Alabama Blogger, Not Mainstream Media, Exposed State House Scandal


Two cable news stars broadcast a repulsive but revealing display of self-promotion Aug. 10 when MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell credited fellow anchor Rachel Maddow for coverage prompting the resignation of Alabama's scandal-ridden governor earlier in the day. "You alone," he told her, covered the scandal.

Roger ShulerBut credit belongs not to the heavily promoted Maddow (shown in a file photo) but to the courageous Alabama blogger Roger Shuler. He has been financially ruined, beaten and jailed for his relentless investigations of top state officials, including the just-departed GOP Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley.

Shuler broke the story of the scandals arising from Bentley's affair with a highly paid state aide, Rebekah Caldwell Masonl (shown with Bentley below). Shuler began with a column Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley engaged in extramarital affair that prompted First Lady's divorce complaint on Aug. 31, 2015. He followed with two more such columns over the next two days. The updates keep coming, as in his report that Mason apparently faces no sanction:  Finding of "no probable cause" against Rebekah Mason suggests ethics commission is part of scheme to oust Bentley but keep greater wrongdoing under cover.

The story of his scoop is particularly apt now because of the awful price that Shuler and his wife Carol have paid for such work. Also, the mainstream media are waging a heavy-handed public relations campaign against bloggers, alternative media and those falling under the smear of "fake news" and "conspiracy theory."

This is the first of several columns we plan about those developments, which are prominent this week in part because of the annual announcement of Pulitzer Prizes. The Pulitzers were dominated as usual by winners from the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal in major categories. It's fine that they were able to achieve recognition, and in that spirit we cite winners here and below.

But there's much more to journalism than the big outlets. Grassroots practitioners like Shuler across the country do not and cannot spend their scarce income much on application fees to compete in such contests, even in the unlikely event their work would receive serious consideration from the corporate-controlled media that control such recognition.

So, we focus for now on the brave and largely unreported tale of how Shuler, an impoverished blogger in flight with his wife from autocratic Alabama judges managed to bring down his state's governor in the kind of mind-boggling sex, legal and financial scandal whose revelation has become commonplace recently in that state.

The Tips and Tape That Torpedoed a Governor

Bentley's resignation means the leadership of all three branches of Alabama's state government has been ousted in less than a year because of scandal, including Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (permanently suspended for refusing to follow U.S. Supreme Court precedent on gay rights that conflict with his understanding of The Bible) and House Speaker Mike Hubbard, arguably the most powerful state official and convicted last June of 12 felonies involving massive graft.

Roger Shuler

Shuler is shown puffy-faced in a county jail mug shot taken after he was arrested at his home, beaten, and jailed for six months on a contempt of court charge in October 2014 arising from his coverage of what he regarded as other sex scandals involving prominent Alabama lawyers.

The irony is that Shuler gets virtually nothing for it — hardly any money and very little recognition, and probably many more legal hassles to come — whereas the MSNBC anchors are reported to receive multi-million-dollar annual salaries.

Neither Maddow nor O'Donnell (shown in screenshots) did original reporting that broke this case as Shuler did. Nor do they risk anything by their commentary to a largely liberal audience, except the possibility of one day being phased out for new faces. The Shulers, by contrast, have long lived in Red State country, where threats of violence against liberals are a frequent occurrence, especially for them.

What's most important about this, however, is not who gets the credit for this particular story. The vital point instead should be greater public awareness that a healthy society depends on the different strengths that independent blogging and mainstream news bring to civic awareness.

Here's the inside story of the Alabama scandals that we developed from Justice Integrity Project sources in Alabama fostered in part over many years of following that state's courageous bloggers like Shuler and their dwindling core whistleblower sources who dare fight entrenched corruption in a state where drastic reprisals against dissidents are not uncommon.      

The Siegelman Frame-up

The biggest such case was the frame-up of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and three co-defendants. The startling revelations attracted Shuler's personal interest in 2007 when he worked as a communications specialist at the state-run University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Shuler is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, which is prestigious in reporting circles. Also, he is a former metro newspaper reporter for a Birmingham daily who began to blog in his spare time to track the strange developments underway in the joint federal-state prosecution of Siegelman. Siegelman had been governor of Alabama from 1999 to 2003 and was by far the state's most popular Democrat until his prosecution by Republicans on corruption charges, a probe that Republicans conducted via a special task force at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base at vast expense and with maximum secrecy.

The main charges arose from Siegelman's 1999 reappointment of businessman Richard Scrushy to a state regulatory board after he donated he to the non-profit Alabama Education Foundation. That foundation had unsuccessfully campaigned in 1998 for a state lottery to provided more state funding for Alabama's K-12 schools. Scrushy, a Republican, had served on the board under three Republican governors, whose campaigns he had supported with donations.

It may be hard for readers here to believe that such a donation by Scrushy to the education non-profit could spawn nearly two decades of relentless prosecutions costing many millions of taxpayer dollars — especially given the misdemeanor charges for Bentley this week and the massive campaign donations and conflicts arising during the recent presidential campaign for both Republican and Democratic candidates.

Roger ShulerBut that's what happened. And Shuler was among the bloggers with questions about the official story delivered via prosecutors and the deferential reporters working at Alabama's Republican-oriented newspaper and broadcast media. 

