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Legislature

Former state senator arrested on charges of violating campaign finance laws

Josh Moon

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Former State Sen. David Burkette

David Burkette has been officially arrested. The former state senator from Montgomery, who resigned on Tuesday as part of a plea deal with the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, was formally charged on Thursday with a single misdemeanor count of violating the Fair Campaign Practices Act. 

According to a press release from the AG’s office, Burkette’s charge stems from him depositing campaign donations into his personal account instead of into his campaign accounts, as required by the FCPA. The alleged crimes occurred in 2015 and 2016 when Burkette was serving on the Montgomery City Council. 

The complaint alleged that, in 2015 and 2016 while running for the Montgomery City Council, Burkette intentionally failed to deposit $3,625.00 in campaign contributions into his campaign checking account, and instead, deposited or cashed those contributions into or against his personal bank account,” the AG’s release stated. 

The single misdemeanor charge is surprising given the lengthy list of allegations against Burkette submitted to the Alabama Ethics Commission. APR obtained a copy of the original report, which was submitted in October 2018. 

In addition to more than $40,000 in allegedly improperly spent council discretionary funds that were flagged by auditors for the city of Montgomery, Burkette was also accused of inappropriately donating tens of thousands more to suspect charities and two sororities, including his wife’s.

The Ethics Commission referred Burkette’s case to the AG’s Office in October 2019.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Crime

Alabama officials watching for possible armed protests

The Montgomery Police Department will have officers at the Capitol on Sunday, girding for potentially violent demonstrations.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

It wasn’t clear Friday whether armed protestors would show up at Alabama’s Capitol building this weekend after an FBI internal report this week warned that there were plans for armed demonstrations in state capitals across the country until Inauguration Day.

First reported by ABC News and corroborated by numerous other news outlets, the FBI’s memo warns that continued violence targeting state capitols remains possible between now and President-elect-Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20. 

“Armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitols from 16 January through at least 20 January, and at the U.S. Capitol from 17 January through 20 January,” the bulletin said, according to the Associated Press

Alabama Law Enforcement Agency spokeswoman Robyn Bryan, in a message to APR on Friday, said the agency continues to monitor activity for public safety concerns “and possible threats related to the ongoing protests across the nation.” 

“ALEA recognizes that United States Citizens have constitutionally protected rights to assemble, speak, and petition the government. ALEA safeguards these first amendment rights, and reports on only those activities where the potential use of rhetoric and/or propaganda could be used to carry out acts of violence,” Bryan continued. “Additionally, potential criminality exhibited by certain members of a group does not negate the constitutional rights of the group itself or its law-abiding participants to exercise their individual liberties under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.” 

The Montgomery Police Department on Friday issued a warning in a tweet to anyone who might plan to bring a firearm to a demonstration. 

“Be mindful that it shall be unlawful for any person, other than a law enforcement officer, to have a firearm in his or her possession or in any vehicle at a point within 1,000 feet of a demonstration at a public place,” the department said in the tweet, citing a portion of Alabama’s state law.

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Montgomery Police will have officers at the Capitol on Sunday, Capt. Saba Coleman of the Montgomery Police Department said in a message to APR on Friday.  

“It’s no exaggeration to say that Trump’s army of domestic terrorists came close to mounting the first successful coup in American history,” said Margaret Huang, president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center, speaking to reporters Friday during a briefing on a report the group released on right-wing extremists attempting to overshadow Biden’s inauguration.

“Now our nation stands at the edge of the abyss. Threats of violence are steadily escalating, with some of Trump’s followers talking openly of civil war. Law enforcement personnel are bracing for potential violence this weekend at the armed protests planned for Washington D.C. and all 50 state capitals,” Huang said. 

Michael Hayden, lead investigative reporter at the SPLC, told reporters during the briefing that the odds for violence “are a lot higher than I’ve seen in a long time.” 

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“And that’s largely to do with the rhetoric that we’re seeing,” Hayden said. 

The chances of far-right extreme groups coming together for another large event in Washington D.C. in the coming days is less likely because of the additional security measures in place since the Capitol attack, Hayden said, adding that leaders of some of the larger extremist groups have urged followers not to go to Washington D.C. 

“I’m not saying it’s impossible to generate a large crowd in Washington D.C. I’m just saying that there are huge obstacles that they did not face on January 6, and it’s missing that sort of galvanizing moment of the Trump rally,” Hayden said. 

Demonstrations at state capitols are far more likely to galvanize crowds, Hayden said. In his work monitoring extremists online he has seen the sharing of maps of state capitols, dotted with pinpoints where groups want people to go, he said. 

Some states have publicized bolstered security around their capitols, a sign that perhaps those state officials have more information about possible threats than SPLC has access to, Hayden said.

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Legislature

Alabama lawmaker will attend her 19th COVID funeral

Rep. Barbara Drummond: “This virus has exposed the skeletons of not only Alabama but across the nation.”

