By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
High-ranking government officials and those close to Governor Robert Bentley are saying, that Attorney General Luther Strange is strongly being considered to replace Sen. Jeff Sessions upon his confirmation as US Attorney General. And of the many names being floated to fill Strange’s position, one name has risen to the top: Bentley’s close associate, Cooper Shattuck.
Friends and critics alike speaking on background say, for Bentley to appoint Shattuck would not only raise eyebrows, but it could also have unwelcome consequences.
Shattuck, considered a confidant of the Governor, recently resigned his post as General Counsel for the University of Alabama System. The Tuscaloosa-based attorney has seen his fortune rise, partly due to his relationship with the Governor. After serving as Chair of the Executive Committee of the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustee Council, Shattuck became Bentley’s Chief Counsel. Bentley arranged for Shattuck to serve as General Counsel for the University of Alabama System, a position Shattuck called his “dream job.” Shattuck said his departure from the University was a result of his desire to enter private law practice. He is, however, presently working as a contract lawyer for Bentley.
Shattuck’s name is linked to lawsuits filed by Spencer Collier, the former Secretary of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), and Wendall Ray Lewis, the former head of Bentley’s security detail and Chief of the Office of Dignitary Protection (a.k.a. Bentley’s body man). Collier and Lewis have both filed lawsuits against a pro-Bentley dark-money group called the Alabama Council for Excellent Government (ACEGOV), which Shattuck helped found.
Currently, the Special Prosecutions Division’s Chief Matt Hart has an ongoing Special Grand Jury probe in Montgomery County, where Bentley gave testimony last year.
It is widely believed that Shattuck’s role in founding the dark money/non-profit ACEGOV might earn him an invitation to the Montgomery Courthouse and a seat before the Special Grand Jury.
If speculation is true, Bentley’s appointment of Shattuck to replace Strange will set up a potential conflict of interest.
Strange’s comment that he never said there was an investigation into Bentley has clouded the issue both here in the State and in Washington DC, where there is growing concern that the Governor’s appointment of Sen. Sessions’ replacement could itself become a matter for a Justice Department inquiry.
Bentley’s woes surrounding his relationship with Mason have led him to accuse several individuals of criminal acts, including his wife, one of his sons, and a daughter-in-law, according to lawsuits filed by Collier and Lewis. A forthcoming ethics complaint will accuse Bentley of using Law Enforcement and State resources as a tool to damage his political critics.
On Monday, the Governor called for an investigation of The Alabama Political Reporter’s sources, in an emotionally charged statement to a press gaggle gathered at the winter meeting of the Alabama Sheriff’s Association. WSFA’s John O’Connor caught Bentley’s comments on tape as he accused APR’s confidential sources of a crime.
Bentley told reporter Mike Cason on Tuesday, “I think my statement really stands….What I said yesterday was that if leaks occurred, illegally, that should be investigated. And I certainly think that what was reported would be leaks.”
Bentley’s history of accusing others of wrongdoing and using State resources to investigate critics as alleged in a new ethics complaint is creating an atmosphere of paranoia, anger, and distrust among former staffers and Law Enforcement.
At Monday’s presser Bentley said, “There has been a lot of rumors and innuendos and political foolishness that is going on in the last year.”
There is a persistent worry among old friends and current allies that Bentley is unstable and is prone to making rash decisions; even those close to him believe he is at fault for the foolishness engulfing State politics.