By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—The investigation into Governor Robert Bentley has taken a new turn, with the recusal of US Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, George Beck. Those with knowledge of the investigation believe that Beck’s recusal is due to his long association with donors, consultants, and advisors, who have been been involved in various capacities with the Bentley administration.
While much of the probe into allegations against Bentley has been under the FBI’s Public Integrity Section (PIN), ultimate oversight has now been given to John A. Horn the US Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. PIN oversees the federal effort to combat corruption by prosecuting elected and appointed public officials at all levels of government.
Horn, a career prosecutor, was appointed by the Obama administration in 2015, for the district that runs from the mountains of northern Georgia to the Atlanta suburbs in the south, and from the western border of Alabama to the two Carolinas in the east. The primary office is located in the US courthouse in Atlanta.
Bentley continues to claim he has done nothing unethical, or illegal. He recently reminded the voters that God had chosen him to lead the State, and that he would finish that mission.
A task force from the FBI, the Postmaster General, and the IRS is conducting the investigation into allegations of obstruction of justice, fraudulent use of campaign contributions, improper use of State resources, and other potential criminal acts, according to former Bentley confidants, and staffers, who are cooperating with the investigators. The most serious scrutiny surrounds Bentley’s involvement with Rebekah Caldwell Mason, his former senior advisor, and alleged paramour.
Mason’s husband, Jon is also a topic of inquiry, as well as current Bentley staffers, and former insiders, who have been interviewed (All speaking on background, as to not compromise their role in the criminal investigation).
Current staffers whose names have been mentioned in interviews are, Aide-de-camp Jake Jacobs, Director of Federal & Local Government Affairs Zach Lee, and Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, Jon Barganier, according to two prominent sources. While their are no allegations of wrongdoing by those individuals at this time, there are serious questions being asked about a potential cover-up within the administration. Those who are believed to be under the greatest threat are ALEA Chief, Stan Stabler, and SBI Director, Gene Wiggins. Stabler has publicly made several statements and taken official actions in his roll as “Top Cop,” which has lead to his prominence as a suspect in a cover-up within ALEA and in the Bentley camp.
Stabler has denied closing a case involving State Senator Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City), as well as other criminal investigations. He has also stated that former ALEA Chief, Spencer Collier and others, were under investigation for misuse of State funds/resources.
While the federal probe into Bentley has taken on new life, the investigation by agents from the Alabama ethics commission has similarly entered a new phase, with another round of subpoenas being issued last week, according to those close to the investigation.
More trouble is on the horizon for the embattled Governor as Collier’s civil suit against Bentley, Mason, and others moves forward. Bentley is expected to testify at the upcoming criminal trial for Speaker Mike Hubbard, who stands accused of 23 felony counts of public corruption. Many suspect Bentley will be brutally grilled under cross examination. Several attorneys have wondered aloud if Bentley will be forced to invoke his Fifth Amendment Right under a withering cross by Hubbard’s attorney Bill Baxley.
With Beck’s recusal, and the introduction of a host of outside players, Bentley, Mason, and others may face an uncertain future, as the weight of justice closes in on this beleaguered administration.