Josh Moon

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(STOCK PHOTO)

When it comes to the tragedy of the COVID-19 virus, Rep. Barbara Drummond is more familiar than most. On Friday, Drummond will attend the funeral of a 56-year-old friend who died from coronavirus. It will be her 19th funeral this year for a close friend or family member who has died from the virus.

Drummond joined the Alabama Politics This Week Podcast to discuss the devastation she’s witnessed from the virus, and how it has exposed serious inequalities around the state and country.

“This virus has exposed the skeletons of not only Alabama but across the nation,” Drummond said. “The disparities not only in health care. But in education. In income. When you look at the African American communities that are affected by this virus, they are food deserts. People can’t get healthy foods. They can’t get access to quality health care. That’s what’s going on here.”

Drummond said that for too long, poor communities in this state have been vilified and thought of as deadbeats who don’t want to work, but in reality, they are stuck in a perpetual cycle of poverty due to a lack of basic resources and access to quality education, health care and job opportunities. 

“I hear people say all the time that people in this community don’t want to work,” Drummond said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. They don’t have the opportunity to support themselves and their families most of the time. If you think about it, you don’t know anyone who grew up dreaming of being poor.”

Drummond also discussed the upcoming legislative session and the Democrats’ plans to address some of the devastation from COVID. However, that work can’t be done until the Republican leadership that controls both houses establishes a workable plan to conduct the state’s business in a safe manner. 

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Drummond said she’s been in contact with leaders and has heard details of the plan. She’s not exactly comfortable. 

“I would not be honest to sit here and say I have no fears in going for the session,” Drummond said. “But I will go in with the recommendations of the CDC and the common sense that my mom raised me with. I will go because we have work to do and that work is very important to our state, especially now.”

You can listen to the entire interview with Drummond at the Alabama Politics This Week website or on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Congress

Alabama man arrested near Capitol had notes, cache of weapons, records show

Among the names on the handwritten notes in Coffman’s truck was Rep. Andre Carson, D-Indiana.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Alabama man Lonnie Coffman’s truck, found by police parked blocks from the U.S. Capitol last week loaded with firearms, ammunition, a crossbow, smoke canisters and 11 Molotov cocktails.

Alabama man Lonnie Coffman’s truck, found by police parked blocks from the U.S. Capitol last week loaded with firearms, ammunition, a crossbow, smoke canisters and 11 Molotov cocktails also had handwritten notes with the names of a Democratic lawmaker, a federal appeals court judge and conservative commentators, denoting some as “bad guys” and some as “good guys,” according to court records unsealed Tuesday. 

Coffman, 70, of Falkville, was arrested last week attempting to return to his truck after the deadly riots, which left at least five dead, including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick.

While securing a perimeter around the blocks in the area of the National Republican Club and the Democratic National Committee Headquarters, where police found two pipe bombs, police saw the handle of a firearm in the seat of a red GMC Sierra 1500 pickup truck with Alabama license plates, according to an affidavit signed by Lawrence Anyaso, special agent with the U.S. Capitol Police. 

According to a court filing in support of pretrial detention, in the truck, police found a handgun, assault rifle, shotgun and “several large-capacity ammunition feeding devices,” hundreds of rounds of ammunition, a crossbow, several machetes, smoke devices, a stun gun and 11 mason jars, which were later determined to contain homemade napalm. Coffman had two pistols on him when police arrested him while returning to his truck, according to court records. 

“The search of the defendant’s pickup truck contained concerning handwritten messages that raise alarm in the context of the January 6 rioting and criminal infringement on our nation’s democratic process,” the court filing states. “One was a handwritten note with words purportedly attributed to Abraham Lincoln – ‘We The People Are The Rightful Masters Of Both The Congress And The Courts, Not To Overthrow The Constitution But To Overthrow The Men Who Pervert The Constitution.'”

“The note also contained information about elected representatives (describing one as purportedly Muslim) and describing a judge as a ‘bad guy.’ Another set of handwritten messages were found on the back of a magazine, and contained purported contact information for ‘Conservative Talk Show Host Mark Levin,’ ‘Shaun [sic] Hannity,’ and ‘Senator Ted Cruz,’” the filing reads. 

Police found Molotov cocktails, guns and dozens of rounds of ammunition in Coffman’s truck. (VIA COURT RECORDS)

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Coffman told police that he had been living out of his truck in the D.C. area for roughly a week. 

“The defendant has a concerning history and characteristics that raise grave risk that he would endanger the community and flee if released,” acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin wrote to the court, requesting Coffman be held until trial. 

Coffman was indicted on Jan. 8 by a District of Columbia grand jury on 17 separate weapons charges. Coffman has no social media presence, and no state or federal criminal record, a search of those records revealed. Coffman’s ex-wife told WAAY 31 that she didn’t have anything to say about his arrest, but said,  “Yes, he voted for Trump.”