Shuler named his blog "Legal Schnauzer" after the couple's pet (shown at their former home in a Birmingham suburb). He began cranking out columns in 2007 showing gross irregularities in the prosecutions of Siegelman and Scrushy on highly dubious evidence and jury instructions. In 2007, the defendants received seven-year terms and were hauled out of the courtroom in chains to begin serving their sentences without the right to remain free on bond pending appeals, as customary for white collar defendants.

The defendants became also centerpieces of the then-raging "U.S. Attorney Firing Scandal" after Republican attorney and political operative Dana Jill Simpson bravely spoke out, including to Shuler, to allege that Republican politico and legal officials had framed the two defendants for political reasons, primarily to keep the popular Siegelman from running for re-election as governor in 2006 after election voting fraud deprived him of his 2002 victory by the electronic switch of some 3,000 votes in rural Baldwin County after polls closed in 2002.

Mark Fuller Phil FlemingShuler was at the forefront of covering the Siegelman-Scrushy case and its innumerable follow-ups via two trials, many appeals, a nationwide campaign of outraged legal observers and continual exposure of scandals involving the presiding trial judge, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller of Montgomery, until Fuller (shown in a rare portrait in honor of the Siegelman conviction in 2007, and made available via Alabama freelancer Phil Fleming) resigned his lifetime appointment in disgrace.

Simpson is shown in a photo from her 2008 appearance on a CBS "60 Minutes" episode that made a compelling case that Siegelman had been framed by Republicans. CBS did not dare cover her evidence extensive documentary and other evidence of the judge's financial greed (including secret shareholder control of a defense contractor receiving $300 million in Bush administration contracts at the same time the administration's Justice Department and White House advisor Karl Rove were trying to railroad Siegelman. But Shuler covered such stories. 

Jill SimpsonAs a well-known and rare Democratic leader in the Deep South, Siegelman received most of the widespread sympathetic coverage even though Scrushy's treatment in the courts was at least as unfair, in part because well-connected Alabama lawyers led a separate effort to sue him in a class action for financial fraud while he was at a disadvantage in prison. They ultimately collected huge legal fees for winning a $500 million settlement.

Despite vast evidence of irregularities in the Scrushy and Siegelman prosecution, appellate courts and even the Obama Justice ignored it. The two defendants served nearly their entire original sentences, with only slight reductions for success on some appeals.

Siegelman is shown in a CBS screen shot at the federal prison in Oakdale, LA, where he was thrown into solitary confinement multiple Don Siegelman in prisontimes for extended periods believed to stem from his occasional statements that he (and Scrushy) had been framed on the claim that Siegelman reappointed Scushy to a regulatory board in 1999 in return for a Scrushy donation to a non-profit educational advocacy group that Siegelman supported.

Siegelman was released in February to home detention after completing his term. Many of his supporters were die-hard Democrats in Alabama and elsewhere who became disappointed that President Obama's administration fought efforts to free Siegelman on the basis of the unfair procedures advocated by the disgraced trial judge, Fuller, and to support the many whistleblowers who stepped forward unsuccessfully to protest the federal tactics used to destroy Siegelman, his colleagues, and even witnesses and Republicans like Scrushy advocating for Siegelman's innocence.

Eric Holder NPC Noel St. John 2 Feb. 17, 2015An authoritative story on why Obama and his friend Eric Holder, the attorney general, treated the Siegelman-Scrushy defendants so badly has yet to be written because it must come from high inside the Obama administration. Holder is shown in a photo by Noel St. John at the National Press Club helping cement his reputation for civil rights, which was achieved largely by his advocacy for the rights of gays, blacks and other groups, but not for victims like Siegelman of political prosecutions.

As a hunch, however, the Obama-Holder motives likely involves a sellout of justice, their own "Art of the Deal," whereby the Obama administration worked with Republican leaders like Sessions and Shelby to swap justice for Siegelman and Democratic prospects in Alabama in exchange for concessions in other parts of the country on other issues -- including protection of their own darkest secrets and such priorities as relatively pro forma opposition by Republicans to Obama's Supreme Court appointment of his friend Elena Kagan.

Injustice Elsewhere

Shuler's hundreds of columns on the Legal Schnauzer site grew to include many similar legal and political scandals, including in other Deep South states.

As mainstream news organizations reduced coverage of such institutions as courts, Shuler dug deep into often complex legal situations to criticize at times judges, prosecutors, and other lawyers in ways rarely done elsewhere. Although he proudly proclaimed his political views to be liberal he hit hard at the Obama Justice Department for selling out repeatedly on justice issues.

The motive for Democrats in the Obama administration? Most likely to curry favor on other issues with Alabama's powerful GOP U.S. Senators, Dick Shelby and Jeff Sessions, and to defer in similar fashion to conservative power brokers in Alabama and elsewhere. Worth remembering is that Shelby (shown in an official photo) put a hold to U.S. Senate confirmation of virtually every Obama nomination to the new administration for the month of February 2009. Think of the pressure that kind of raw use of senatorial power could put on a new administration trying to put its team into place.

In sum, Shuler has been a rare and consistent voice for the unheard, particularly in Alabama courts and particularly after the state's three major newspapers reduced printed papers to just three times a week. 

Perhaps even more importantly, his prolific coverage on both the Legal Schnauzer and other progressive sites covered the political reshaping of Alabama politics and those of nearby Deep South states into one-party fiefdoms.

