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Bill Britt

APR stands by Rogers report

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

An article published by The Alabama Political Reporter (APR) has drawn fire from campaign operatives for freshman Senator Luther Strange and his attorney at his old law firm, Bradley Arrant.

An email containing a letter from Bradley partner Joseph B. Mays, Jr., was received by APR on June 30, in which he demands, “…removal and retraction of false and libelous statements in an article on your website titled, ‘Source: State Rep. Offered Superfund Bribe with Strange Present.'”

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SEE LETTER HERE

The story revolves around a Federal probe that ensnared former State Rep. Oliver Robinson, who earlier this month reached a plea agreement to Federal charges of fraud, bribery, corruption, and tax evasion. The agreement is related to Robinson allegedly accepting bribes from a powerful Birmingham law firm, Balch Bingham. According to the release, Robinson was paid to advocate against the expansion of a massive EPA Superfund site in Birmingham. Balch Bingham’s client, Drummond Coal, and its affiliate ABC Coke would have potentially had to pay millions for the cleanup. A Balch attorney and a Drummond executive are both listed as unindicted co-conspirators in the release from the US Attorney’s Office in Birmingham.

Last year, shortly after Robinson resigned from the Alabama House of Representatives, claiming a conflict of interest (because his daughter was working for then-Governor Robert Bentley), State Rep. John Rogers began telling how the same people had approached him as Robinson, but that he turned them down.

During the beginning days of the 2017 Legislative Session, Rogers approached APR with this story. But as there was no context from which to draw a conclusion or make a printable narrative, Rogers allegations stayed mostly within the halls of the State House.

However, in June, Rogers told US Senate candidate Dr. Randy Brinson, who is running against Strange, that he told Federal investigators that Drummond Coal executives offered him a similar deal to Robinson’s. According to Brinson and others present, Rogers agreed to go public with his story at a press conference with Brinson.

After confirming the facts with Rogers and his close associates, APR’s Josh Moon published Rogers’ claims that Strange was present when Rogers received what he believed to be a bribe offer from those acting on Drummond’s behalf.

An email to Strange’s Senate and campaign spokesperson, Shana Teehan, by APR the evening before the Moon story, was to be published. Teehan, the former Shanna Kluck, was communications director for the Alabama Republican Party under Bill Armistead and has had APR’s email and cell phone contact for years. APR has received countless emails from Teehan as Strange’s Senate Communications Director and as campaign staff.

A quick check of my APR email shows 14 emails from Teehan from June 1 until June 28 with well over two dozen pages of emails from her.

In a statement, Strange’s operatives said, “As Alabama’s Attorney General, Sen. Strange led the National fight against the over-reaching Obama EPA in order to protect jobs in Alabama and across the country. The allegations in Josh Moon’s article are simply not true and smack of the same fake news that President Trump and Jeff Sessions are dealing with. As shown by the recent Veritas videos exposing CNN, too many in the media are unaccountable and have dropped all pretense of having standards, abusing and using the First Amendment as a cover for lying about their political enemies and boosting their ratings.”

Strange’s office didn’t send the statement to APR even though they regularly carpet bomb its email with press reports. A quick check of [email protected] finds 14 emails from Teehan from June 1 until June 28. Both she and Strange have my cell number, and I have theirs, but no calls were made to refute the story.

The day following our report on Rogers’ allegation, he began to backtrack by saying Strange had not been present at the meeting in which be believed he was offered a bribe.

On June 30, just 24 hours after APR’s first report, Moon revealed that Rogers had confirmed the original report but Rogers had asked that his confirmation statements not be made public until he could “tell all” on a local Birmingham radio show that Friday.

Strange’s high-powered Bradley Arrant lawyer wrote APR saying, “the fact that it was published without confirmation from the key source – Rep. Rogers – suggests on its face that your actions were malicious. These facts indicate that you intentionally published these false and defamatory statements or, at the least, that you published them with a reckless disregard for their falsity.”

The original report was confirmed with Rogers, before publication, it was checked with several individuals who Rogers had told the same story that he told APR during the 2017 Session.

Of course, none of this has stopped Strange from claiming “fake news” on Yellowhammer Radio.

