On a related note, corporate interests are pushing for the U.S. Department of Justice to prosecute Bentley, concerned the governor's buffoonish and apparently criminal actions will sully the state's business climate, according to a new report.
What exactly happened late last week in Alabama's capital? Here is our best guess, based on a review of multiple press reports: (1) State auditor Jim Zeigler said his office had received multiple reports that FBI agents had seized records and equipment during a raid at the Information Services Division of the Governor's Finance Office; (2) Bentley fired James Nolin, chief information officer in the finance office, and placed Rex McDowell, assistant director of finance information/administrative services, on leave; (3) Members of the Bentley administration claimed there had been a computer-security breach, and they invited the FBI to help investigate the matter; (4) The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) said Bentley was asking the FBI to assist with a "routine administrative audit"; (5) An FBI official said the agency was not involved with an audit in Alabama "at this time."
Is all of this a full, or partial, smokescreen? Watkins, reporting at his Facebook page, says the answer likely is yes. From Watkins post last Friday:
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley has thrown two more staffers under the bus in an effort to conceal his criminal conduct in improperly accessing two federal criminal databases in an unsuccessful effort to frame Roger Alan Shuler and me on trumpeted up criminal charges. Former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency chief Spencer Collier refused to participate in the governor’s scheme to frame Shuler and me. The scheme violated federal criminal laws.
Bentley was attempting to retaliate against Shuler and me for publishing online articles last year that criticized his improper conduct as governor and exposed his love secret affair with executive mistress Rebekah Caldwell Mason. The passage of time has confirmed that these articles were true in all material respects. . . .
The governor's effort to discredit Shuler and me failed, miserably. We continue to break the news on Bentley's "sex for power" and public corruption scandal.
The FBI's investigation of Bentley is focused on his racketeering and public corruption conduct as governor. His primary accomplice in these crimes was Rebekah Mason.
The governor is aware that his federal criminal indictment is imminent. The number of counts in the indictment is expected to set a record for a federal racketeering and public corruption case. Bentley will be arrested at his capitol office, which is the headquarters for his racketeering enterprise.
Is Watkins' analysis on target? An al.com report indicates at least one criminal database, which Bentley reportedly had ordered used to help frame Watkins and me is, in fact, involved with the current raid/seizure/audit. From al.com reporter Paul Gattis:
According to Bentley's letter, ALEA Secretary Stan Stabler informed the governor that "several contract personnel working for (the finance department's Information Services Division) were improperly granted access to IT resources that support ALEA and the state of Alabama's CJIS (Criminal Justice Information Systems) network."
CJIS, a part of the FBI, is the world's largest repository of criminal fingerprints and history records available to investigators and police professionals that is the "cornerstone of protecting the nation," according to the FBI website.
How do corporate executives enter the picture? Watkins, who has been successful enough in a number of business ventures (banking, energy, transportation) that he could bid to become owner of multiple professional sports franchises (Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay Rays, Los Angeles Angels, Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals, and St. Louis Rams), explains, in post published on Saturday:
Alabama is home to three major automobile producers: Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Honda Manufacturing of Alabama, and Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama. The state is also home to two major engine producers, International Diesel of Alabama and Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Alabama, Inc.
Last year, Google, Inc., the world’s second most valuable company, announced that it would invest $600 million to locate a massive data processing center in north Alabama, one of only fourteen in the world. Google’s financial investment in Jackson County matches Airbus’s $600 million investment in Mobile, Alabama, where the aerospace giant began building its first U.S.-based production facility in 2013.
These companies are global conglomerates. They could have easily located their manufacturing facilities in other countries. For a variety of reasons, they chose to locate their facilities in the United States and to site them in Alabama.
None of these companies can afford to be associated, directly or indirectly, with Alabama Governor Robert Bentley's “sex for power” and public corruption scandal. All of them have stellar international reputations that must be safeguarded from embarrassing scandals at all times. Under no circumstances can they bring world leaders and industry giants to a meeting with a sitting governor who is the “target” of an ongoing federal criminal investigation for racketeering and public corruption.
Furthermore, Alabama’s governor has become the laughingstock of the nation. Bentley’s salacious scandal has dragged Alabama back into the negative spotlight of every major newspaper and electronic media organization in the world. Yet, Bentley, whose situation is analogous to a “dead man walking”, refuses to resign.
The United States government is keenly aware of its affirmative obligation to project America in a strong and positive light to its trade partners around the world. Once the Justice Department in Washington learned that Bentley was operating a full-scale racketeering enterprise directly out of the governor’s office in a state that is home to five of the world’s largest international corporations, the Department realized the huge negative impact that Bentley’s criminal conduct could have on America’s mostly positive image in the international business world.
In short, Bentley has become an embarrassment on both the national and international stages. Writes Watkins:
While major in-state corporations could choose to stick their heads in the sand and tolerate the governor’s buffoonery, the international conglomerates in Alabama could not afford to do so. Some of these conglomerates made it known to the Justice Department, via private channels, that Bentley’s sexcapades with Rebekah Mason and his publicly reported public corruption were bad for America’s international business image and growth. What is more, the sex tapes of Bentley reminiscing about putting his hands on Rebekah’s breasts and parading in front of her in his boxer shorts were too much of an embarrassment for the home office executives of these companies to stomach. Alabama’s public officials may not have minimum standards of decency and ethics in office, but the heads of these international conglomerates certainly do.
Something had to be done about Bentley’s out-of-the-closet and out-of-control criminal conduct. As 2015 was nearing an end, the timing was right for responsible corporate action to address Bentley’s growing scandal.
Where does the situation stand now? Watkins explains:
Recognizing the serious international implications of Robert Bentley’s racketeering case from an equal justice and international business development standpoint, the Justice Department launched a criminal investigation of the governor. The Department’s first assessment centered on Montgomery U.S. Attorney George Beck, Jr., and his fitness to serve as a member of the prosecution team. The Department quickly concluded that Beck was nothing more than a “bootlicking flunky” for Bentley and his chief legal adviser, David Byrne. Additionally, Beck did not have adequate legal skills for this prosecutorial job. The Department thereafter removed Beck and his entire office from any involvement in Bentley’s criminal case.
Since taking over the case, Horn’s team of prosecutors and FBI agents has aggressively investigated Bentley’s racketeering conduct. They have interviewed scores of key witnesses in the case, and some of them have been interviewed on multiple occasions. They have seized bank records, donor records from non-profit corporations, financial records from Bentley’s campaign, records of electronic transmissions between Bentley, Mason, Byrne and other culprits, records from businesses associated with Mason and Bentley, and state government computers. They are well aware of attempts by Bentley and some of his loyalists within the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency to obstruct their investigation. . . .
In the end, Robert Bentley’s arrogant and small-minded thinking was no match for the private back-channel calls for criminal justice by the powerful international conglomerates that invested billions of dollars in manufacturing facilities in Alabama. Their voices, along with others, were heard within the Justice Department.