Robert Bentley, the Republican governor of Alabama, appears to be trying to bribe the state attorney general with Jeff Sessions's vacant Senate seat — just as the attorney general was preparing to investigate Bentley for misconduct.
The national media has no dearth of scandals emerging from the Donald Trump administration to cover, not least of which is the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and reports of constant contact between Trump campaign officials and Russia during the 2016 campaign.
But with so much necessary focus on the White House, many in the media seem to have missed a huge corruption controversy developing in Alabama, centered on the vacant former Senate seat of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
For much of his second term, Alabama Republican Governor Robert Bentley has been plagued with scandal. His problems started when he fired state law enforcement officer Spencer Collier, for refusing the governor’s order to lie to prosecutors in the corruption trial of former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard.
Collier, in turn, retaliated by announcing to the press that the governor was having an extramarital affair with his communications director, lavishing her with trips at taxpayer expense and funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to her husband’s business from the University of Alabama system. Leaked phone recordings confirmed the affair in graphic detail.
After Collier’s announcement, the Alabama House Judiciary Committee opened an impeachment probe, but state attorney general Luther Strange persuaded them to drop it so that his office could take over the investigation instead. Then, last week, the governor appointed Strange to Sessions’ empty Senate seat.
In one fell swoop, Bentley both removed the independently elected state official tasked with investigating him for misconduct, and got to name an interim attorney general who would inherit Strange’s investigation.
This story bears resemblance to the scandal around former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who in 2009 was impeached and sentenced to federal prison after he was caught on tape soliciting bribes for President Obama’s vacant Senate seat. The Republican state auditor of Alabama agrees, warning that “Alabama has all the ingredients for a Gov. Rod Blagojevich situation.” Yet the Bentley case has received far less national coverage.
Trump and his team may be the most visible bad actors, and because of their positions, their outrageous improprieties are certainly the most troubling and dangerous for the nation. But it is easy to see echoes of the same duplicity and disregard for the rule of law in state-level stories like Alabama’s. The national media must connect these dots, because what is happening in Alabama is too egregious to ignore, and it is part and parcel of a Republican Party that is flouting laws and norms at every level — all the way to the White House.