Karl RoveA brainchild of such tacticians as Karl Rove (shown in an official photo), Republicans' adroit use of elected judges and prosecutors in Texas, Alabama and then elsewhere has left Democrats utterly destroyed politically and consumed for the most part with inter-party feuds between factions fighting over the few political table scraps that controlling Republicans allow to slip through their fingers in these states. Update: Other journalists have covered such developments, of course, but no one in such pioneering fashion under so much adversity as Shuler, as he credibly described after publication of this column in: Even progressive journalists, like Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O'Donnell of MSNBC, can't get it right about how the "Luv Guv" Bentley story was broken.

Alabama Payback

Meanwhile, the Shulers encountered financial reverses of increasing severity. One factor was their long and acrimonious legal disputes with a politically well-connected Republican neighbor, which resulted in years of acrimony involving judges and other lawyers involved in the litigation.

Carol ShulerThe University of Alabama at Birmingham fired Shuler and so did his wife Carol's employer. Roger and Carol (shown in a social media photo) assert that the firings were retaliation for his hard-edged reporting on powerful figures.

Shuler persisted, however, and his writing talent, courage and sympathy for Alabama's downtrodden brought him many tipsters and stories. They including some information of unusual sensitivity for any reporter but important to publish if possible.

I know about a lot of this because the Justice Integrity Project shared some of same sources arising out of our extensive reporting on Alabama courts, politics and scandal, which is an unusually combustible mix rarely found elsewhere.

In my experience, it was rare to find a high-level politician or legal official there who did not carry a secret reputation at least among detractors for financial and/or sexual scandal such as adultery or at least occasional homosexuality.

When I once expressed astonishment to a source that so many officials could reach high office in Alabama despite these problems I received this instructive counsel in reply from someone who for years assembled confidential dossiers on government officials for private use: "They reach high office not despite these hidden vices. Their success is because of them. That way they can be controlled — and hand out contracts, legal decisions and policy initiatives to benefit whoever has the goods."

What makes that particularly explosive in Alabama is that the electorate is unusually pious, patriotic, partisan and poor. Therefore, shenanigans at the top carry the possibility of especially dire consequences for elected officials if exposed.

Let's cite a couple of examples: Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore was suspended last fall permanently because he so opposes homosexuality that he tried to rally lower court judges against enforcing U.S. Supreme Court holdings. Yet a number of his fellow Republicans in high office are known for those practices, according to Alabama sources who are usually reliable on such matters. 

Shuler embarked on the high-wire act of reporting such stories, which are normally shunned by reporters for reasons of decorum, fear of litigation or other reprisal, lack of ambition, lack of proof, or deference (rightly or wrongly) to zones of privacy.

Shuler has broken many such stories that have panned out in ways clearly valuable to the public's understanding of how otherwise confusing government decisions get made in Alabama. But he written some stories that have generated intense criticism, including defamation suits and likely sub rosa reprisals that are difficult to trace.

Shuler wrote multiple columns. For example, he alleged that State Attorney General Luther Strange and prospective congressional candidate Rob Riley, son of Alabama's governor Bob Riley from 2003-2011, were each having affairs with younger female political operatives whom Shuler named.

Those stories resulted in two defamation lawsuits against Shuler in the fall of 2014. Shuler was then arrested at his garage on a civil contempt charge for failing to respond. Shuler was beaten during the arrest and his wife was not notified that he had been arrested, a matter of grave concern to her since her husband received numerous death threats.

Shuler was treated miserably and likely illegally by authorities in other ways. But in Alabama, especially for dissenters, the law is slender security because, as Shuler would see yet again, the law is defined by authorities according to the circumstances at hand, and not by books and precedents. 

Retired Circuit Judge Claud Neilson, shown in a file photo, was named special judge for the Shuler case by Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (shown above at right). Moore made national news more than a decade previously as "The Ten Commandments Judge" for installing a monument on courthouse grounds and being forced off the court for failure to follow Supreme Court precedent on separation of church and state.

Neilson proceeded to hold Shuler without Claud Neilsonbond in the Shelby County jail until Shuler agreed to spike the articles that offended the plaintiffs.

Shuler argued that he could not delete the articles while jailed because his wife Carol did not know how to navigate the Legal Schnauzer website. Shuler, a non-lawyer, also argued in compelling fashion that the judge essentially ignored that the judge was violating U.S. Supreme Court law (developed in significant part during the 1960s civil rights struggle in Alabama) that protects journalists from "prior restraint" and legal vulnerability in most defamation cases involving "public figures" like Strange, Riley, and arguably the politically active female plaintiffs.

William Pryor, Jr.

Also in the background of the defamation litigation were separate columns that Shuler had published alleging that U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge William Pryor, Jr., a married ultra-right conservative, had been a homosexual and had modeled as a student for nude portraits that ended up on a prominent gay site, "BadPuppies.com."

Shuler, who had heard a tip (as I had from two sources) that the cache of photos had been used for years by fellow Republicans to blackmail or otherwise pressure the judge, initially published a version showing the young man in full frontal nudity. In the face of criticism, the reporter later obscured the genital area. A formal shot of the judge, a former Alabama attorney general who had helped lead the prosecution effort against Siegelman, is at right.

