By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Monday, May 30, 2016, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (R) sent a letter denying State Auditor Jim Zeigler’s (R) request to hire outside counsel to compel Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) to appear before a summons by the Auditor to answer questions regarding Bentley’s alleged misuse of state resources.
Strange wrote to Zeigler, “As you know the state Auditor performs duties that are limited in scope and reach. The Auditor is not vested with plenary power to conduct investigations of any and all officers of the state of Alabama or to compel the appearance and testimony of those officers.”
According to Strange, “Rather the authority to conduct an investigation into criminal wrongdoing is vested in the Attorney General, who may institute and prosecute in the name of the state all civil and other proceeding necessary to protect the rights and interests of the state.”
Strange based his ruling on a previous Bill Pryor (R) Attorney General’s opinion.
Strange said that he was aware of the allegations against Governor Bentley and acknowledged that his office was investigating into whether or not any state laws were broken.
Zeigler said that his efforts to compel Gov. Robert Bentley to testify before him have hit a roadblock in Strange’s opinion turning down his authority to file a civil suit to compel Bentley to testify before Zeigler.
Zeigler said that after Bentley failed to comply with the auditor’s “Order to Appear” on May 2 would file a civil suit seeking a court order requiring Bentley to appear, called a “Writ of Mandamus.
Zeigler said that he is studying the AG’s denial to determine what options he now has to enforce the Order to Appear.
Zeigler said, “Using state money or state facilities or state resources for personal use is problematic under the ethics law and possibly under other laws. That’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking at using state resources for personal use.”
Bentley has been accused of having an affair with senior political adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason. He denies a physical affair or misuse of his office. Mason has since resigned. Mason and her husband have both been well compensated for their roles with the state and the Bentley campaign. Some have questioned if all of that was legal and ethical.
The governor in April said the “appropriate legal process” for complaints is through the Alabama Ethics Commission. Zeigler has already filed a complaint there.
Twenty-three lawmakers last month signed articles of impeachment against the governor. The articles triggered a House Judiciary Committee probe on whether there are grounds for impeachment. To date they have not ruled. There is also a federal Justice Department investigation into Gov. Bentley’s conduct; but to date Gov. Bentley has not been formally charged with anything.
Zeigler said, “The people of Alabama do not want to wait until 2017 to have the air cleared on the multiple problems in the Bentley administration.”