Alabama’s Watergate

Project on Government Oversight  today published an investigative report on Alabama’s Watergate.

Adam Zagorin and Nick Schwellenbach write:

Whether or not Attorney General Jeff Sessions survives in office, it won’t silence the hubbub in his home state of Alabama over a major bribery scandal that highlights Sessions’ conflicts of interest and could lead law enforcement to examine the role of his hand-picked successor, Senator Luther Strange, in the controversy.

The mess, which some commentators have started calling “Alabama’s Watergate,” stems from the recent admission by a state lawmaker, Oliver Robinson, that he accepted $360,000 in bribes. According to a Justice Department press release, the payments came both from an executive at Drummond Coal, one of the state’s largest companies, and an attorney at Balch & Bingham, its powerful law firm based in Birmingham. The press release says the bribes were part of a scheme to block expansion of a local Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site full of arsenic, lead, and carcinogenic hydrocarbons that threatened to cost the coal company tens of millions of dollars in cleanup costs.

“This case gets at the heart of public corruption in Alabama,” Robert Posey, the Acting US Attorney in Birmingham, said in June when accepting the state lawmaker’s admission of wrongdoing. “Well-funded special interests offer irresistible inducements to public officials. In exchange, the officials represent the interests of those who pay rather than the interests of those who vote. Here a public official betrayed his community to advocate for those who polluted their neighborhoods.”

Lawyers for Robinson, the bribe-taking lawmaker, say he is cooperating with authorities. And in a state rife with corruption—the governor, the head of the legislature, and the state’s chief judge have all been removed from office in the last year—law enforcement continues to investigate the bribery scandal.

Read more here.