Shuler published many reader comments complaining that the photos showed someone else than the judge or that publishing such photos showed poor taste. Shuler maintained, however, that the photos depicted Pryor and that the public had a right to know about,

Jeff Sessions DOJ official photo

especially in view of the judge's decision-making power. Pryor, a close ally (and some in Montgomery's gay community claimed more) of then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, never sued. Pryor went on to become one of the three finalists for the Supreme Court vacancy that President Trump awarded to 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch. Sessions is shown in an official photo at left.

Shuler remained jailed without bond in late 2013 and had no attorney. Neilson and Shelby County District Judge Ronald Jackson, therefore, were able to ran roughshod over his rights and arguments. The judges were clearly hostile to Shuler.

Neilsen assessed Shuler nearly $34,000 in plaintiffs' attorneys fees during a trumped-up court proceeding in November 2013. Shuler, with no lawyer or preparation abilities because he was jailed without bond, was attired in his orange jail jump suit and confined throughout in chains at the ankles, waist and wrists. The judge and plaintiff attorneys denounced him in a courtroom sealed to prevent reporting or other onlookers.

Here's what happened next, as reported by Al.com, the state's consortium of leading newspapers:
 
In a quickie trial Jan. 14, Jackson found Shuler, 57, guilty of resisting arrest Oct. 23. The judge ruled that force by Shelby Deputy Sheriff Chris Blevins was justified under the circumstances.
 
Three other deputies helped Blevins in restraining Shuler and carting him off to jail without even alerting his wife in their home attached to the garage. The left her to worry far into the night why her husband had not returned from a nearby library. Shuler's writing has prompted many death threats that he has reported for years. So, law enforcement failure to provide any alert to family shows how law enforcement is, in effect, at war with the Shulers.
 
Shuler has no lawyer, and has been jailed on a contempt of court charge nearly four months. Circuit Judge Claude Neilsen issued the contempt order based on plaintiff statements, and sealed the court docket and courtroom to prevent any reporting or other disclosure. Supreme Court law in Alabama, as elsewhere, typically requires open courtrooms.
 
Peter B. Collins radio show logoThe legal proceedings resulted in judgments of millions of dollars assessed against Shuler. He had no way to pay. He supports himself and his wife via a few consulting jobs or donations from readers (which can be made via a PayPal button on his site).
 
Along with the investigative-oriented broadcaster Peter B. Collins, I tried with little success to rally support from journalism groups for Shuler. Nearly all of them sought to avoid involvement with a blogger, particularly in a case involving sex scandal allegations. Also, I Alan Colmesreported extensively on the case. My outlets included politically diverse varied news outlets that included the show hosted on Fox News by the late Alan Colmes (shown in a file photo), the progressive Huffington Post Live! with Alyona Minkovski and the conservative Dale Jackson show in Alabama.
 

Finally, nearly five months after Shuler's arrest, I visited him in Birmingham's jail, reported that the sad news that Andrew Kreigjournalism groups would do little to help him. On behalf of other supporters like Peter B. Collins, I begged him to find a way to instruct his wife to kill the stories that had prompted the litigation -- or else he might never leave the jail alive.

This was Alabama, he knew only too well. He took my advice, went home and awaited a promised large check from a benefactor that the Shulers needed to prevent their home from an imminent foreclosure and sale.

The check failed to arrive, and may even have been part of a set-up to destroy the Shulers. That kind of speculation is necessary in the world of freelance investigative reporting, where "friends" and tipsters may in fact be enemies paid or otherwise.

Foreclosed...But Not Silenced

The Shulers, too beaten down mentally to file for bankruptcy in the few days before their home foreclosure sale, lost their longtime home and its equity at auction. They could have salvaged at least some equity with a just a few days more time and/or advice. That help was not forthcoming, however, in part because those who repeatedly challenge the legal system are not necessarily welcome as clients.

The local sheriff's office dumped their possessions on the sidewalk, and they left Alabama and still-pending defamation judgments against them to start a new life in the Midwest. 

Ashley Madison logoRoger continues to publish frequent Legal Schnauzer columns, including a unique series that profiles married men whose names and credit cards appeared on a hacked database purporting to show paid customers of the Ashley Madison dating site for swingers (whose logo is shown in the adjoining photo). As evident by reader comments, Shuler receives considerable criticism for writing those columns. But he defends his efforts. For good reason, he also protests the brutal actions of sheriffs he saw breaking his wife's arm during an eviction from their apartment.

Most of the time, however, he writes columns about political and legal scandals in which he has personal interest, except as an investigative reporter or opinion writer.

The Tip That Toppled A Governor

Roger Shuler bravely broke the Bentley scandal in a series of Legal Schnauzer columns beginning Aug. 31, 2015. That was after he had  published his scandal stories about Luther Strange (now Alabama's junior U.S. senator), Rob Riley, and William Pryor, among others, as well as contending with the lawsuits that would lead to his jailing for more than five months.

Before providing an overview of his tip, we'll draw on a summary of how Bentley met Jon and Rebekah Mason, a former Miss Alabama contestant and political consultant. It comes from an April 10 retrospective published in Politico, How Alabama’s ‘Luv Guv’ Broke New Ground in a Scandal-Plagued State. The writer was Alabama-based political reporter Eric Velasco, who drew from an investigative report  prepared for the House Judiciary Committee and released last week:

Rebekah and Jon Mason attended Sunday school classes Bentley taught at First Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa. Bentley, a dermatologist and nondescript state legislator, was considering a bid for governor. Rebekah Mason told Bentley he had no chance.

