Special counsel wants to subpoena Bentley documents

Published 9:25 pm Tuesday, September 27, 2016

By Kim Chandler | The Associated Press
MONTGOMERY (AP) — Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and others have “flatly” refused to cooperate in an impeachment probe, the special counsel in the investigation said Tuesday as he asked the House Judiciary Committee to issue subpoenas to compel them to turn over documents. Special counsel Jack Sharman asked the committee to subpoena documents from Bentley, a former staffer with whom Bentley was accused of having an affair, the governor’s campaign, a nonprofit that paid the staffer and other entities.

“The office of the governor has flatly, adamantly and in every way possible made clear they are not going to cooperate,” Sharman told the committee. “The same thing is true of every other person and entity on that list I provided you,” Sharman said. Sharman said the people and entities had voluntarily turned over “few or no documents” in response to his requests.

Bentley’s attorney disputed the accusation, saying the governor’s office voluntarily turned over 1,500 pages of material on Tuesday morning. “The record actually refutes that,” attorney Ross Garber said.

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The disagreement is the latest twist in the slow-moving impeachment probe launched after the governor’s fired law enforcement secretary accused Bentley of having an affair with his political adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, and of interfering in law enforcement business.

However, Garber added that Sharman was also seeking material that he considered irrelevant, such as the governor’s personal financial records for the last six years. “There’s no legitimate reason for that. That is a fishing expedition.”

Sharman also asked the committee to issue subpoenas to Mason, a nonprofit that worked on Bentley’s political agenda, and Mason’s company and husband. Judiciary Committee Chairman Mike Jones said a subcommittee will review the request and make a recommendation to him on whether they should be issued. Sharman said the subpoenas could be served very quickly if they are approved by the committee chairman.

Previously released committee documents show that Sharman wanted documents regarding travel on state aircraft, telephone records, a nonprofit group that worked on Bentley’s political agenda, reimbursement and pay records, email and text messages Mason and the governor sent each other and Bentley’s personal financial information.

However, if the committee issues subpoenas, it does not have the inherent power to enforce them. The committee’s ability to compel testimony and document production has been a key legal question since the probe was launched.

“We’re about to send subpoenas out and we don’t know if we can enforce them,” Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, said.

Sharman said he thought there was a “path” for enforcement. He said it would likely require the committee holding a person in contempt and then going to court to seek a court order requiring the person to comply.

“By the time we go through this process, we’ll all be out of office,” England replied.

The House Judiciary Committee will make a recommendation to the full House of Representatives on if impeachment is merited. If the House votes to impeach, a trial would be held in the Alabama Senate to determine if Bentley should be removed from office. Under the Alabama Constitution, Bentley would automatically be removed from his duties if the House votes to impeach him. He could only be restored to his position if a trial in the Alabama Senate acquits him.

Sharman said he had interviewed some witnesses and received documents, photographs and other evidence. He did not name the people. He said it “will be very difficult to have a robust and reliable report if we don’t have the participation of key participants.”

However, Sharman said refusal to cooperate could in itself be considered an impeachable offense.