Tuesday, July 17, 2018

"Luv Guv" Robert Bentley admits in deposition that he talked with law enforcement about investigating me and Donald Watkins for our reporting on scandal

Robert Bentley's mugshot after guilty plea
and resignation.
Former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley talked with a member of his cabinet about investigating me and attorney/Facebook blogger Donald Watkins, according to a deposition in a pending lawsuit.

The deposition, conducted in June, is part of a wrongful-termination lawsuit that Spencer Collier, former secretary of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), brought against Bentley and others. (A transcript of the full deposition is embedded at the end of this post.)

I apparently was targeted for investigation because I broke the story here at Legal Schnauzer, on August 31, 2015, about Bentley's extramarital-affair with aide Rebekah Caldwell Mason. Watkins followed up on my reporting, and that apparently prompted an investigation of him. In other words, Bentley and his team retaliated against Web-based journalists for accurately reporting on the "Luv Guv" scandal. In addition, it appears Mike Echols, Bentley's former CPA, was investigated.

The mainstream press largely ignored the scandal for roughly seven months -- and al.com reporters John Archibald and Chuck Dean attacked me for breaking it -- until audiotapes of Bentley and Mason surfaced in March 2016.

Reports of Bentley's team investigating Watkins and me have surfaced in several news outlets, including Alabama Political Reporter (APR), which published a Bill Britt story with the headline "Bentley Ordered Law Enforcement to Target Critics." In the deposition, Bentley admits he discussed such matters with . . . of all people, Spencer Collier. Here is Bentley, from page 207 of the deposition:

Spencer and I talked two or three times about all these things that had transpired, you know, the things that were on blogs and things like this. The thing about Donald Watkins, so much of that had been fed to him by, obviously, somebody, and so he was one of the ones that was putting out some of this material that I felt was somewhat threatening. So Spencer told me -- I remember on three occasions, Spencer said, "Now, Governor, you're not telling me to investigate this, because I don't know how they investigate things," but he said, "I am going to investigate this." He investigated -- I don't know how much they did on Donald Watkins, I don't know what they looked into on it, I don't know what they used, but he was one of the ones that we talked about. The guy at Legal Schnauzer, whatever his name is, he was one of the others. I also gave Spencer some e-mails from my former accountant that Spencer felt like were extortion. So Spencer investigated some things. I don't know exactly how much was investigated, though.

Legal Schnauzer
Bentley seems to be laying the investigations at Collier's feet -- this was while Collier still was a loyal sergeant, before he, too, was investigated and then terminated. But Bentley's tone changes a bit on page 208 of the deposition, under questioning from Collier's lawyer, Kenneth Mendelsohn. Suddenly, it doesn't seem the investigations were all Collier's idea:

Q. And the things on Donald Watkins, Legal Schnauzer, and Mike Echols are all things that Spencer did on his own?

A. No. We had talked about it, but Spencer said, "If you feel threatened" -- basically, if we feel like that was a threat, if the governor feels threatened, then it's the duty of the law enforcement to do whatever they need to do. I don't know how much investigation was done.

Q. And what Donald Watkins was posting on his blog, or whatever you call it, his Facebook page --

A. Right.

Q. -- was matters concerning your relationship with Rebekah Mason?

A. Primarily, yes.

Q. The same thing with Legal Schnauzer?

A. I guess, yes.

On page 210 of the deposition, we find this, again with questioning from Mendelsohn:

Q. Do you have any information, other than what you just referred to about your conversations with Spencer, that he ever did any background checks on Donald Watkins or Legal Schnauzer?

A. I don't.

MR. MENDELSOHN: That's all I've got now.

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