By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
The dumbest, most obvious payoff I ever heard of as a reporter happened in 2000.
I was just starting out, working as a sports reporter, when rumblings began about shady football recruiting payoffs taking place in Memphis and involving the University of Alabama. Supposedly, some Crimson Tide boosters had paid a boatload of money to lure the nation’s top defensive player, a lineman named Albert Means, to Tuscaloosa.
A book published that year cited sources claiming that Means’ high school coach had demanded thousands of dollars and a very specific vehicle – a Ford Expedition – to direct Means to a particular college.
Lo and behold, Means signed with Alabama and there was his high school coach in a brand new Expedition.
The whole thing blew up. The coach went to jail. Means never played a down at Alabama. Coaches were fired. Lawsuits were filed.
After it was all over, the only thing anyone could think was: This is the dumbest payoff I’ve ever seen.
Until last week.
Until the Attorney General for the State of Alabama stood before cameras, reporters and God – as the man he was investigating was appointing him to the US Senate – and proclaimed that all of this speculation about a grand jury investigation led by his office into Gov. Robert Bentley was just doggone “unfair.” Strange had never said anything about the Governor being under investigation – not by his office – and that was that.
And everyone in this state who has opened a web browser or turned on a TV in the past year said a collective, “Do what now?”
That’s because the Bentley investigation was one of the worst kept secrets in the state. If you were in a room in Montgomery with more than five people, there was a good chance one of you knew someone who had been interviewed by the grand jury or knew the attorney of someone interviewed by the grand jury.
I mean, Strange wrote a letter to the legislative committee seeking to impeach Bentley asking that it stop its investigation because it might interfere with an ongoing investigation by his office.
After that, denying the investigation’s existence is like … telling people your inauguration crowd was the biggest ever.
Even people on your side would think you’re crazy.
And on Wednesday, around 3 in the afternoon, everyone knew Strange was crazy.
Or just plain crooked.
Because that’s when the state’s new AG declared that he would have to recuse himself from an ongoing investigation into the Governor. The same investigation that Strange apparently forgot about.
So, it seems, the Alabama AG’s office is now saying that there is an investigation into Robert Bentley.
Because, of course there is. There always was. Hell, APR had pictures of Bentley, half of his security detail and his legal counsel alternating turns in the grand jury room.
A source familiar with the focus of that State Grand Jury said it was the tip of a three-pronged investigation into the Governor’s alleged misuse of State property and misuse of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency to cover up crimes and intimidate potential witnesses. The Ethics Commission and the FBI are also investigating, although a Federal Grand Jury has not yet been impaneled.
The State Grand Jury, however, was active and rolling between August and late October. But something happened November, right around the time a giant Cheeto carried a sickle and hammer into the White House and talk began of transitioning Jeff Sessions from Confederate General to US Attorney General.
All of a sudden, Luther Strange had visions of living life in DC and he became like the high school kid who found out the head cheerleader is interested, and his steady girlfriend keeps getting sent straight to voicemail.
And it’s so dumb and so obvious that it’s honestly hard to believe. Even for Alabama, where obviously dumb stuff happens all the time.
The level of gall that it must take to attempt a move like this – right in plain sight – I can’t even fathom it. I get nervous when I have 11 items in the 10-items-or-less lane at Publix. Strange pretended to forget a grand jury investigation that he was leading.
That’s hall-of-fame level gall.
It’s like reading in a book that you’re demanding an Expedition in exchange for a football recruit and then accepting and driving the Expedition.
Only its worse, because it actually matters.