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Collier Says Impeachment Investigation is a Joke

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—Tens of thousands of the people’s tax dollars are being spent to fund a special counsel, hired specifically to investigate the possibility of impeaching Governor Robert Bentley.

APR has spoken with several of the people who have been interviewed, and they say the investigators seem more interested in exonerating the Governor, rather than gathering evidence to impeach him.

Those who spoke with APR for this report, prefer to remain anonymous except for the State’s former law enforcement Chief, Spencer Collier.

Collier revealed much of what is known about Bentley and his alleged inappropriate behavior with Rebekah Cadwell Mason (the Governor’s former senior advisor and alleged paramour) during interviews with the press. Collier came forward after being terminated from his position as Secretary of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA). Collier is suing Bentley, Mason, and others for wrongful termination and defamation of character.

Collier recently met with two associates from the law firm of Lightfoot, White & Franklin; the firm hired to conduct the impeachment investigation. The Alabama House Judiciary Committee retained this firm based on the reputation of one of its partners, Jackson Sharman, III, who served as special counsel to the US House Banking Committee during its Whitewater Investigation.

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The Whitewater controversy centered around alleged wrong doings by President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in a real estate investment in the 1970s and 80s. The four and a half-year inquiry of the president and first lady cost the taxpayers $39.2 million. Several former Clinton associates were convicted. However, charges were never brought against the Clintons.

Sharman is serving as special counsel for the impeachment committee formed in the House.

Collier and his attorney, Kenny Mendelson, met with Sharman’s associates Ben Willson and Wesley Gilchrist for over four hours at Mendelson’s office, during which time, the pair focused mainly on the “love affair,” according to Collier. He also said the trial lawyers devoted lots of time asking questions about Matt Hart, Division Chief of the Attorney General’s Special Prosecution Unit. The unit has numerous indictments and guilty verdicts under its belt, with the conviction of former House Speaker Mike Hubbard as the most notable to date.

The House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment inquiry grew out of the Hubbard trial after it became known that Bentley instructed Collier to lie to the Attorney General’s Office about its findings, in connection with prosecutorial misconduct allegations made by lawyer and radio host, Baron Coleman.

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Recalling his meeting with Sherman’s associates, Collier said he was astonished the men didn’t understand the severity of Bentley asking him to lie to agents of the Attorney General’s Office. “When I told them law enforcement has a duty to disobey an unlawful order they said, ‘no you don’t, you have to do what the Governor says.’ They seemed not to understand that Bentley’s authority wasn’t above the law.” State law makes it a felony crime to lie to Attorney General’s officers.

Collier found it particularly disturbing that Gilchrist and Wilson “hounded” him for all communication between him and Hart. “They were more concerned about what Matt and I talked about than what they might learn from those around Bentley on a daily basis, the ones who know where all the bodies are buried.” Collier said Sharman’s investigators had not considered talking with the “boots-on-the-ground” security officers who attended Bentley daily. “These officers know what State resources were used or are still being employed by the Governor.”

Another former staffer who spoke with Gilchrist and Wilson characterized the interview as an “amateur hour.” Other former Bentley hires are refusing to meet with Gilchrist and Wilson because they believe the investigation by the defense attorney is a ruse to cover for the Governor.

Some on the impeachment committee are privately questioning why Committee Chair Rep. Mike Jones, who is overseeing the inquest, is holding frequent meetings with Bentley’s private attorney, Joe Espy.

Collier said Gilchrist and Wilson conducted themselves professionally but failed to grasp the basics of carrying out an investigation of this nature.

Over the last few months, Collier says he’s met with the FBI several times and with members of the Attorney General’s Special Prosecution Divison on more than a dozen occasions, and he is fully cooperating with both investigations. However, he will not be meeting with Sharman’s associates again, because they are unprepared, and it is a waste of time.

Another individual said Gilchrist and Wilson allowed just two minutes in questioning about Bentley.