Before long, she was Bentley’s campaign spokeswoman. Mason helped hone his image as an honest alternative to the political corruption festering in Montgomery. After his 2010 victory, she became Bentley’s communications director, leaving the administration in mid-2013 to join his re-election campaign.

Around then, Dianne Bentley began noticing her once-devoted husband was no longer as affectionate. It didn’t ease her suspicions that Mason often stayed in the pool house at the Governor’s Mansion in Montgomery, rather than commute 100 miles to her family’s home in Tuscaloosa.

In February 2014, the now second-term governor and Mason were part of a state entourage attending the National Governors Association meeting in Washington. When the group went to dinner one night, Bentley and Mason kept exchanging texts in front of the first lady.

“I can’t take my eyes off of you,” one from the governor read, according to the investigator’s report. (Bentley and Mason are shown together at one such political meeting.)

The evidence in such matters can seem crystal clear when contained in bound official reports. But it takes brave and creative souls to get the ball rolling.

My understanding from sources is that the governor's wife left a recording device near a phone she thought her husband might use when she went for a walk on the beach.

A recording contained these words in 2014 from the 75-year-old governor to his still-married senior advisor:

“When I stand behind you and I put my arms around you and I put my hands on your breasts and I put my hands on you and pull you in real close, hey, I love that too.”

That recording, made surreptitiously in 2014 by Bentley’s suspicious wife, was enough to give the unremarkable second-term Republican a burst of national notoriety as the “Luv Guv.” No small feat in the middle of a presidential campaign featuring Donald Trump.

It's important to protect sources. So I'll say simply that sources alerted Shuler, regarded as the bravest and most capable reporter to handle this kind of story out of all of the others covering Alabama politics. That's quite an endorsement for Shuler's lifetime body of work. So no one should think that anyone can just write such a blog. Getting the goods is the hard part for a reporter, especially when no one knows that a story actually exists. (Editor's note: The preceding paragraph has been updated to reflect that the tape-recording did not surface in the press until March 22, 2016.)

Dianne Bentley obtained a divorce from her husband of 50 years, adding buzz to the situation. But the governor denied wrongdoing and the few reporters willing to ask hard questions could legitimately wonder if pursuit of such a sensitive story might cost them their own careers.

The Governor's Pastoral Slush Fund

We shall not try to recap the 112-page investigative report except to note that it reported that Dianne Bentley was able to see message to Mason, which showed up on a state-issued Ipad: "I sure miss you. I need you. I want you. You are the only one," one message read.

And there's one more thing: to connect dots on aspect that is almost too bizarre to mention even in this case and so has not received the coverage it deserves.
 
Rebekah Mason and her husband (shown in a Facebook photo) reportedly received taxpayer and campaign income from sources controlled by Bentley estimated as about a million dollars total. That's a lot of money in Alabama.
 
An aspect even more dubious for its long term implications was that Jon Mason's job in the governor's administration was as director of faith-based outreach. Although that is strange enough by itself considering the messages being exchanged Alabama sources suggest that the job serves to protect incumbents from political accountability by using taxpayer funds to assist certain religious initiatives, presumably those by churches and pastors supportive of the administration.
 
Bluntly speaking, some might call it a political slush fund tending to reinforce incumbents no matter what their actual behavior or what kind of columns that either bloggers like Shuler or liberal commentators like MSNBC's might muster.
 
Bentley's successor, Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, fired Jon Mason on her first day of office April 11, thereby implying the unseemliness of the arrangements. Ivey is Alabama's second female governor. Lurleen Wallace, wife of four-term Gov. George C. Wallace, ran as a surrogate for her husband in 1966 because he was term-limited for re-election.
 
Ivey, the new governor, said, "The Ivey administration will be open. It will be transparent. And it will be honest."
 
Others in politics and the media are inclined in such situations to move on from such a scandal, in part out of deference to the embarrassment of the affected families.
 
That shame is tragic, of course. But there are loose ends that remain to explore, and in such cases it falls to independent commentators to underscore such things as the continued secrecy regarding the Bentley case and the huge disparity in punishment for some officials like Bentley (or even the Masons), who received minimal punishment. By contrast, Siegelman's life was ruined for nearly 20 years for arguably much less and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is now serving a 14-year prison sentence for conspiring to sell an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat.
 
 
"Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley," Shuler wrote, "negotiated a plea deal yesterday that required him to resign, while dropping four possible felony counts to two misdemeanors. That's a bad deal for Alabama, but it's even worse when you consider one member of the House Judiciary Committee, Chris England, has declared his work is done.
 
"That means the hundreds (maybe thousands) of documents the Bentley administration withheld from investigators — plus numerous sworn interviews that were not granted — likely will not see the light of day. If that happens, the public will never know the full extent of misconduct, even criminality, that apparently permeated the Bentley Administration.
 
Legislative and law-enforcement types, by signing off on the plea deal, are sending this message to future miscreants in public office: "If you think you are in trouble, go ahead and cover up and stonewall — and you likely will get away with it." The House Special Counsel made it clear in his report that Bentley, his staff, and his associates failed to cooperate with the investigation in any meaningful way. Now, Bentley is being rewarded for his intransigence — and his lack of respect for the legislature's oversight duties.