This is the same Luther Strange who as Attorney General claimed he never “said” there was an investigation into Gov. Robert Bentley just before Bentley appointed him Senator. There was an investigation and he knew it. The same man who recused himself from the Speaker Mike Hubbard investigation because he took money from Hubbard’s Political Action Committee and then within 24 spent the same amount with one of Hubbard’s business interests. Hubbard, the former Speaker of the House, who was convicted of 12 counts of public corruption. However, as Attorney General, Strange allowed his Chief Deputy Kevin Turner to collude with others on his staff to derail Hubbard’s prosecution. Turner now serves as Strange’s chief of staff.

It is not yet clear if Rogers lied to APR and to others, or if he is lying now. Rogers claimed Strange was present when he was offered what he considered a bribe. Then he changed his story to Strange not being present. By the end of last week, Rogers was denying everything, telling WSFA News, “No, he was not there and there was no bribe. I haven’t talked to Drummond Coal either. That is not true. That is not true.”

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | The black hand behind Perry Hand

Bill Britt

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Perry Hand (via BCA)

Shortly after the Alabama Political Reporter made it known that the Business Council of Alabama’s Executive Board had voted on April 10 to terminate Billy Canary from his position as CEO, nearly a dozen Republican lawmakers were burning-up their mobile phones, trying to find out who Perry Hand is and who could convince him to push Canary out immediately. Hand wants to keep Canary in place until the fall

Billy Canary out at BCA, sort of 

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Hand’s motivation to protect Canary is not easily definable unless it’s weighed together with former Gov. Bob Riley’s plan to consolidate power after leaving office in 2010.

Perry A. Hand is the current BCA board chair and chairman of Volkert Inc., an engineering company, which primarily earns its money from government contracts. Volkert Inc. is a significant player in developing disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley’s lovenest, aka Gulf State Park.

Hand cut his teeth in politics first as a state senator under Gov. George Wallace but came to prominence as an appointee and confidant of accidental Republican Gov. Guy Hunt.

It was Hunt who appointed Hand to secretary of state in 1989, only to see him pummeled in the next general election when former Wallace aide Billy Joe Camp bested him by over 115,000 votes. Hand was also appointed the head of the department of transportation as another temporary position.

An Auburn engineering graduate, Hand found success at Volkert where he flourished, rising from the company’s marketing man to chairman and CEO of the Mobile-based firm.

The plan was elegantly simple: Riley’s handpicked successor Bradley Byrne as governor, Hubbard as speaker, Del Marsh as Senate president pro-tem and Luther Strange as attorney general. They would oust Dr. David Bronner at RSA, replacing him with one of their own, and the coup would be complete.

Now, it appears in the twilight of his career, Hand is the man who stands between Canary and some of the state’s most potent business interests who want to see him removed from BCA.

Canary’s deep connection to the Riley machine has been the secret of his success, and like his friend, former speaker of the House and convicted felon Mike Hubbard, that same connection is likely to be his downfall.

Before leaving office in 2010, Riley, along with Hubbard and Canary, devised a plan to carve up state government in such a way as to have the Riley machine controlling the levers of power for a generation and beyond.

The plan was elegantly simple: Riley’s handpicked successor Bradley Byrne as governor, Hubbard as speaker, Del Marsh as Senate president pro-tem and Luther Strange as attorney general. They would oust Dr. David Bronner at RSA, replacing him with one of their own, and the coup would be complete.

But that scheme unraveled first with Bentley’s election over Byrne, Strange’s hiring of prosecutor Matt Hart and the trial and conviction of Hubbard, which exposed the whole enterprise.

Canary, in effect, is the last man standing, and Riley and his gang are hard pressed to stand by while one of their last cohorts goes down in disgrace.

Marsh, for his part, washed his hands of the affair soon after Hubbard was under investigation and there was no longer a need to get rid of Bronner, because Riley loyalist, Canary’s wife Leura Canary, was installed at RSA to keep Bronner in check.

So, it is that Hand, with a few devious or unwitting members of the BCA board, are left to protect what’s left of Riley’s once-thriving empire.