Collier stated that they might be excellent lawyers at a prestigious firm but “They are missing the details, and focusing on the wrong things.” Collier said, “It’s a joke, but that’s what you get when you hire litigators instead of an investigator.” As an example, Collier said the pair admitted they hadn’t thought to interview Wanda Kelly or other women who worked in the Governor’s suite. “They haven’t reached out to guys like Reggie Hawkins who know what’s going on,” said Collier. He questions why Gilchrist and Wilson were so curious about Heather Hannah and Collier Tynes, Mrs. Bentley’s former personal assistant, and communication director respectively.

Gilchrist and Wilson, however, didn’t even show interest in Bentley renting a private jet for his 2014 reelection campaign. Collier believes the rental could be a problem for Bentley because there were some questions about its use.

According to those with knowledge of the events surrounding the private jet rental claim, even one of Bentley’s most loyal staffers, Zac Lee said the Governor is going to prison over this plane. “I was straight-up with them,” said Collier, “I said ‘Guys at this rate you will have evidence to impeach Robert Bentley in about five years,” adding, “They are clueless, and the committee should have hired investigators, not defense lawyers.”

However, Chairman Jones seemed proud of hiring Sharman, telling The Auburn Plainsman, “The most important part of this whole process is the selection of special counsel. We chose a person, who frankly I didn’t know existed in this State. I didn’t know we had somebody with the level of experience and background that he’s got.”

On several occasions, Collier’s attorney reached out to Sharman for a meeting, but so far, their request has been ignored.

The impeachment committee will conduct its first meeting since hiring Sharman on Tuesday.

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Tuberville calls for term limits, balanced budget and lobbying reform

Tuberville has also made a major media buy across the state to trumpet this message.

Brandon Moseley

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Republican Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville (TUBERVILLE CAMPAIGN)

Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville’s campaign began emphasizing key structural reforms that the Republican nominee hopes to advance if elected to the U.S. Senate including congressional term limits, withholding lawmakers’ paychecks unless a balanced budget is passed and a ban on former officials becoming lobbyists.

“Only an outsider like me can help President Trump drain the Swamp, and any of the proposals outlined in this ad will begin the process of pulling the plug,” Tuberville said in a statement. “Doug Jones has had his chance, and he failed our state, so now it’s time to elect a senator who will work to fundamentally change the way that Washington operates.”

Tuberville has also made a major media buy across the state to trumpet this message.

“You know Washington politicians could learn a lot from the folks in small town Alabama, but Doug Jones … he’s too liberal to teach them,” Tuberville added.

Polls consistently show that term limits are popular with people across both political parties, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that imposing term limits would be adding a qualification to be a member of Congress and that can only be done by constitutional amendment.

It is an unspoken truth that when Americans send someone to Congress they never come back. They either keep getting re-elected like Alabama’s own Sen. Richard Shelby, who is in his sixth term in the Senate after four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. On the other hand, they may become lobbyists getting paid to influence their colleagues on behalf of corporations, foreign governments or some well funded non-government organization.

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Tuberville said he would ban that practice.

A balanced budget amendment almost passed in the 1980s and again in the 1990s.

Since that failure, Congress has increasingly passed bigger and bigger budget deficits. The U.S. government borrowed more money during the eight years of President George W. Bush’s presidency than the government had borrowed in the first 224 years of the country combined.

President Barack Obama followed and the TARP program propped up the post-Great Recession economy. Rather than cutting the deficit, President Donald Trump invested billions in the military and a tax cut without cutting domestic spending. The 2020 coronavirus crisis has further grown the budget.

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The government has borrowed trillions to prop up the economy and provide stimulus while investing billions into medical research and treating the virus victims. Congress is currently debating a fifth stimulus package that would add more to the deficit.

Both a balanced budget amendment and a term limits amendment would have to be ratified by the states if passed by Congress. Tuberville is challenging incumbent Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama.

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House passes General Fund Budget

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama House of Representatives passed the state General Fund Budget on Tuesday.