 

That's Roger Shuler, Legal Schnauzer's founder and editor. It's his role, not MSNBC's, that deserves recognition for breaking the Bentley story. He doesn't get much else these days and so a pat on the back is well-deserved.

 
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Related News Coverage

Recent News

Legal Schnauzer, Finding of "no probable cause" against Rebekah Mason suggests ethics commission is part of scheme to oust Bentley but keep greater wrongdoing under cover, Roger Shuler, April 14, 2017. The Alabama Ethics Commission has found "no probable cause" that Rebekah Caldwell Mason (shown in a file photo), adviser and mistress to former Gov. Robert Bentley, violated state ethics laws. The decision adds to the growing body of evidence that the process leading to Bentley's resignation on Monday was a sham — "fix" would be another fitting word — designed only to remove an embarrassing governor from office, but provide no justice for the citizens of Alabama.

Legal Schnauzer, Even progressive journalists, like Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O'Donnell of MSNBC, can't get it right about how the "Luv Guv" Bentley story was broken, Roger Shuler, April 13, 2017. The sex and money scandal that brought down Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley this week was a train wreck of deceit. But the dishonesty and misinformation were not limited to political figures, both in and outside the Bentley Administration. It also includes the mainstream media (MSM), the kind of news outlets that involve newspaper chains and major television networks. Andrew Kreig, a D.C.-based lawyer and journalist, takes the MSM to task for its coverage of the Bentley scandal, in a new column at the Justice-Integrity Project. The piece is titled "Alabama blogger, not mainstream media, exposed state house scandal."

We appreciate Kreig's recognition that the Bentley scandal broke here at Legal Schnauzer, not al.com or any other mainstream outlet. In fact, we broke the story almost seven months before the MSM hopped on the train, and during those intervening months, al.com reporters John Archibald, Chuck Dean (yes, he of Ashley Madison fame), and Leada Gore mostly tried to debunk the story and attack my reporting.

I'm never surprised when al.com -- a consortium of Alabama right-wing rags -- sinks to lazy, dishonest, or underhanded reporting. But it is disappointing when even progressive journalists, like Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O'Donnell of MSNBC (shown in screenshots), can't get it right about the origins of the Bentley scandal.

I'm a fan of both Maddow and O'Donnell, and I appreciate that Maddow has been, by far, the most prominent journalist to cover the story; she has devoted segments to it on at least a half dozen occasions, giving it the kind of probing, insightful treatment her viewers have come to expect. But she repeatedly has gotten it wrong about who broke the story. (Rachel, it was me, dammit!!!) On multiple occasions, she has credited al.com and John Archibald with breaking the story. That's not even close to being accurate; they tried to squelch the story and trash the reporter who did break it. MSNBC took it a step further after her report Monday night, after Bentley had resigned. During the talky transition from one show to another, O'Donnell gave Maddow credit for being out front on the story, before everyone. (Cough . . . hack . . . snort!) Maddow did not say anything that indicated she disagreed with that assessment.

Legal Schnauzer, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley engaged in extramarital affair that prompted First Lady's divorce complaint, Roger Shuler, Aug. 31, 2015. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley engaged in an extramarital affair with his former communications director, leading First Lady Dianne Bentley to file for divorce last Friday after 50 years of marriage, sources tell Legal Schnauzer. Rebekah Caldwell Mason, a married mother of three from Bentley's home base of Tuscaloosa, was the governor's mistress in an affair that sources say raises a number of possible legal issues--including use of the state jet and a state trooper's services for personal reasons that had nothing to do with Bentley's official role.

According to Dianne Bentley's divorce complaint, the couple separated in January 2015 because of a "complete incompatibility of temperament" and a "conflict of personalities which destroys the legitimate aims of matrimony." In fact, sources say, Gov. Bentley's affair with Mason destroyed the matrimonial bonds.

Legal Schnauzer, Robert Bentley's 2014 campaign paid more than $400,000 to company owned by governor's mistress, Roger Shuler, Sept. 1, 2015. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley paid more than $400,000 in campaign funds during the 2014 election cycle to a company that his mistress owns. Also, Bentley hired his mistress' husband for a state position that has paid more than $390,000 over the past five years.

Legal Schnauzer, Rebekah C. Mason and her husband have made almost $1 million during the Robert Bentley administration, Roger Shuler, Sept. 1, 2015. Governor Robert Bentley's mistress and her husband have received almost $1 million in government-related payments since Bentley became Alabama governor in 2011. Rebekah Caldwell Mason, whose affair with the governor led to First Lady Dianne Bentley's divorce complaint last Friday, has been paid $426,978.43 via her Tuscaloosa-based company, RCM Consulting. Those campaign expenditures are shown at the Alabama Secretary of State Web site.

Records at open.alabama.gov show that Mason has received $161,571.67 in state funds during the Bentley administration. Those payments--in fiscal years 2011, 2012, and 2013--were listed mostly as "personnel costs," with a small amount for "out of state travel." That brings total payments,  to Rebekah Mason or her company, to $588,550.10. The total expands considerably when you consider payments to Jon Mason, Rebekah's husband, in his role as director of the Governor's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Bentley appointed Jon Mason as director in 2011. 

