When President Donald J. Trump chose Alabama’s U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General, that opened a door for then-Gov. Robert Bentley to solve two problems.
As Bentley and his alleged girlfriend, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, saw it, Attorney General Luther Strange was a problem, so were Special Prosecutions Division Chief Matt Hart and Acting Attorney General Van Davis, who had successfully prosecuted Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard.
Strange had backed Hart and Davis’ prosecution of Hubbard, and now Bentley and Mason believed Hart and Davis were coming for them.
Bentley and Mason devised a plan; appoint Strange to replace Sessions and find an attorney general candidate who would launch an investigation into Hart and Davis.
By removing Strange from the picture and then by discrediting Hart and Davis through a bogus investigation, Bentley and Mason concluded they could end any probe that might ensnare them and allow Hubbard to argue prosecutorial misconduct on appeal successfully.
More than a year before Hubbard was indicted on 23 felony counts involving public corruption in Oct. 2014, he and his cronies engaged in an elaborate public relations campaign to discredit what he perceived as his enemies in the press and the prosecution led by Hart.
As APR reported in Oct. 2013, Hubbard and his white collar criminal defense attorney, J. Mark White, began a PR ruse with a fawning letter to many in the state press corps in an effort to solicit their help in painting Hubbard as an innocent man who has been libeled by “others” with malicious intent. According to White, his client is a victim, and in a three-page press release, in the guise of a report, he is turning to those whom he refers to as “the legitimate press” to set the record straight.
Of course, White was playing the press as was later revealed in court documents showing when Hubbard became aware of Hart’s investigation.
Not only did Hubbard masterfully manipulate the press corps, his emissaries privately lobbied Bentley to remove Hart or at least appoint an independent counsel to investigate he and Davis.
Hubbard team even asked trial Judge Jacob Walker III to grant a special counsel to investigate Hart and Davis but he rejected the idea.
But these were just a few of the tactics Hubbard employed. In 2015, Hubbard’s machine began a whisper campaign to convince powerful Montgomery insiders that Hart and Davis had a “hit list” of individuals who would come under fire by the Special Prosecutions Division after Hubbard’s conviction. According to the rumors, Hubbard had spread Bentley and Mason were at the top of Hart’s list.
Mason became terrified and persuaded Bentley that Hart was corrupt, even more evil than Hubbard. Even after receiving assurances that she and Bentley were not “targets,” Mason remained paranoid believing Hart was out to get her. Bentley, for his part, wasn’t going to let anyone harm “precious Becca,” according to those within Bentley’s inner circle.
Hubbard’s attorneys Lance Bell and Augusta Dowd met with Bentley, as did others who plead for an independent counsel to investigate Hart and Davis.
Mason and Bentley’s insecurities escalated in April 2016, as APR reported at the time, “Not only is former senior advisor Rebekah Caldwell Mason continuing to advise Bentley via phone and texts, the pair is blaming Deputy Attorney General Matt Hart for all their troubles, say insiders close to the Governor.”
With Sessions’ appointment by President Trump, the path forward looked clearer for Bentley and Mason, the only missing piece was an attorney general candidate who would investigate Hart and Davis.
Enter backwoods District Attorney Steve Marshall, who had a history of compromised investigations and virtually no record of prosecuting public corruption cases.
Of all the candidates which Bentley interviewed, only Marshall agreed to execute a wide-ranging probe into Hart and Davis.
However, circumstances overtook Marshall’s agreement with Bentley when it became known that Bentley and Mason were under investigation in matters related to the firing and smear campaign against former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Spencer Collier.
Bentley and Mason’s plot to replace Sessions with Strange even backfired because Strange had lied about his office’s investigation into Bentley.
Marshall became attorney general because he agreed to do what Bentley and Hubbard had wanted.
In fact, it is Marshall’s willingness to compromise the standards of his office to accommodate powerful interests that has made him a darling of the Montgomery establishment. From protecting molesters to aiding Hubbard or Bentley, it appears Marshall is easily persuaded to do the bidding of those who can offer him a place in the government hierarchy.
Marshall’s desire to oversee the Ethics Reform and Clarification Commission is seen as another example of eagerness to please those who would weaken the ethics laws championed by his predecessor. Bentley recently told many individuals that Marshall was perhaps his most successful appointee, saying he was more pleased with Marshall than any other pick.
Marshall will face Joseph Seigelman in the fall general election.