The General Fund Budget for the 2019 fiscal year is Senate Bill 178. It is sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose. State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, carried the budget on the House floor. Clouse chairs the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee.

Clouse said, “Last year we monetized the BP settlement money and held over $97 million to this year.”

Clouse said that the state is still trying to come up with a solution to the federal lawsuit over the state prisons. The Governor’s Office has made some progress after she took over from Gov. Robert Bentley. The supplemental we just passed added $30 million to prisons.

The budget adds $50 million to the Department of Corrections.

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Clouse said that the budget increased the money for prisons by $55,680,000 and includes $4.8 million to buy the privately-owned prison facility in Perry County.

Clouse said that the budget raises funding for the judicial system and raises the appropriation for the Forensic Sciences to $11.7 million.

The House passed a committee substitute so the Senate is either going to have to concur with the changes made by the House or a conference committee will have to be appointed. Clouse told reporters that he hoped that it did not have to go to conference.

Clouse said that the budget had added $860,000 to hire more Juvenile Probation Officers. After talking to officials with the court system that was cut in half in the amendment. The amendment also includes some wording the arbiters in the court lawsuit think we need.

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The state General Fund Budget, SB178, passed 98-1.

Both budgets have now passed the Alabama House of Representatives.

The 2019 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, 2018.

In addition to the SGF, the House also passed a supplemental appropriation for the current 2018 budget year. SB175 is also sponsored by Pittman and was carried by Clouse on the floor of the House.

SB175 includes $30 million in additional 2018 money for the Department of Corrections. The Departmental Emergency Fund, the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Insurance Department and Forensic Sciences received additional money.

Clouse said, “We knew dealing with the federal lawsuit was going to be expensive. We are adding $80 million to the Department of Corrections.”

State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow, R-Red Bay, said that state Department of Forensics was cut from $14 million to $9 million. “Why are we adding money for DA and courts if we don’t have money for forensics to provide evidence? if there is any agency in law enforcement or the court system that should be funded it is Forensics.”

The supplemental 2018 appropriation passed 80 to 1.

The House also passed SB203. It was sponsored by Pittman and was carried in the House by State Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton. It raises securities and registration fees for agents and investment advisors. It increases the filing fees for certain management investment companies. Johnson said that those fees had not been adjusted since 2009.

The House also passed SB176, which is an annual appropriation for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The bill requires that the agency have an operations plan, audited financial statement, and quarterly and end of year reports. SB176 is sponsored by Pittman and was carried on the House floor by State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatham.

The House passed Senate Bill 185 which gives state employees a cost of living increase in the 2019 budget beginning on October 1. It was sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville and was being carried on the House floor by state Rep. Dimitri Polizos, R-Montgomery.

Polizos said that this was the first raise for non-education state employees in nine years. It is a 3 percent raise.

SB185 passed 101-0.

Senate Bill 215 gives retired state employees a one time bonus check. SB215 is sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville.

Rich said that retired employees will get a bonus $1  for every month that they worked for the state. For employees who retired with 25 years of service that will be a $300 one time bonus. A 20-year retiree would get $240 and a 35-year employee would get $420.

SB215 passed the House 87-0.

The House passed Senate Bill 231, which is the appropriation bill increase amount to the Emergency Forest Fire and Insect and Disease Fund. SB231 is sponsored by Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette.

State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chathom, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill my district is full of trees and you never know when a forest fire will hit.

SB231 passed 87-2.

The state of Alabama is unique among the states in that most of the money is earmarked for specific purposes allowing the Legislature little year-to-year flexibility in moving funds around.

The SGF includes appropriations for the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the courts, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Department of Corrections, mental health, and most state agencies that are no education related. The Alabama Department of Transportation gets their funding mostly from state fuel taxes.

The Legislature also gives ALEA a portion of the gas taxes. K-12 education, the two year college system, and all the universities get their state support from the education trust fund (ETF) budget. There are also billions of dollars in revenue that are earmarked for a variety of purposes that does not show up in the SGF or ETF budgets.

