Monday, October 30, 2017

List of Alabama politicos tied to North Birmingham Superfund bribery scandal grows to include Richard Shelby, Luther Strange, Gary Palmer, Robert Bentley, Jabo Waggoner, and Jessica Medeiros Garrison

The Superfund amigos: Jeff Sessions, Luther Strange,
and Richard Shelby
Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby lead a cavalcade of Alabama politicians with ties to the North Birmingham Superfund scandal, according to a new report from Mother Jones (MoJo).

Joining Sessions and Shelby on the list of ignominy are U.S. Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), former Gov. Robert Bentley, State Sen. Jabo Waggoner, U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer (R-AL), and Strange's one-time mistress and campaign manager Jessica Garrison. Notice a pattern? Yes, we're looking here at all white, conservative Republicans.

Could this bunch have Superfund ties that are close enough to raise questions about criminal conduct? Could they join former State Rep. Oliver Robinson (a black Democrat) on the list of public officials to be indicted? Could they join Balch Bingham lawyers Joel Gilbert and Steven McKinney, plus Drummond Co. executive David Roberson, on the list of four indictees so far?

Are any white public officials going to be held accountable? Are we supposed to believe that the black guy, Oliver Robinson, acted as a lone wolf, with none of these white politicos being aware of bribes that were paid to him? Is U.S. Attorney Jay Town, who has said he does not expect more indictments, protecting certain individuals based on race -- perhaps under instructions from his boss, Trump AG Jeff Sessions? Will the racism that has tracked Sessions career like a second coat of paint rear its ugly ahead again?

We don't have answers to all of those questions, but the MoJo article makes it clear that the involvement of Alabama GOP politicians is broader and deeper than was widely suspected. Here is a brief look at the role of each known player, as described by MoJo:

Jeff Sessions

During his 20 years as a U.S. senator, Sessions pocketed hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars from both Drummond Company, the corporation at the heart of this scandal, and its Birmingham-based law firm, Balch Bingham. But his ties to Drummond and Balch extend beyond the usual political contributions. Last year, according to documents obtained by Mother Jones and the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, Sessions intervened to oppose the Environmental Protection Agency action at issue in the bribery case, and he did so just weeks after conferring with Balch lawyers.

Robert Bentley and Jabo Waggoner

Drummond was a major political benefactor of former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, who resigned in April amid an embarrassing sex scandal. Bentley’s administration fiercely battled the EPA’s Superfund push in North Birmingham, yet he was hardly alone. Among the state officials who assisted Drummond and Balch was one of the longest-serving members of the state Legislature, Republican Sen. J.T. “Jabo” Waggoner, who in 2015 successfully introduced a resolution opposing the EPA actions at the 35th Avenue Superfund site. According to the Justice Department, the measure was in fact authored by Balch’s Joel Gilbert.

Luther Strange

Then-Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, who in September lost a Republican Senate primary runoff to former state Supreme Court Judge Roy Moore, sent detailed letters to the EPA in October 2014 and January 2015 opposing its efforts in North Birmingham. Drummond gave Strange a $25,000 campaign contribution less than a week before the first letter and another $25,000 donation a month after the second. Strange’s Senate office did not respond to requests for comment.

Strange’s ties go deeper still. The head of his Senate campaign’s finance team, Mike Thompson, was one of two directors of the Alliance for Jobs and the Economy, the outfit that made payments to Robinson’s nonprofit. The other was Drummond’s David Roberson. US Attorney Jay Town recently told the Birmingham News that Thompson “is not the subject or target of any investigation run out of my office.”

Richard Shelby and Gary Palmer

[From Balch newsletter]: “Balch has worked on a multitude of strategy options for congressional engagement concerning EPA’s latest Superfund actions,” the item boasts. “Recently, Balch has met with Senator Jeff Sessions and presented to the National Mining Association on the emerging issues in Superfund, including the aerial emission deposition theory.” The firm informed its clients that “key members of the Alabama congressional delegation will issue a letter on this topic shortly.” The newsletter directed clients with questions to contact Steve McKinney, one of the now indicted Balch attorneys. 
True to Balch’s word, in February 2016, weeks after the newsletter’s publication, Sessions, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), and Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) sent a letter to the EPA condemning the use of the “air deposition theory” at the 35th Avenue site. Attached to the letter was a copy of Waggoner’s ghostwritten resolution. In July 2016, according to an EPA spokesman, officials from the agency briefed staffers for Sessions, Shelby, and Palmers’ regarding the status of the 35th Avenue site.

Jessica Medeiros Garrison

[Jeffrey] Wood, [Ed] Haden, and other Balch lawyers spearheaded high-profile legal fights with the Obama-era EPA. Wood and Haden represented Republican members of Congress in a 2016 court filing siding with West Virginia as it fought EPA carbon emission standards at coal power plants. The lawsuit appeared to be coordinated by coal behemoth Murray Energy and the fossil fuel industry-funded Republican Attorneys General Association. RAGA’s executive director at the time, Jessica Medeiros Garrison, was simultaneously an attorney at Balch from 2011 through 2016. She has also worked for Sessions.

If it's proven that any of these actions were coordinated with bribes paid to Oliver Robinson, could that mean criminal action on the part of the above politicos? It sure looks that way.

The bigger question might be this: Is an effort under way in the highest reaches of the U.S. Department of Justice to make sure white politicians skate, while the black guy takes the heat? That's  called a race-based cover-up, and it's exactly the kind of thing Jeff Sessions might find attractive. Could he wind up taking a bunch of Alabama's "finest" down with him?

Stay tuned.

No comments: