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John Rogers’ very curious 24 hours

Josh Moon

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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.

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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.”

 

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Opinion | Police are not above public scrutiny

Josh Moon

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Why are police above public scrutiny?

That seems to be a relatively new thing in this country, and it is a particular problem in Alabama — this notion that the general public has no right to even question a police officer’s actions.

We’re hiding body cam footage. There are very few regular citizens on cities’ police review boards. Some cities are hiding cops’ personnel files, despite that being one thing that Alabama Open Records Act laws specifically covers.

And if ever a cop is questioned … whoooo, boy! There will be shame and ridicule, and the full weight of city government will be brought down to protect the Brother in Blue.

It’s nonsense.

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And it’s happening every day in this state. There are, specifically, two egregious cases active now — one in Huntsville, one in Montgomery. In both instances, city cops have been indicted on murder charges.

In Montgomery, the victim was black and walking through his neighborhood late at night. In Huntsville, the victim was white and police were responding to a mental health call.

In both instance, the county district attorneys — who each have to work with the police departments in those cities — reviewed the evidence and determined that enough existed to seek indictments. And in both cases, a grand jury issued those indictments.

That would seem like enough reason for the mayors of the respective cities — Todd Strange in Montgomery and Tommy Battle in Huntsville — to back away and allow the justice system to work.

They have not.

Battle last week asked his city council to cover the legal expenses for William Darby, the cop accused of murder. The council agreed unanimously, although it did put a $75,000 cap on expenses — a cap Battle said he disagreed with.

In Montgomery last year, following officer A.C. Smith’s shooting of Greg Gunn, Strange implemented an unprecedented city-led review, and he promised to allow Smith to remain on the MPD payroll, receiving his full salary and benefits, as he awaits trial.

Seriously consider the facts of these two situations.

In Huntsville, the taxpayers are footing the bill for private attorneys, when they are already paying for court-appointed attorneys for anyone who can’t afford legal representation. Apparently, public defenders are good enough for poor, mostly minority regular folks — even when they are accused of murder — but not good enough for cops.

In Montgomery, even as other city employees have been immediately terminated after their arrests for various offenses — all of which fall well short on the moral scale of murder — Smith remains fully paid.

When questioned about this early in the case, Strange said he wanted to wait on more facts to come out at hearings before making a decision on terminating Smith. A couple of weeks later, at a hearing, a State Bureau of Investigations officer testified that Smith admitted in interviews that he had no probable cause to stop, pat down, chase, strike, Taser or shoot Gunn.

That was not enough for Strange.

Nor was it enough when a second Montgomery judge proclaimed after an immunity hearing last month that he didn’t find Smith to be credible during his testimony.

In Huntsville, Battle cited a clearance by the HPD Incident Review Board as his primary cause for supporting Darby so vigorously.

He should be careful, because I can’t find a single incident in which the HPD review board didn’t clear an officer in a shooting. That includes a number of shootings in which the suspect was unarmed, and several in which other law enforcement officers also engaged the suspect and didn’t fire a shot.

In 2015, for example, Orlondon “Dre” Driscoll was shot by HPD officers after he exited, unarmed, from a car he was accused of stealing. The review board cleared the officers, saying that while Driscoll was unarmed, his hand made a motion as though he was pulling a gun.

It’s absurd.

And here’s the thing: In most cases, there is body cam footage of the incident. There’s certainly footage of the Darby shooting. But these same mayors and city governments and police departments have fought like hell to hide those videos from the public — the same public that pays the salaries of the officers.

In Montgomery, while there is no video — because Smith “forgot” to turn on his body cam — Strange has refused to release the findings of the city-led investigation into the Gunn alleged murder.

His reasoning: he doesn’t want to taint the jury pool. Which is not, as far as the law goes, an accepted exception under the  

Look, cops have a tough job. Yes, they are mostly heroic individuals who deserve our praise and admiration.

But you know what, it’s not like the job’s a mystery at this point.

We’ve all seen “Cops” on Fox and watched a thousand cop shows and reality cop shows on TV. If you sign up to be a cop in 2018, you know what you’re getting into, and you know the pay.

So, let’s stop pretending that the cops who have committed horrible acts of aggression and assault — and even murder — against the citizens they’re supposed to protect are somehow overwhelmed by the toughness of the job. Because that’s insulting to the 99 percent of cops who manage to not do anything illegal or dumb every day.

 

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Opinion | A blue few days away, and a same-sex wedding

Joey Kennedy

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After another disappointing Alabama election where voters decided against their better interests, I was characteristically frustrated.

One of my friends, this one living in northern Virginia, wrote to me: “Joey, you and Veronica should move to a blue state just for a little while. It’ll add 10 years to your life.”

I chuckled. I can’t say how many times a reader, equally frustrated, no doubt, at what I’d just written, said to me: “If you hate Alabama so much, move somewhere else.”

I don’t write what I write about Alabama out of hate. I write out of love. I love Alabama.

My other career is as an educator. I try to educate. I welcome people to fact check my work. If I make a factual mistake, I’ll correct it. If you disagree with my informed opinions, then let’s disagree. But you need to be informed as well. Show me your evidence, and I’ll show you mine. Indeed, I most often include my evidence in my columns.

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Don’t tell me that Hillary Clinton is running a pedophile ring out of a pizza parlor’s basement or that Sandy Hook is a hoax or that the Parkland survivors are “crisis” actors. None of that is true.

And don’t cite Breitbart or InfoWars or Judicial Watch as your sources. Keep Drudge and Rush Limbaugh and Dana Loesch out of it. If you cite Fox News, do it honestly, understanding that Fox has some credible news coverage, but then it has its idiots – the Hannitys and Ingrahams and Lahrens — who don’t give a whit about facts, only about slant, and who will twist their stories to “support” their latest right-wing conspiracy or left-wing outrage.

As a favor, I won’t cite MSNBC or the other “left” sources. I don’t watch MSNBC. CNN does generally good journalism, as does the three major networks. Mostly, I’m going to reference the Washington Post or The New York Times. But even more mostly, I’m going to do my own research and reporting. And thinking.

It’s not that difficult, as long as you don’t approach an issue with a preconceived idea. Keep your minds open, and do a little homework.

Thanks to the Internet, we have more information available to us today than ever before. Yet, we really seem a whole lot dumber. That’s because we only look for crap that validates our preconceived ideas, not the truth.

Find the truth, or at least get as close to the truth as you can get. Among my most difficult challenges as a writing teacher is to show students how important it is to approach issues with an open mind. If you can’t be persuaded by indisputable evidence, you’re not going to learn.

I’m going to California this week. I’m not moving there, so don’t get your hopes up. I’m going for a few days to participate in my “daughter’s” wedding. Nicole Bowland graduated from UAB, and adopted Veronica and me as her “parents” shortly after coming her from her home in California. She came on a volleyball scholarship, and her parents couldn’t attend volleyball events, so she adopted us. We’ve become very close over the past 15 years.

Nicole’s fiancé, Sara Kate Denton, has the full support of her family for the wedding. Nicole’s parents are not as supportive and won’t attend the wedding, so I’m filling in the “daddy” role at Nicole and Sara Kate’s ceremony.

I hope this brief trip to one of the bluest states may add at least a few days or hours to my life, but that’s not a real consideration. Dancing with my daughter at her wedding and toasting her marriage to Sara Kate are.

My friends in the blue states know they, too, have citizens who believe the conspiracy theories, who oppose same-sex marriage, who hate people different from them. They just don’t have them in as great of numbers (proportionately) as we do in Alabama.

We’re a herd state. We follow those deceitful politicians (and they’re a dime-a-dozen in Alabama, both Democrats and Republicans) who won’t tell us how to make education better or how to lower our prison population or what we need to do about gun violence, but would rather tell us why immigrants are evil, gay people are going to hell, black people are less than white, and women’s bodies should be controlled by men.

Right now, 63 percent of them support President Donald Trump, which makes us one of the Trumpiest states in the country.

Think for yourself. Question authority. If a politician or journalist tells you something, make him or her show you the evidence. Maybe it’s simply a good argument, based in fact, and it will get you thinking. Thinking critically. Thinking skeptically.

Don’t be in the herd.

I’ll be back soon.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

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Opinion | Brett Kavanaugh to SCOTUS would assure Trump legacy

Steve Flowers

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The appointment of a United States Supreme Court Justice is one of the most profound legacies that a U. S. President can achieve. The opportunity that President Donald Trump was given to appoint Neil Gorsuch to the High Tribunal last year will be a monumental achievement of the Trump administration.

The chance to name a second Supreme Court appointment will be a colossal legacy for the Trump presidency. The appointment of two seats on the Supreme Court has given Trump an indelible place in U.S. presidential history.

The leftist detractors of the Trump presidency are moaning. However, the conservative base of American politics has got to be rejoicing with hallelujahs. The quiet, conservative Americans who voted for Trump probably never realized how impactful their vote for Trump was in November of 2016. For within less than two years after casting that vote they will have placed America on a more stable conservative path for not only the rest of their lives, but possibly for the next generation.

President Trump’s appointment and subsequent confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to replace the deceased Antonin Scalia was a profound choice. However, his selection of Brett Kavanaugh to replace the retiring jurist Anthony Kennedy is equally brilliant. If Trump does nothing else during his tenure in the White House, if you are a conservative American, Trump’s presidency has been a rousing overwhelming success.

When the last votes were counted in November of 2016, and it became obvious that Donald Trump had defeated Hillary Clinton, conservative Americans were exuberant. Many had turned out to vote for one reason. The possibility of naming a conservative to the Supreme Court was their primary reason for voting for Trump. The naming of two within two years was beyond their wildest dreams.

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With the conclusion of the eight-year reign of the liberal Obama era and Trump’s defeat of Clinton, President Obama made one last simple, profound statement, “Elections have consequences.” That epitaph has become prophetic.

The court had been drifting leftward out to sea with the two extremely liberal Obama appointees, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor coming on board. However, the Supreme Court Ship of State has taken a turn to the right under the helm of Captain Trump.

Brett Kavanaugh is an excellent selection. He has impeccable credentials. He is only 53 years old, which means that he will be a sensible mainstream conservative voice of the court for probably three decades.

Brett Kavanaugh’s resume reads like a profile of someone born to be a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Like most Supreme Court members, he graduated from a prestigious Ivy League Law school. He is a product of Yale undergraduate and Yale Law School.

Kavanaugh was the favorite for the appointment from the beginning. He was always on the top of Trump’s short list and the choice of the Republican legal establishment in Washington. He is a former law clerk of the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Although Kennedy had been appointed by Republican Ronald Reagan, he was considered the one moderate on the court. There are four bona fide liberal justices and four stalwart conservatives. Kennedy was the swing vote in the middle. Trump’s appointment of Kavanaugh will replace a swing vote on the nine-member court with a staunch conservative.

Kavanaugh served in George W. Bush’s administration and has been a distinguished jurist in the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit for over a decade and has written over 300 opinions. Therefore, his record as a jurist has been thoroughly reviewed and scrutinized. He is looked upon as a top legal scholar and strict constitutional adherent with a record of following judicial precedence.

Kavanaugh will be confirmed along pretty much the same partisan lines as Gorsuch. Trump is blessed with a Republican majority Senate. Leader Mitch McConnell will put the confirmation hearings on a fast track and have Kavanaugh approved by the end of October, prior to the mid-term elections. The Republicans have a thin 51 to 49 majority. All 51 Republican Senators appear to be on board for confirmation. Our Senator Richard Shelby has given a big thumbs up to Kavanaugh.

In addition to the 51 Republicans, Kavanaugh is expected to pick up four Democratic Senate votes of moderate Democrats from red states.

The big question is how does our new accidental anomaly, Democratic Senator Doug Jones vote. He is considered a longshot to win in 2020. However, a yes vote on confirmation could give him a glimmer of hope. A no vote would guarantee his not being elected to a full term. 

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us

 

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Opinion | Republicans playing by different rules when it comes to state ethics laws

Josh Moon

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The law is simple: Candidates running for public office in Alabama must file a statement of economic interests when they qualify, and then must file an annual SEI by the yearly deadline.

That’s not hard, right?

File an SEI when you qualify. File again at the next year’s deadline.

Simple.

But then, following ethics laws is like Kryptonite to an Alabama politician. And so, quite a few candidates — some big name Republicans and a couple of Democrats — didn’t file on time.

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The consequences for this, according to the laws on the books, are also fairly simple and easy to read: You get booted off the ballot.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Here, read the law for yourself: “… if a candidate does not submit a statement of economic interests or when applicable, an amended statement of economic interests in accordance with the requirements of this chapter, the name of the person shall not appear on the ballot and the candidate shall be deemed not qualified as a candidate in that election.”

For future reference, that’s Section 36-25-15(c) of the Code of Alabama.

Would you care to guess what’s happening with these candidates who quite clearly violated this law?

Well, the two Democrats were determined by the Ethics Commission to have violated the law, so they were booted. Judicial candidate Pamela Cousins appealed that decision to a Montgomery Circuit Court, and a judge ruled in her favor, saying she had complied with the law by filing her paperwork with the Democratic Party but the SEI didn’t make it to the Ethics Commission on time.

For the Republicans, though, the story has been much different.

Sure, they violated the same laws in the same ways and had the same excuses as the Democrats. But the Republicans — four of them so far — haven’t been kicked off the ballot. And state lawmakers and party officials are on record saying those Republican candidates won’t be booted.  

Apparently, when there is an R beside your name on the ballot, the laws become a bit more ambiguous.

Republican Secretary of State John Merrill — the man at least partly responsible for enforcing the laws surrounding ballot access — found not only some exceptions for his party mates but also a makeshift fine: $5 per day.

I’ve read through the filing requirements, the Code of Alabama and the guidance documents presented on the Ethics Commission website, and I can’t find any mention of a $5 fine.

I do see where the Ethics Commission can impose a $10 fine per day on elected officials who miss the SEI filing deadlines. But that fine applies only to sitting officeholders.

The penalty for candidates missing the deadline is removal from the ballot. That simple.

As such, according to reporting from APR’s Brandon Moseley, Republican House District 30 candidate Brandon Craig Lipscomb, PSC commissioner Jeremy Oden, Montgomery state Rep. Dimitri Polizos and Guntersville state Sen. Clay Scofield should be removed.

Just as the Democrats were.

They all missed the deadlines. They all violated the laws. They’re all candidates for public office.

And there’s a reason why that last part matters, why the laws are different for sitting lawmakers than for an incumbent candidate for office. Because during campaigns is when money can flow the easiest. It’s when debts and personal financial obligations and business dealings and partnerships can be exploited easiest.

That’s why the laws of this state place such an importance on these SEI filings — because they’re that important to the integrity of our election process.

But who am I kidding?

There’s no integrity left.

 

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John Rogers’ very curious 24 hours

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