Examples of that include the Public Service Commission, which collects utility taxes from the industries that it regulates. The PSC is supported entirely by its own revenue streams and contributes $13 million to the SGF. The Secretary of State’s Office is entirely funded by its corporate filing and other fees and gets no SGF appropriation.

Clouse warned reporters that part of the reason this budget had so much money was due to the BP oil spill settlement that provided money for the 2018 budget and $97 million for the 2019 budget. Clouse said they elected to make a $13 million repayment to the Alabama Trust fund that was not due until 2020 but that is all that was held over for 2020.

Clouse predicted that the Legislature will have to make some hard decisions about revenue in next year’s session.

 

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Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

The day care bill, which would license certain day care centers in Alabama, was once again delayed on the state Senate floor after one lawmaker requested more information.

Its brief appearance Tuesday ended with state Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, saying a compromise had not yet been worked out with the bill’s detractors.

Alabama’s Senate has been hesitant to act on the legislation because of complaints of state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, who has been an opponent of the bill since its introduction last year. The bill’s delay on Tuesday marks the second time its been taken off the Senate’s agenda.

The bill has had a rocky time in this year’s session, but the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she is still confident about its passage out of the Legislature.

Warren, D-Tuskegee, filed the bill this session with the support of influential lawmakers including Gov. Kay Ivey, who told reporters last year that she though all day cares should be licensed.

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Mainly sparked by the death of 5-year-old boy in the care of a unlicensed day care worker, the bill had great momentum coming into this year’ session.

Despite the growing support from lawmakers, Religious groups had concerns that the bill would increase state-sponsored reach into religious day cares in churches and non-profit groups.

Spearheading the dissenters was Alabama Citizens Action Program, a conservative religious-based PAC.

Warren, proponents, and ALCAP announced a compromise to the bill while it was still in the Alabama House.

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Announced by ALCAP originally, the new bill was a weaker version in that it did not require that all day cares in the state be regulated. Instead, religious-based day cares would only need to be registered if they received federal funds. At a Senate committee meeting in February, Warren said a similar requirement was about to come from federal law in Congress.

The bill moved through the House in a overwhelming vote in favor of the proposal and passed unanimously out of a Senate committee a few weeks ago.

Warren, speaking to reporters after its passage from the House, said she was unsure if the bill would encounter resistance in the upper chamber.

It was the Senate that killed the daycare bill last year amid a cramped last day where senators took the bill off the floor. The bill may face similar complications this year, as lawmakers seem to be preparing to adjourn within a few weeks.

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Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

Would-be Fantasy Sports players in Alabama will have to wait to legally play in the state following a Senate vote on Tuesday.

The Alabama Senate decisively killed a bill to exempt fantasy sports from the state’s prohibition on gambling.

Not even entertaining a debate on the Senate floor, the proposal was killed during a vote for the Budget Isolation Resolution, which is usually a formality vote preluding a debate.

Fantasy sports are contests where participants select players from real teams to compete on fantasy teams using the real-world players’ stats.

Since 2016, the practice has been illegal in Alabama following a legal decision by the Attorney General’s Office that categorized it as gambling.

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The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, predicted the bill’s failure during a committee meeting two weeks ago, where the bill passed unanimously.

Sen. Paul Sanford speaks to reporters after a Senate Committee meeting on Feb. 28, 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR)

Speaking to reporter’s after the committee meeting, Sanford said the decision to file the bill was mainly a philosophical belief that the practice shouldn’t be illegal.

Sanford, a fantasy sports player before its ban, said that fantasy sports are a way to bring people closer together and not a means to win money. The Huntsville senator is not seeking re-election.

The bill’s failure in the Senate follows its trajectory last year too. A similar version of the bill, also sponsored by Sanford, failed in the Senate during the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session.

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Since Sanford is retiring, it is unclear if the bill will even come back next session, or if it will even have a Senate sponsor.

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