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.
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.
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.