By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
An article published by The Alabama Political Reporter (APR) has drawn fire from campaign operatives for freshman Senator Luther Strange and his attorney at his old law firm, Bradley Arrant.
An email containing a letter from Bradley partner Joseph B. Mays, Jr., was received by APR on June 30, in which he demands, “…removal and retraction of false and libelous statements in an article on your website titled, ‘Source: State Rep. Offered Superfund Bribe with Strange Present.'”
The story revolves around a Federal probe that ensnared former State Rep. Oliver Robinson, who earlier this month reached a plea agreement to Federal charges of fraud, bribery, corruption, and tax evasion. The agreement is related to Robinson allegedly accepting bribes from a powerful Birmingham law firm, Balch Bingham. According to the release, Robinson was paid to advocate against the expansion of a massive EPA Superfund site in Birmingham. Balch Bingham’s client, Drummond Coal, and its affiliate ABC Coke would have potentially had to pay millions for the cleanup. A Balch attorney and a Drummond executive are both listed as unindicted co-conspirators in the release from the US Attorney’s Office in Birmingham.
Last year, shortly after Robinson resigned from the Alabama House of Representatives, claiming a conflict of interest (because his daughter was working for then-Governor Robert Bentley), State Rep. John Rogers began telling how the same people had approached him as Robinson, but that he turned them down.
During the beginning days of the 2017 Legislative Session, Rogers approached APR with this story. But as there was no context from which to draw a conclusion or make a printable narrative, Rogers allegations stayed mostly within the halls of the State House.
However, in June, Rogers told US Senate candidate Dr. Randy Brinson, who is running against Strange, that he told Federal investigators that Drummond Coal executives offered him a similar deal to Robinson’s. According to Brinson and others present, Rogers agreed to go public with his story at a press conference with Brinson.
After confirming the facts with Rogers and his close associates, APR’s Josh Moon published Rogers’ claims that Strange was present when Rogers received what he believed to be a bribe offer from those acting on Drummond’s behalf.
An email to Strange’s Senate and campaign spokesperson, Shana Teehan, by APR the evening before the Moon story, was to be published. Teehan, the former Shanna Kluck, was communications director for the Alabama Republican Party under Bill Armistead and has had APR’s email and cell phone contact for years. APR has received countless emails from Teehan as Strange’s Senate Communications Director and as campaign staff.
A quick check of my APR email shows 14 emails from Teehan from June 1 until June 28 with well over two dozen pages of emails from her.
In a statement, Strange’s operatives said, “As Alabama’s Attorney General, Sen. Strange led the National fight against the over-reaching Obama EPA in order to protect jobs in Alabama and across the country. The allegations in Josh Moon’s article are simply not true and smack of the same fake news that President Trump and Jeff Sessions are dealing with. As shown by the recent Veritas videos exposing CNN, too many in the media are unaccountable and have dropped all pretense of having standards, abusing and using the First Amendment as a cover for lying about their political enemies and boosting their ratings.”
Strange’s office didn’t send the statement to APR even though they regularly carpet bomb its email with press reports. A quick check of [email protected] finds 14 emails from Teehan from June 1 until June 28. Both she and Strange have my cell number, and I have theirs, but no calls were made to refute the story.
The day following our report on Rogers’ allegation, he began to backtrack by saying Strange had not been present at the meeting in which be believed he was offered a bribe.
On June 30, just 24 hours after APR’s first report, Moon revealed that Rogers had confirmed the original report but Rogers had asked that his confirmation statements not be made public until he could “tell all” on a local Birmingham radio show that Friday.
Strange’s high-powered Bradley Arrant lawyer wrote APR saying, “the fact that it was published without confirmation from the key source – Rep. Rogers – suggests on its face that your actions were malicious. These facts indicate that you intentionally published these false and defamatory statements or, at the least, that you published them with a reckless disregard for their falsity.”
The original report was confirmed with Rogers, before publication, it was checked with several individuals who Rogers had told the same story that he told APR during the 2017 Session.
Of course, none of this has stopped Strange from claiming “fake news” on Yellowhammer Radio.
This is the same Luther Strange who as Attorney General claimed he never “said” there was an investigation into Gov. Robert Bentley just before Bentley appointed him Senator. There was an investigation and he knew it. The same man who recused himself from the Speaker Mike Hubbard investigation because he took money from Hubbard’s Political Action Committee and then within 24 spent the same amount with one of Hubbard’s business interests. Hubbard, the former Speaker of the House, who was convicted of 12 counts of public corruption. However, as Attorney General, Strange allowed his Chief Deputy Kevin Turner to collude with others on his staff to derail Hubbard’s prosecution. Turner now serves as Strange’s chief of staff.
It is not yet clear if Rogers lied to APR and to others, or if he is lying now. Rogers claimed Strange was present when he was offered what he considered a bribe. Then he changed his story to Strange not being present. By the end of last week, Rogers was denying everything, telling WSFA News, “No, he was not there and there was no bribe. I haven’t talked to Drummond Coal either. That is not true. That is not true.”