There is little doubt that Canary’s days are numbered, but to think that Riley’s machine will walk away without a fight is naive.

However, greater forces are pushing for Canary’s exit, and if they stay strong, the black hand behind Perry Hand will fail.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Hey Batter, Batter: Taunting Ivey over debates is a silly thing

Bill Britt

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Gov. Kay Ivey throws out the first pitch at a Baron's baseball game in Birmingham, Alabama, on Thursday.

Some in the media, a handful of politicos and three Republican challengers for governor are dyspeptic over Gov. Kay Ivey’s decision to skip last Thursday’s debate to attend a baseball game.

While these head-to-head match-ups between Republican gubernatorial candidates might be entertaining, only the debate between the major party primary winners could prove decisive.

Ivey knows that she has little to fear from the men who want to replace her. So instead of engaging her Republican rivals, Ivey left them all standing like jilted prom dates to have some fun tossing out the first pitch at a Baron-Biscuits baseball game last Thursday night.

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No doubt the impish side of Gov. Ivey enjoyed donning a Magic City jersey to appear before a cheering crowd while across town campaign consultants and media types fretted over being deemed irrelevant by a governor who doesn’t care what they think.

Ivey’s opponent, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, cares that Ivey doesn’t give him the time of day, so does evangelist Scott Dawson and state Sen. Bill Hightower. But the sellout crowd of nearly 9,000 at the Baron-Biscuits baseball game Thursday night didn’t care about the debates, and neither do most voters who will determine the winner of the June Republican primary.

Why would a sitting governor who holds a 60-plus percent statewide approval rating attend an hour-long food-fight with candidates who aren’t even close to challenging her for election?

Ivey knows that she has little to fear from the men who want to replace her. So instead of engaging her Republican rivals, Ivey left them all standing like jilted prom dates to have some fun tossing out the first pitch at a Baron-Biscuits baseball game last Thursday night.

Like Thursday’s game where the Montgomery Biscuits took an early lead to defeat the Birmingham Barons 7-1, Ivey would be foolish to confront her opponents directly, when she already holds a commanding lead. Ivey will easily coast to victory in the ALGOP primary unless she commits an error, which is always a possibility in a public election.

Rarely do these stage confrontations have a significant impact on the outcome of a political contest, and usually, as with Thursday’s talkfest, nothing is actually learned by the viewer. Canned answers, even worse questions and general public apathy have made modern campaign forums almost useless— if the goal is to gain insight into how a candidate will govern.

Calls for Ivey to face Battle, Dawson and Hightower isn’t so much about a discussion of ideas but an opportunity for supercilious outrage as flimsy as a balsa wood cross whose bearer laments, “Ivey won’t debate.” Signal jackasses braying.

When talking heads and politicos whine and moan about Ivey ducking their get-togethers, it’s not about Ivey or the public’s interests – it’s about them.

What happened Thursday night wasn’t a serious policy debate or even a real opportunity to examine the candidates in any real meaningful way, it was a show. Like a beauty contest, moderators tossed out softball questions that drew vague answers.

When the candidates were asked if they supported Judge Roy Moore in the U.S. Senate, it was as if the moderator had hurled a beanball, with only Dawson directly admitting to voting for Moore while Battle and Hightower equivocated saying little more than they supported the Republican ticket.

The bloom may be off Moore’s rose, but the thorns remain, and that’s always been his appeal; a thorny character who doesn’t mind sticking his sharp finger in the blurred-eyed confusion of modernity. If Moore ran as an independent, he would give Ivey a real run for her money while sending the media into an apoplectic fit of indignation.

First off, only the left-leaning media cares about who supported Moore in the Senate election. Anyone who thinks a vote for Judge Moore hurts a candidate in an Alabama Republican primary doesn’t know much about Republican primary voters. In the ALGOP primary for the U.S. Senate race, Moore overwhelmingly bested his challenger, Luther Strange, by double-digits. He just barely lost to Democrat Doug Jones, even after all the scandal-mongering by the press.

A good 95 percent of the Alabama Republican Party’s base voted for Moore, including Gov. Ivey. Her vote for Moore will not hurt her in a Republican primary.

