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Analysis: Alice Martin’s Bentley problem gets stickier

By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News

Over the weekend, Kim Chandler of the Associated Press reported on emails she obtained showing that Alice Martin sought the Attorney General appointment from former Gov. Robert Bentley even before Luther Strange vacated the post.

Why is that news? A few reasons…

First, in her campaign for Attorney General, Martin has repeatedly downplayed her interest in the Bentley appointment. The issue came to a head last month on the “Matt & Aunie” radio show when the hosts confronted Martin about her conflicting past statements on air. Chandler’s reporting only makes that severely awkward interview sound worse.

Second, Martin now has conflicting versions of when she was and wasn’t leading the Bentley investigation as Chief Deputy Attorney General.

Her statement to Chandler says she “played no active role” in investigating Bentley after seeking the appointment. That would mean January 26, 2017, the day she sent an email to the Governor’s Office asking for an interview.

But Martin has previously touted her leadership of the Bentley investigation right up to the point when the governor appointed Strange to the Senate. During a previous appearance on the “Matt & Aunie Show,” she was pretty explicit.

Here’s that audio, where the relevant discussion starts at about 3:50:

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MURPHY: A suggestion was being made that a kind of fix was in with regard to what investigation was or wasn’t going on with Bentley and Luther Strange. Give us some insight into what you
were really doing behind the scenes while all of this was playing out in the headlines.

MARTIN: What I was really doing was leading the grand jury investigation, which has nothing to do with a political appointment… The chief deputy is doing the day-to- day operations. So, I was overseeing the Special Prosecutions Unit determining what witnesses to be brought into grand jury and moving that forward.

MURPHY: The suggestion has been that Luther was slow-walking his investigation into Robert Bentley because he wanted an appointment to the U.S. Senate. And I guess I’m asking you, if from your experience, that was the case?

MARTIN: That was not the case. Luther Strange had nothing to do with the timing of our investigation. I was running that investigation, and that was that. We kept on with our process…”

That sounds like an active role in the investigation.

Martin also talked about leading the Bentley investigation at a GOP forum in Butler County. Here’s that video starting at about 1:30:

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“I never asked for anything from Robert Bentley on an appointment. By law, just as Kay Ivey became your governor, when Bentley appointed Strange to the Senate, I by law became your acting Attorney General. But, it only lasted about 36 hours because I was running the Bentley investigation.”

And when Matt Murphy asked Martin about the propriety of her asking Bentley for an appointment while investigating him, she said that since the State Bar Association determined it was okay for Luther Strange, it was okay for her. Not that she was no longer leading the investigation or playing no active role, just that it was ethically permissible.

Here’s that audio, starting at about 27:40:

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MURPHY: How is it appropriate if you were over the investigation of the Governor that you asked for a thing of value from the person you were investigating?

MARTIN: Well the state bar has already answered that question and said that it was not improper for Luther Strange to ask for the Senate appointment and I think the same holds here.

MURPHY: What about you? Do you think it’s ethical?

MARTIN: Ethical? I think there was going to be an appointment and I wanted to protect the integrity of that appointment, Matt, that’s I what I think.

MURPHY: Do you think it’s ethical to ask for an appointment from someone you are currently investigating is the question.

MARTIN: Either way, whoever was going to come into the office was going investigate or recuse.

MURPHY: What about you, I’m asking about you.

MARTIN: I do not think it was unethical.

MURPHY: And you were investigating the governor and you asked for a role as Attorney General and you’re comfortable.

MARTIN: The state of Alabama needed an Attorney General who would follow through with a recusal and an appointment of someone who would follow through on that grand jury investigation thats whats important.

If being generous, one could say that Martin was caught off guard during this last live interview and didn’t have the presence of mind to point out the relevant fact: that she wasn’t leading the Bentley investigation. That said, she had several opportunities to do so. And that’s to say nothing of the other instances when Martin explicitly said she was running/leading the investigation.

I don’t get it. These are such unforced errors.

Why would she repeatedly play down her interest in the Bentley appointment when there are records showing she actively pursued the job?

Why would she repeatedly play up her leadership of the Bentley investigation only to later say she had no active role?

What’s most mystifying is that none of this would even be a topic of conversation, let alone newsworthy, if it weren’t for Martin herself making Bentley’s eventual appointment of Attorney General Steve Marshall a central issue in the campaign.

Anyone is within their right to scrutinize Bentley’s appointment of Marshall, primary opponents most of all. But, by being too clever by half on the Bentley interview and trying to have it both ways on leading the Bentley investigation, Martin has forfeited her credibility on the issue and called her own actions into question.

Martin is running as a tough-on-corruption prosecutor, and she has a record to back it up. But now, instead of talking about that record, she’ll be faced with questions about exactly when she was or wasn’t investigating Bentley and how what she did – seeking an appointment from a governor her office was investigating – is any different than what Luther Strange was roundly criticized for.

Alice Martin’s sticky Bentley issue just became a lot stickier, I’m afraid.

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