On one of the handwritten notes found in Coffman’s truck was the entry “Rep. Carson, D-Indiana (one of two muslims in House of Reps).”

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Rep. Andre Carson, D-Indiana, addressed his name being among the names on those lists in a statement Tuesday:

“It is extremely disturbing to learn from press reports that I was one of several individuals identified in a list of ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ targeted for attacks. The indicted terrorist had the means and opportunity to carry out his plans to violently attack, injure and destroy government officials and related offices in our Nation’s Capitol. These were not idle threats. These were planned and organized measures to take my life, my colleagues’ lives and try to destroy our government.

Everyone who supported these attacks must be identified and prosecuted to the fullest extent possible,” Carson said.

“No American should ever be targeted for violence or death because they are Black, or Muslim, or because of their race or creed,” Carson said. “We must get all the facts about these attacks, including those complicit in their planning and execution, and we must work together to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.”

Police found molotov cocktails, guns, smoke canisters and dozens of rounds of ammunition in Coffman’s truck. (VIA COURT RECORDS)

Acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin in a briefing with reporters Tuesday said there are already more than 170 open cases on individuals suspected in the Capitol attack, and said he expects that number to grow. 

“We’re looking at significant felony cases tied to sedition and conspiracy,” Sherwin said.

Asked what intelligence the FBI received prior to the attack, and what was shared with Capitol Police, Sherwin said they had “a lot of intelligence information” and that it was all accessible to Capitol police.

“We’re looking at and treating this just like a significant international counterterrorism or counterintelligence operation. We’re looking at everything. Money. Travel records,” Sherwin said.

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Congress

After aid to deadly rally, Republican Attorneys General Association director resigns

Alabama AG Steve Marshall leads the Rule of Law Defense Fund, which paid for robocalls promoting the rally.

Eddie Burkhalter

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People are seen in the House gallery as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The executive director of the Republican Attorneys General Association resigned Monday amid mounting criticism after the group’s policy arm, the Rule of Law Defense Fund, paid for robocalls urging people to attend the rally that resulted in a riot and deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who heads the Rule of Law Defense Fund, in a statement Monday did not address why RAGA’s executive director, Adam Piper, resigned. 

“Every decision Adam made on behalf of RLDF was with the best of intentions and with the organization’s best interests in mind,” Marshall said in a statement. “Adam leaves a void that will be difficult to replace, but we wish Adam well as he pursues other opportunities that will allow him to spend more time with his family.” 

“Serving Republican attorneys general has been the honor of a lifetime and honestly a dream job,” Piper said in a statement obtained by the Associated Press. 

Democratic Attorneys General Association executive director Sean Rankin in a statement to APR called for more accountability. 

“The issue here was more than the robocall, and I hope what follows is a move to accountability for actions outside the bounds and for greater civility among state Attorneys General,” Rankin said in the statement. 

Prior to the protest, RLDF sent out robocalls detailing when and where citizens should meet, which was first reported by the watchdog investigative journalism group Documented. 

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“We will march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal,” the robocall says, as recorded by Documented. “We are hoping patriots like you will join us to continue to fight to protect the integrity of our elections. For more information, visit MarchtoSaveAmerica.com. This call is paid for and authorized by the Rule of Law Defense Fund.” 

Marshall, speaking to The Montgomery Advertiser on Monday after a press conference on human trafficking and before Piper’s resignation was announced, said the internal review is ongoing.

Asked by the Advertiser whether he felt Trump bore any responsibility for the violence at the Capitol on Wednesday, and for comment on Trump’s potential impeachment, Marshall declined to comment. 

“I didn’t see anything about the rally,” Marshall said, according to the newspaper. “I don’t know anything about his remarks.” 

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Former RAGA chairman and current member Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton spoke at the Wednesday rally just before riots broke out, criticizing the U.S. Supreme Court, which quickly dismissed his lawsuit seeking to overturn election results in Wisconsin, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Marshall and 15 other Republican attorneys general signed on to Paxton’s failed lawsuit. 

“One of the great things about the state of Texas is that we did not quit. If you look at what Georgia did, they capitulated,” Paxton told the crowd before the riots. 

Prior to his resignation, Piper sent a statement to APR blaming the robocall call on staff. 

“The Republican Attorneys General Association and Rule of Law Defense Fund had no involvement in the planning, sponsoring, or the organization of yesterday’s rally,” Piper said:

“No Republican AG authorized the staff’s decision to amplify a colleague speaking at the rally. Organizationally and individually, we strongly condemn and disavow the events which occurred. Yesterday was a dark day in American history and those involved in the violence and destruction of property must be prosecuted and held accountable.”

Several companies told The New York Times that they were reviewing their support of RAGA, though none said they planned to cut ties, according to the newspaper

Cherokee Nation decided to withdraw its $150,000 contribution to the Republican Attorneys General Association on Monday, citing the robocall as inappropriate, according to News on 6, a Tulsa, Oklahoma, news station.

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