Despite nearly two dozen criminal investigations in progress, three empaneled grand juries and a major power grab underway at the State Ethics Commission, Attorney General Steve Marshall ambushed Special Prosecution Division Chief Matt Hart before he could enter his office at 501 Washington Avenue in Montgomery on Monday.
Marshall did not terminate Hart because he was an ineffective leader or an unsuccessful prosecutor, but because Hart is both those things and more.
Marshall is evil, but he’s also weak, which makes him a dangerous man.
With Hart’s forced resignation, Marshall kept his private campaign promises to his big donors that Hart would be gone after the general election. So, just 13 days after his election as attorney general and four years until the next election, Marshall moved on Hart like a coward who shoots a lawman in the back in a Hollywood Western movie.
Marshall is a spineless little man who withers in the presence of a man like Hart. It’s not just his lack of character and willingness to cut deals to achieve power, but his utter disregard for the justice system he oversees.
Marshall is treacherous and is now unfettered from the constraints of an honest prosecutor.
While Marshall may have silenced Hart’s voice in the grand jury and at criminal trials, it is doubtful that Hart as a private citizen will remain quiet.
Hart knows what Marshall is up to, as well as the intrigue of the elites who paid for his office.
When disgraced Gov. Robert Bentley appointed Marshall, he intended for the men to clash. It was part of the plan. Bentley did not select Marshall because he was the best candidate to take on the attorney general’s position, but because he had a history of compromised investigations and virtually no record of prosecuting public corruption as a district attorney. But, it was Marshall’s willingness to investigate Hart and Van Davis, who successfully prosecuted former Speaker and convicted felon Mike Hubbard, that caused Bentley and his paramour, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, to green-light his appointment.
When Hart confronted Marshall over his compromise with Bentley, there was little hope that a working relationship would be in the making between the two men.
Marshall is afraid of Hart, but he is also jealous of him. After only a few weeks at the attorney general’s office, staffers noticed how jealous he was of Hart’s success, not only as a winning prosecutor but because of the admiration he enjoyed in the press. Staffers laughed at Marshall’s man-crush on Hart behind his back, saying he should grow a beard and maybe the press would like him, too.
It was Marshall’s jealously and unwillingness to ruffle feathers that separated the men; one wanting to be admired and the other wants to fight crime.
Over the last year, the relationship continued to strain as Hart set his sights on some of Marshall’s influential donors or those close to them.
APR repeatedly warned during the 2018 election cycle that if Marshall was elected, he would immediately turn on Hart. But that didn’t matter to the voting public because despite his corruption, Marshall had an R by his name. As for the power-elites, they are happy to see Hart go.
With Hart out of the picture, the so-called Ethics Reform Commission has free reign to gut current ethics laws without so much as a peep from the attorney general.
This is just one of the reasons Hart’s departure will result in the further erosion of good government in the state.
Currently, there are serious investigations underway, but there is little belief they will continue with any degree of success with Hart gone. Marshall has no interest in pursuing public corruption or white-collar crime because prosecutors make enemies and Marshall wants nothing more than to be liked.
Other unresolved issues that are of concern, not least among them, is the recent ruling by the State Ethics Commission, which gives the Commission power to reduce violations of the State’s Fair Campaign Practices Act by a mere vote of the commission. After being pressured by Hart in October, Marshall wrote the Ethics Commission asking them to withdraw and reconsider Advisory Opinion No. 2018-11, which granted the commission broad powers never envisioned by legislators who wrote the law. Hart’s ouster put in doubt whether Marshall will even pursue the issue, leaving the Ethics Commission with expanded powers.
According to sources within the Ethics Commission, there is a general feeling that Marshall will not challenge the commission because he is facing campaign finance charges for accepting $735,000 in alleged illegal contributions from the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA). Marshall has voices worrying that the commission has him over a barrel, leading him to tiptoe around any confrontation with the commission. As one insider said, “They got Marshall where they want him and he’s a pu**y who wouldn’t confront a granny in a wheelchair without his Chief Deputy.”
Another source of unfinished business is a recent ham-handed attempt by Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton involving a case against Scott Phillips and Trey Glenn. Last week, Albritton issued a press statement saying Jefferson County District Attorney Mike Anderton had requested the Ethics Commission help in indicting the two men. But, it was the Ethics Commission who approached Anderton, sources within his office have confirmed. Albritton also faces criticism and possible legal troubles because he disclosed the indictments before Phillips and Glenn were arrested, which may be a severe breach of state law. If Albritton is involved in wrongdoing, it would have fallen to Hart to prosecute.
November 18 is a dark day in Alabama history because corrupt politicians and those that want to corrupt now have a champion in Marshall.
Marshall can now say to those who put him in power, “Promises made, promises kept.”
But Marshall will do well to remember that actions have consequences, and there is a cost to corrupt acts, even if they are legal. More than one unscrupulous politico has met his fate at the end of a keyboard.
Marshall is saying he will take a hit from the media for firing Hart, but not a single elected official will say a word against him, according to those in the attorney general’s office.
Marshall believes that four years is long enough for people to forget he axed one of the state’s most successful prosecutors in the middle of multiple investigations to benefit his political donors.
But not everyone forgets, and there is a lot more to know about Marshall and what he has to hide.