New York Times, Alabama Governor Quits in Sex Scandal That Rocked State, Alan Blinder, April 10, 2017. Gov. Robert Bentley resigned Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, Top Strategist Rebekah Mason and former Alabama law enforcement chief Stephen Collier WKRGMonday, his power and popularity diminished by a sex scandal that staggered the state, brought him to the brink of impeachment and prompted a series of criminal investigations. Ellen Brooks, a special prosecutor, said Mr. Bentley had quit in connection with a plea agreement on two misdemeanor charges: failing to file a major contribution report and knowingly converting campaign contributions to personal use.

It was a stunning downfall for the governor, a Republican who acknowledged in March 2016 that he had made sexually charged remarks to his senior political adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason. Mr. Bentley, 74, repeatedly denied having a physical relationship with Ms. Mason and long insisted that he had not broken any laws, but he was a subject of multiple investigations, including reviews by the F.B.I. and the Alabama attorney general’s office.

(Bentley is shown at left with Mason center. The WKRG-TV photo collage shows at right Alabama's former top law enforcer Spencer Collier, whom Bentley fired in a cover-up attempt. Blogger Roger Shuler, writing for the Legal Schnauzer he founded, broke the story based on tips and a tape recording, and persisted despite many attacks he has endured stemming from his reporting.)

Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey succeeds Mr. Bentley; she is a former state treasurer who will be the second woman to hold the office. She is graduate of Auburn University who was a high school teacher and a bank officer before going to work for the Legislature.

Politico, How Alabama’s ‘Luv Guv’ Broke New Ground in a Scandal-Plagued State, Eric Velasco, April 10, 2017. Based in Birmingham, Al., Eric Velasco has been a freelancer since 2012, writing about judicial politics and other matters. Naughty texts and burner phones shamed Republican Governor Robert Bentley. A vindictive coverup helped bring him down. Even after a year of titillating revelations, the release on Friday afternoon of the special investigator’s report on the affair between the 74-year-old governor and his much younger and still-married aide still had the capacity to amaze the most seasoned Alabamian political observers.

The bar was high after a tape came out last March of Robert Bentley, the one-time Sunday school teacher and dermatologist, on which the governor was heard awkwardly cooing into the phone to Rebekah Mason, his then 40-something senior political adviser.

On Monday afternoon, the day the Judiciary Committee was to begin deliberations to decide whether to forward impeachment charges to the full House, Bentley was booked into the Montgomery County Jail on two misdemeanor charges involving his use of campaign funds. He was released and then resigned Monday evening. A plea deal, which has not been presented in court, calls for Bentley to never seek public office again, al.com reported.

The governor, whose second term was scheduled to end in 2018, had until Monday adamantly denied ethics or criminal violations. According to news reports, Bentley on Monday afternoon pleaded guilty to the two counts, allegedly involving campaign funds to pay a legal bill for Mason and a loan he made to his campaign outside the permissible window of time.

Mason, a former Miss Alabama contestant, ex-television reporter and communications consultant, resigned last year. But her husband of nearly 20 years, Jon Mason (shown with his wife on a Facebook page), still has his job as director of Bentley’s Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives. Both accompanied Bentley to Trump’s inauguration in January. In recent days, leaders in the state House, Senate and Republican Party urged the governor to resign. But as recently as Friday, during a hastily called news conference on the steps of the state Capitol, Bentley repeated his vow he would not step down.

What is it about Alabama? The concentration of power among a few — the Legislature, the university system, major utilities and a collection of influential businesses — provides a major explanation, said John Archibald, longtime columnist for the Birmingham News and al.com, who has broken many of the revelations in the Bentley scandal. “Part of it is the century-long influence of what we would call the Big Mules,” Archibald said. “So much concentration of power just breeds corruption.”

Legal Schnauzer, Report on "Luv Guv" Bentley might be "salacious," but plea deal that apparently did not require withheld documents to be produced is a bad deal for Alabama, Roger Shuler, April 11, 2017. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (shown in an official photo) negotiated a plea deal yesterday that required him to resign, while dropping four possible felony counts to two misdemeanors. That's a bad deal for Alabama, but it's even worse when you consider one member of the House Judiciary Committee, Chris England, has declared his work is done.

 

Other Alabama Cases, Analysis

Al.com, Former Alabama speaker Mike Hubbard sentenced to 4 years in prison, M.D. Keener and Mike Cason, July 8, 2016. Former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (shown above) has been sentenced to four years in prison, eight years on probation and ordered to pay a $210,000 fine on 12 felony ethics violations. Circuit Judge Jacob Walker handed down the sentence at a hearing in his Opelika courtroom. Hubbard remains out on bond. Walker sentenced Hubbard after hearing from several character witnesses who argued against incarceration, including U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks. A Lee County jury convicted Hubbard on June 10 on 12 felony violations of the state ethics law, finding that he used his powerful political office to illegally make $1.1 million in investments and income for his businesses.

Al.com, Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard convicted on 12 counts, Mike Cason, June 10, 2016. A Lee County jury today convicted Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard on 12 felony charges in his ethics case, removing Hubbard from office. Hubbard, 54, was convicted after a jury spent seven hours deliberating whether he used his public position for personal gain. Hubbard faces up to 20 years in prison for each ethics count. Sentencing is set for July 8. Hubbard was immediately taken into custody and placed in the Lee County jail. He was released on $160,000 bond Friday night and driven away by a bail bondsman, according to the Associated Press.

