’s attorney general.
The Alabama Attorney General’s Office under Strange was thought to be conducting an investigation into Bentley’s relationship with his former top political aide Rebekah Mason, but last Thursday Strange avoided giving an answer on whether it existed.
“I want to make this clear because I think there have been some misconceptions,” Strange said. “We have never said in our office that we are investigating the governor. I think it’s actually somewhat unfair to him and unfair to the process.”
The investigations began after former ALEA Secretary Spencer Collier accused the Governor of maintaining an affair with Mason. Bentley has denied any legal wrongdoing and denied a physical affair.
“The Governor plans to cooperate fully in the Attorney General’s investigation,” said Bill Athanas, an attorney for the Governor. He refused to comment further “given the ongoing investigation.”
The House Judiciary Committee suspended impeachment proceedings after Strange sent the committee a letter on Nov. 3 informing them of necessary “related work” that his office was conducting.
On Wednesday, House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said he had reservations about taking any immediate actions that would “impeded, hamper or compromise” an ongoing investigation by the AG’s office. Nevertheless, he said the House would fulfill their constitutional obligations.
“Because an impeachment resolution has been filed, the House has a constitutional duty to gather needed information, examine the facts and take a public vote on whether to forward articles of impeachment to the Senate,” McCutcheon said.