Personally, I love the idea of Congress having a “Senator Strange.” The movie almost writes itself, with a Senator who has magic powers and who says things like “By the Hoary Hordes of Hogarth! Point of order!”
But not like this.
Now bear with me. This is a complicated story and will take a while, but as Keven Costner says to James Earl Jones (as Terrance Mann) in “Field of Dreams,” “It’s a good story.”
And a really, really strange one, in more ways than one..
When the Senate confirmed Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General in hearings that may be best remembered as the time Elizabeth Warren earned the fawning admiration of feminists by behaving like a mean-spirited jerk, it meant that Alabama’s Republican governor got to appoint his successor. There wasn’t much discussion in the news media about who this might be, because it’s hard for journalists to inform the public properly when it is concentrating on bringing down the President, per the orders of their Eldritch Progressive Masters—sorry, I’ve got Dr. Strange stuff rattling around in my brain now—but there was some interesting speculation in Alabama.
You see, Republican Governor Robert Bentley is fighting to avoid impeachment as the result of a sex scandal, and one that called his honesty into question as well.
An official fired by Bentley alleged that the Governor had engaged in an extramarital affair with his senior political adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason. An audio recording surfaced in which Bentley told a woman named “Rebekah” that he “worr[ied] about loving you so much” and that “[w]hen I stand behind you, and I put my arms around you, and I put my hands on your breasts […] and just pull you real close. I love that, too.” At a press conference, Bentley apologized for the comments but denied having an affair and stated that his relationship with Mason was purely platonic.
Bentley invaded the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List, saying that he “had made a mistake” by saying “inappropriate things” to his aide, and apologized to Mason , her family and to the people of Alabama. On April 5, 2016, an impeachment resolution against Bentley was filed in the State Legislature, which appointed a special counsel to lead an investigation into the impeachment charges. Then, in November, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange asked that the investigation be halted pending “related work” by his office. This was widely interpreted to mean that Strange, also a Republican but not an ally of Bentley’s, was overseeing his own investigation of whether charges should be brought against Bentley.
Trump was elected President on November 8, and ten days later he announced his intention to nominate Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General. On December 6, 2016, Strange announced that he was a candidate for the soon to be vacant seat, meaning that he would run in the 2018 election, if he wasn’t appointed to fill the vacancy by Bentley.
With the wolves gathering at his door, however, that’s exactly what Gov. Bentley did. He appointed the man who was overseeing his current impeachment investigation to the U.S. Senate, thus creating a vacancy in the Attorney General’s post. Then he appointed a new AG named Steve Marshall (no relation), who many doubt will vigorously pursue an indictment against the governor.
Can you say, “Appearance of impropriety”?
I can’t imagine a better example of how the law can’t anticipate everything, making ethics indispensable. There is an Alabama law prohibiting a governor from appointing himself to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy, but nobody foresaw a situation where a governor facing impeachment would interfere with the investigation by appointing a political adversary and the Attorney General overseeing the investigation to fill the slot. This is entirely legal, and spectacularly unethical.
Some in the state wonder if Strange’s request to the legislature wasn’t part of a deal with the Governor, in anticipation of a Sessions departure. “He definitely slowed down the impeachment process, which put the governor in a place to actually appoint him. That’s the problem we have,” said Ed Henry, the legislator who brought the original impeachment motion to a vote. “He stopped an impeachment process and then in turn accepted the nomination to the Senate. I believe the damage is already done.”
For this to have been a pre-arranged quid pro quo would have required that Strange and Bentley both believe that Trump would win, however. Hmmmm. Maybe they were in league with the Russians too…?
Yet it requires no conspiracy theory to conclude that for Strange to accept Bentley’s appointment makes him complicit in a sequence of events that appears corrupt. It is too redolent of the Roland Burris affair, when now jailed former Illinois governor Rod Blagojavich was caught selling a Senate appointment. Burris swore in an affidavit that he had had no contact with the governor prior to his appointment to a Senate seat he had no qualifications for, and then as soon as he was safely on office, suddenly remembered that he had met with “Blago.”
The newly minted Senator Strange, had he been an ethics hero—and shouldn’t we be able to expect our elected officials to be ethics heroes?—could have foiled Bentley, inspired Alabamans, and proved that he would be a worthy Senator when he ran in 2018, if he had simply turned down the appointment, saying,
“I am grateful and honored that Governor Bentley felt that I was qualified to represent the citizen of Alabama in the U.S. Senate. However, I feel I would betray the trust of those same citizens if I were to accept the post under these circumstances. As the lawyer for the people, I am obligated to undertake and oversee a fair and objective investigation of serious allegations against the Governor, and this raised a conflict of interest for me, pitting my personal political ambition against my duties in my current position. Moreover, should I accept the Governor’s offer, it would raise doubts regarding the functioning of the legal system as well as my personal integrity. Therefore I must decline the appointment.”
Now, however, the Senator has proven himself unworthy of his new job by accepting it.