The conviction came after a 12-day trial in which Hubbard took the stand for three days in his own defense. "We hope this verdict tonight will restore some of the confidence in the people in the state of Alabama that public officials at all levels in the state of Alabama will be held accountable for their actions," Acting Attorney General Van Davis said. "Especially those who would betray their public trust and their position of public trust while in office from all levels, local, county and state."

Al.com, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore suspended for rest of term, Kent Faulk, Sept. 30, 2016. Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has been suspended from the bench for telling probate judges to defy federal orders regarding gay marriage. It's the second time Moore (shown in an official photo) has been removed from the chief justice job for defiance of federal courts - the first time in 2003 for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building.

Harvard Political Review, The Alabamafication of America, Drew Pendergrass, Feb. 14, 2017. The 2016 presidential election looked, more than anything else, like an Alabama election. Donald Trump’s relentless appeals to populist conservative ideas echo decades-long trends in the South. The current worries about Trump’s irresponsible governing style are similar to concerns Alabama commentators have been expressing about their often-demagogic leaders since before the 1940s. To understand the Trump administration, in which Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions will likely serve as attorney general, we should look to Alabama, and the reasons why the state government is teetering toward collapse.

Leaders in all three branches of Alabama’s government are either under investigation or have been recently removed from office. After using his position to obtain over $1.1 million in financial favors, Mike Hubbard, the former speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, was convicted of 12 felony corruption charges in July 2016. He has been described by many as “the most powerful man in Alabama,” a state where the governor has relatively little authority and the legislature holds all the cards — a simple majority is all that is required to override most vetoes. The Hubbard trial was full of fireworks, including testimony from former Governor Bob Riley, but ended in a sentence of only four years in prison.

 

Selected Justice Integrity Project Shuler Coverage

Alabama Kangaroo Court Parades Liberal Commentator in Chains, Continues Indefinite Jailing, Nov. 15, 2013. Alabama authorities paraded a shackled liberal pundit into court, where he was denounced Nov. 14 for recent news coverage about his jailing.

Are Media MIA In Blogger's Beating, Arrest? Andrew Kreig, Nov. 12, 2013. News coverage continued this week in erratic fashion regarding the Oct. 23 arrest and continued jailing of Alabama political commentator Roger Shuler, a longtime journalist and muckraking blogger.  A few news outlets covered as an important story his ongoing jailing without bond on contempt of court charges.
 
Alyona Minkovski
Oped News, Imprisoned Former Alabama Gov. Siegelman Backs Jailed Blogger, Denounces Corruption, Andrew Kreig, Nov. 8, 2013. Editor's Note: Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (1999-2003), now imprisoned in Louisiana, sent me at the Justice Integrity Project the guest column below that opposes the jailing of Alabama reporter/blogger Roger Shuler on contempt of court charges arising out of a defamation suit in Shelby County. "Roger Shuler," Siegelman wrote, Andrew Kreig"has written time and time again exposing Rob Riley, the former governor's son's insidious and sinister connections to money making schemes. Rob Riley, as Shuler told the story, was one of the powers behind the scenes working with Karl Rove and my prosecutor's husband."
 
Huffington Post, Siegelman Deserves New Trial Because of Judge’s ‘Grudge’, Evidence Shows, Andrew Kreig, May 15, 2009. 300 Million in Bush Military Contracts Awarded to Judge’s Private Company. The Alabama federal judge who presided over the 2006 corruption trial of the state's former governor holds a grudge against the defendant for helping to expose the judge's own alleged corruption six years ago. Former Gov. Don Siegelman therefore deserves a new trial with an unbiased judge ─ not one whose privately owned company, Doss Aviation, has been enriched by the Bush administration's award of $300 million in contracts since 2006, making the judge millions in non-judicial income.

 

Catching Our Attention On Media News

Washington Post, Post reporter David Fahrenthold wins Pulitzer Prize for stories about Trump’s charitable giving, Paul Farhi​, April 10, 2017. Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold remembers being struck by Donald Trump’s pledge to donate $6 million, including $1 million of his personal funds, to veteran groups during a televised fundraiser before the Iowa caucuses early last year. Did Trump follow through, he wondered?

So, weeks after the event, Fahrenthold (shown in a Twitter photo from a talk April 8 at the National Press Club) started asking questions.

On Monday, Fahrenthold’s investigative digging was rewarded with the Pulitzer Prize, journalism’s most prestigious award. His work documenting the future president’s charitable practices won the award for national reporting. Fahrenthold’s Pulitzer-winning package of stories also included his article disclosing that Trump had made crude comments and bragged about groping women during an unaired portion of an interview on “Access Hollywood” in 2005.

New York Times, Pulitzer Prizes: New York Times Wins 3; Daily News and ProPublica Share Public Service Award, Sydney Ember, April 10, 2017. The New York Times won three Pulitzer Prizes, and The New York Daily News and ProPublica shared the Pulitzer Prize for public service, as journalism presented its highest honors on Monday at a time of financial challenges for the industry and unabashed antagonism toward the news media from a new administration. The Daily News-ProPublica won for a series on the New York Police Department’s widespread abuse of a decades-old law to force people from their homes and businesses over alleged illegal activity.