By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
Honestly, I didn’t expect Rep. John Rogers to answer his cell phone on Thursday night, and maybe him doing so should lessen my frustration with him.
But it doesn’t.
Because Rogers has started backtracking – on a story that I wrote, a story that he confirmed, a story that he told to multiple people. Rogers is telling people it’s not true.
The day before, I had multiple conversations with Rogers. Wednesday morning, a source told me an unbelievable tale involving the Birmingham Democrat. Rogers, the source said, was going to hold a joint press conference with Randy Brinson, a candidate for the US Senate, and say that he was offered a bribe related to the EPA’s North Birmingham superfund site.
And the kicker: Former Alabama Attorney General and current appointed US Senator Luther Strange was an active participant in the conversation when the bribe was offered.
This wasn’t the first time that I heard other lawmakers were offered the same deal that Rep. Oliver Robinson allegedly took from Drummond Coal – the one allegedly set up by Balch & Bingham law firm and now being ripped apart by the FBI, IRS and other law enforcement agencies.
That deal involved Drummond and others allegedly pumping thousands of dollars into a non-profit managed by Robinson, and in exchange the black Birmingham lawmaker would convince black North Birmingham residents that the EPA’s ideas for their polluted neighborhoods were no good, that there were better ways.
All of those ways were, of course, better for Drummond and the other polluters of that area than they were for the residents or the environment.
Robinson took the deal, he has told Law Enforcement.
But Rogers has told many, many people – from other lawmakers to Law Enforcement officials (including Federal investigators) to Birmingham pastors to former employees and co-workers to Brinson – that he was approached first.
Which is not at all unbelievable. Rogers wasn’t alone. Another female House member was also approached, several people have said.
But what made Rogers’ story so unique is that Strange was involved. So, I called Rogers to ask about it. As did Brinson.
At first, Rogers wouldn’t talk about the story, said he needed to be careful and that he had promised to “tell all” on a local Birmingham radio show on Friday morning. He just couldn’t break his word, he said.
But he was angry, calling Drummond executives and Strange “murderers” and saying he thought they should all “get the death penalty.” He went on for several minutes talking about how awful the situation was around the 35th Avenue site and how terrible the coverup had been and how he wanted to expose them all.
So, I asked Rogers if instead of talking about what he told Federal investigators, would he be open to simply confirming what I had been told by another source. Basically, if I agreed not to quote Rogers on the Strange/bribery allegations, and instead attribute it to my source, would he confirm that it’s true?
Rogers said yes.
I asked again, this time I explained in detail how it would look in print: “A source said John Rogers told authorities that he was offered a bribe by Drummond executives and Luther Strange was present – that happened, I can print it that way?”
Rogers said yes.
As I was writing the story, I called Rogers back to ask him an unrelated question, but also asked him again about the specific Strange allegations. Again, he said yes.
A similar situation played out for Brinson, who learned of the bribe offer to Rogers from a Birmingham pastor. When Brinson contacted Rogers, he had two other people with him, including a reporter from a national radio outlet, and spoke to Rogers on speaker phone.
Rogers twice told the same story, Brinson said. He was offered control of a super PAC in exchange for fighting the superfund and Strange was present.
Again, Rogers was angry about it all. So much so that he agreed to appear with Brinson at a Thursday press conference to “out Strange.”
Rogers even organized the press conference at a Birmingham church, Brinson said.
So, why was Brinson left almost literally standing at the alter by himself in that church on Thursday afternoon, while at the same time Rogers was telling a TV reporter that Strange wasn’t present at the meeting where the bribe was offered?
“He was scared,” Brinson said. “When he called me Thursday, his voice was shaking. It wasn’t the same John Rogers. Something happened between Wednesday and Thursday and it scared him.”
But not so much that Rogers wasn’t answering his phone late Thursday evening.
I asked Rogers why he was telling people now that Strange wasn’t present, Rogers first told me he never said it to me. For the next several minutes, I recapped our conversations from the day before.
When I finished, Rogers said, simply, “I’m sorry.”
I asked him what happened, if someone had convinced him to change his story. He stammered for a couple of seconds, said he didn’t think so, then no, then said he had to go.
“It is frightening to contemplate the powerful forces who so rattled (Rogers) that he recanted his confirmation of facts reported by APR concerning an attempted bribe,” APR publisher Bill Britt said. “Screaming ‘fake news’ as Sen. Strange has done is standard fare these days, but it’s very disconcerting when a public official – one who turned down the bribe and worked for his constituents – is so scared that he takes these actions. It’s an affront to American principles and Alabama values.”