Gov. Robert Bentley appointed Steve Marshall to be Alabama attorney general after Marshall agreed to launch an investigation into Special Prosecution Division Chief Matt Hart and Acting Attorney General Van Davis, who successfully prosecuted former Speaker Mike Hubbard.
According to well-placed sources, Marshall was the only district attorney that Bentley approached who promised he would take on Hart and Davis in exchange for the appointment as attorney general.
More individuals have come forward after the Bentley grand jury investigation concluded, confirming what APR had found after months of interviews.
The final agreement to give Marshall the attorney general’s job was reached the day before Bentley appointed former Attorney General Luther Strange to fill Jeff Sessions’ seat in the U.S. Senate.
According to Bentley’s official calendar — a copy of which is now kept at the Alabama Archives — he met with Marshall on Feb. 9 at 8 a.m. That was the day before Bentley’s press conference in which he appointed Strange to the Senate.
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Hours after Marshall met with Bentley on Feb. 9, a high-ranking Bentley staffer commented to several people at the capitol, saying in effect, “We now have an attorney general who will get these rogue prosecutors at the AG’s office.”
On Feb. 9, just after the Strange press conference, Bentley began interviewing candidates for the AG’s position. Former deputy AG Alice Martin was his first interviewee. Marshall was his second, meeting with the governor for the second time in two days. Marshall was the only attorney general candidate to meet twice with Bentley, and he was the only candidate to meet with Bentley in the week leading up to the appointment.
The following day, on Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, after interviewing the remaining seven candidates, Bentley appointed Marshall to the position. A tweet from the governor’s Twitter account went out at 6:08 p.m., just four hours after the final interview for the job had ended.
“I was in the car driving home from my interview with Bentley when the tweet went out,” said a lawmaker who was considered a favorite for the AG slot. “I was shocked by his insincerity, he had already made his choice. We were just window dressing,” he said on background.
“We now have an attorney general who will get these rogue prosecutors at the AG’s office.”
The Attorney General’s Office denies agreeing to such a plan.
“The only assurance given to Robert Bentley by Attorney General Marshall at the time of his appointment was to enforce the law and uphold the Constitution,” a spokesman for Marshall said. “Any suggestion to the contrary is absurd and patently false.”
Marshall never launched an official investigation into Hart’s team or Davis as he promised Bentley, but what he has done is systematically undermine criminal cases and dismantle the special prosecutions unit by withholding assets and reassigning its staff to other cases unrelated to public corruption.
Marshall’s appointment is rooted in the state’s case against Republican Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, who Davis and Hart would successfully prosecute on 12 counts of felony ethics violations.
Before and during his trial, Hubbard’s cronies and legal team repeatedly accused Hart and Davis of prosecutorial misconduct, an accusation that was rejected by Lee County Circuit Court Judge Jacob Walker III who served as the trial judge in Hubbard’s case.
During the lead-up to Hubbard’s conviction on felony ethics violations, Bentley and his special advisor, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, became obsessed with Hart, believing him to be more nefarious than Hubbard.
Mason and Bentley both shared their suspicions about Hart with a growing circle including staffers, state law-enforcement officers, federal investigators and even a journalist or two. Bentley was convinced that Hart was “out to get Becca,” his pet name for his married lover, Mason.
Mason confirmed Rane’s attempts to influence Bentley to remove Hart and Davis…
The couple’s fears were egged on by Hubbard’s friends and associates who wanted Bentley to launch an investigation into Hart and Davis during the Hubbard’s pre-trial hearings.
According to a source with direct knowledge of these and other incidents, powerful businessman Jimmy Rane, CEO of Great Southern Wood, approached Bentley on more than one occasion to encourage him to stop Hart’s investigation into Hubbard. Rane would be caught up in Hubbard’s illegal activities along with other powerful business interests who are now funding Marshall’s campaign for attorney general. Mason confirmed Rane’s attempts to influence Bentley to remove Hart and Davis from Hubbard’s case and appoint a special prosecutor, according to one of Mason’s confidants at the time.
Mason’s fear and hatred of Hart took many manifestations, according to two former staffers speaking on background, the most public of which was the firing of ALEA Secretary Spencer Collier in retaliation for cooperating with the Attorney General’s investigation into Hubbard.
Over time Mason’s torment increased, and she believed she and Bentley needed to destroy Hart before he could destroy them…
During the Hubbard investigation, Mason became convinced that Hart’s team had a “hit list” of individuals they would target after Hubbard’s trial. The so-called hit list, APR confirmed, never existed except in the minds of those who were being manipulated by Hubbard’s supporters.
The alleged hit list was not something Hart had drawn-up; instead, it was a scheme executed by Hubbard’s allies to alienate Hart and turn influential individuals against him. Even after Mason was assured that no such list existed, she grudgingly demurred choosing to believe the lie perpetrated by Hubbard’s backers.
Over time, Mason’s torment increased, and she believed she and Bentley needed to destroy Hart before he could destroy them, according to those who witnessed some of the couple’s discussions. According to members of the Bentley team, the governor would angrily fume about Hart constantly as his fears grew that Hart would come after “precious Becca.”
A former law-enforcement official confirmed to APR that not only did Bentley seek an investigation by local prosecutors to go after Hart and Davis, he also asked for help from the FBI, who found no reason to pursue Bentley and Mason’s fantasy accusations against Hart and Davis.
Mason was warned before Collier’s firing that she was being played by Hubbard’s allies, who wanted her to believe she was a target. She was also advised that her actions might very well lead to her being a suspect, according to an individual who cited several conversations he had with Mason.
At an introductory press conference, the following Monday after Bentley appointed him attorney general, Marshall said he had spent the previous two days in Montgomery meeting with the AG’s office staff, but said he was unaware if Bentley was under investigation by the office. If the governor were under investigation, Marshall said, he would be forced to recuse from that investigation.
Martin, who was still serving as chief deputy AG at the time, called Marshall’s comment untrue. She said she personally informed Marshall of the Bentley investigation and provided the new AG with a “briefing packet” outlining what had been done so far.
At the time, Bentley had already testified before a grand jury in Montgomery, and Strange, Martin and Hart were all present. That investigation was honing in on Bentley’s potential misuse of state funds to facilitate and cover up his inappropriate relationship with staffer Rebekah Mason.
That investigation would, of course, lead to Bentley pleading guilty to breaking campaign finance laws and resigning as governor.
More serious charges before the grand jury investigating Bentley were dropped after it found that state statute doesn’t cover a governor using law-enforcement to threaten and intimidate for political reasons. It also found that helping your girlfriend while being governor is not illegal under current law.