On Wednesday, we learned two things that we long suspected: Alabama GOP Gov. Robert Bentley is still under investigation, and new Sen. Luther Strange may be even less ethical than the governor who just appointed him. On Monday, Bentley appointed prosecutor Steve Marshall to replace Strange as Alabama attorney general; two days later, Marshall announced that he was recusing himself from investigating Bentley for allegedly using state resources to cover up an affair with a staffer, Rebekah Mason. Just the day before, Marshall had refused to say if there even was an investigation; now we know there is.
Bentley has been in hot water since March of last year, when audio recordings emerged of him engaged in explicit conversations with Mason, all but confirming the existence of an affair that had shockingly prompted Bentley’s wife of 50 years to file for divorce in 2015. Those recordings in turn prompted some lawmakers, including fellow Republicans, to call for Bentley’s impeachment. Those impeachment proceedings were moving slowly, but in November, they ground to a halt—thanks to Strange.
Just before Election Day, Strange, who was still attorney general at the time, sent a letter to the state legislature, asking it to halt its inquiry into Bentley’s activities “until I am able to report to you that the necessary related work of my office has been completed.” Lawmakers did as Strange asked, explaining at the time that the attorney general was conducting “a separate investigation of the governor.”
But things began to change after Donald Trump won and soon announced that he would nominate Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to serve as U.S. attorney general. It was up to Bentley to appoint Sessions’ replacement, and Strange was one of the many Republicans who coveted the seat. In late November, Strange publicly said that he’d accept the position if Bentley offered it. But how could Strange take a job from the man he was investigating, especially since it would mean that Bentley would get to appoint a new attorney general? By pretending he might not really be investigating him!
In late December, Strange belatedly insisted that he never actually said he was investigating the governor, and claimed he had only asked the legislature to suspend its impeachment proceedings because there were “some common players involved.” That made it all okay, right? Well, okay enough for top Alabama Republicans: Last week, Bentley did indeed name Strange to the Senate and soon picked Marshall to replace him as Alabama’s top prosecutor.