The bloom may be off Moore’s rose, but the thorns remain, and that’s always been his appeal; a thorny character who doesn’t mind sticking his sharp finger in the blurred-eyed confusion of modernity. If Moore ran as an independent, he would give Ivey a real run for her money while sending the media into an apoplectic fit of indignation.

There are no good reasons for Gov. Ivey to wade in to a blathering-pool for media ratings or to raise her opponents name-ID. All she needs to do between now and June is toss out more two-hoppers, shake hands, kiss babies, and she crosses home without breaking a sweat.

Now, if she refuses to face whoever emerges victorious from the Democrat primary, be it Judge Sue Bell Cobb, former state Rep. James Field or Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, then there will be a reason to call foul. Until then, taunting Ivey is a silly stunt.

As for Battle, Dawson and Hightower, each man, if not facing an incumbent, would be a formidable candidate and even perhaps a good governor. But like a grand slam, it’s all in the timing.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Court of Criminal Appeals continues its failure to rule in Hubbard case

Bill Britt

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Stock Photo

With the indictment, conviction and sentencing of former Republican Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, there was an expectation of change. But because the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals has failed to rule on Hubbard’s case, the once-hoped-for new dawn in Alabama politics is on hold.

For 11 months, the appeals court has been in procession of the final briefs needed to rule on Hubbard’s case, yet the court continues to stall its judgment.

For all the motions, pleading and downright cheating by Hubbard’s defense, it now comes down to politics and an elected court with judges who want to avoid putting Hubbard in jail, where a circuit court judge and jury of his peers in Lee County said he belongs.

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Most notably since Hubbard’s conviction, Criminal Appeals Court Judge Liles Burke has been nominated to the federal bench by President Donald Trump. Burke has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and awaits final confirmation by the full Senate.

How in the name of all that is justice and fair can the United States Senate in good conscience vote to confirm a man to a federal judgeship who will not rule on the most egregious public corruption case in Alabama in over the last decade?

For eleven months the appeals court has been in procession of the final briefs needed to rule on Hubbard’s case yet the court continues to stall its judgment.

How can Sens. Richard Shelby and Doug Jones vote to confirm a man like Burke who even now shrinks from his duty?

Has duty, honor and blind justice become so subservient to politics as to render an entire court neutered and slavishly beholden to the donor class?

Hubbard’s case is not complicated. Lee County Circuit Court Judge Jacob Walker III studiously and with an abundance of caution adjudicated Hubbard’s trial. There are no grand questions of law hanging over his rulings. What there is are big donors and influential men who were caught in the same web as Hubbard, and these individuals have access to the levers of power that frighten elected courts.

How is the public to trust that Burke will do any better given a lifetime appointment on a federal court? How can we as a state and nation believe that justice sits on the ultimate balance scale where no one individual is above the law no matter their status when the state court of criminal appeals weights case after case while ignoring Hubbard’s?

It seems there is nothing that can be done to move the court forward but what can and should be done is for Burke to be denied a seat of the federal court for failing to do his duty.

When then-Republican Speaker of the House Hubbard was indicted on 23 counts of felony ethics violations, many of us thought things would change. It didn’t. Many in the Republican supermajority stood by Hubbard at a rally the same days as his indictment and praised the would-be felon. Not only did Republicans stand by Hubbard after his indictments, every Democratic House member save Rep. Alvin Holmes voted to re-elect him speaker.

After Hubbard’s conviction on 12 of those 23 felony charges, once again, there was an expectation of better days to come. But those hopes for renewal are dashed against the hard reality that weak judges who know better and should enforce the law are crushed under the weight of the rich and powerful who believe they are a law unto themselves.

It is widely believed that the Court of Criminal Appeals will leave the Hubbard decision until a new court is seated in 2019, or worse, will dismiss it under the cover of darkness. Either way, the State Supreme Court will hear Hubbard’s appeal before the public has closure.

It seems there is nothing that can be done to move the court forward, but what can and should be done is to deny Burke a seat on the federal court for failing to do his duty.

The courts deserve women and men who put the law before political connivance – something that is sorely lacking here in the Heart of Dixie.

 

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APR stands by Rogers report

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