Is Merrill's steaming pile of hypocrisy, given his 2015 admission to an "extramarital sexual encounter," the smelliest part of this story? Or maybe it's the Alabama press' willingness to provide cover for a white Republican by failing to mention Merrill's own indiscretions in coverage of his bromide about old-timey television shows? Or is it the explanation Merrill gave to a newspaper's panel of four journalists in 2015 that was so flimsy it stretched credulity to the breaking point?
How did Merrill explain his dalliance with a woman named Millie Brinyark to higher-ups at al.com (The Birmingham News)? We would describe it as "off-the-charts goofy." But the assembled journos, casting inquisitiveness and healthy skepticism aside, seemed to swallow it, as fishermen like to say, "hook, line, and sinker."
After we broke the Merrill-Brinyark story on January 29, 2015 -- he was then, as he is now, Alabama's secretary of state -- Merrill met with members of the al.com staff in an apparent effort to squirm out of trouble. Here is how we described it in a post dated February 5, 2015:
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill admits to having an extramarital sexual encounter but denies it included oral sex, according to an article published yesterday afternoon at al.com.
Merrill, a Republican with solid backing from business and religious organizations, also admitted to recommending the woman, Millie Brinyark, for a school-related job. But Merrill denied making the hiring decision, even though the job apparently was in a program he once managed. . . .
What is Merrill's version of the sexual encounter? Here is how al.com describes it:
Merrill said the woman called him and asked to meet on Sunday, Sept. 12 (2010), at a condo owned by her brother. (In her deposition, the woman said Merrill asked her about getting together that Sunday, but acknowledged that she suggested the location, saying she had to go there anyway to return a parking pass.). That is where the encounter happened that Merrill and the woman describe differently.
Merrill told reporters: "Basically, when I walked in, we started talking. She kissed me, I kissed her back. Then she started unbuttoning my shirt, and after that, she started to become more aggressive, and she actually did some other things in trying to engage me in some physical activity with her, which I declined, and I indicated to her that I was not going to do that.
"I stopped, and I said, 'I need to go, I'm not going to be here anymore'."
How did Merrill skirt Brinyark's graphic description, in a divorce-case deposition (under oath), of their encounter? Given that Merrill is a long-time chum of Birmingham attorney and former Alabama first son Rob Riley, it should be no surprise that his explanation is a tad hard to believe. From our February 2015 post:
The al.com article raises numerous questions, but perhaps the most staggering one is this: Why would a woman admit--under oath and penalty of perjury--to providing a man with oral sex, when she really didn't? Even Merrill can't seem to explain that one, especially considering that Brinyark's deposition reportedly was taken less than two weeks after the sexual encounter. From the al.com article:
Asked why the discrepancy exists between his version and what the woman testified to 10 days after the incident, Merrill said:
"I don't know, I don't know that I ever will know. But I do know this - I'd know if that (oral sex) had happened. I would know that, and I know it didn't."
Raise your hand if you think Millie Brinyark would admit, under oath in a divorce case, that she provided a BJ to a man other than her husband, when she really didn't. I suspect there aren't too many raised hands out there.
Secretary of State John H. Merrill (R-Tuscaloosa) is the Alabama politician whose extramarital affair was revealed in court documents but went unreported in the mainstream press.
Kyle Whitmire, a reporter for al.com, admitted in a column on Tuesday that, prior to the 2014 general election, he had court documents that provided details about an unnamed public official's affair. The quality of the information was not in question because it involved sworn testimony in a deposition. Whitmire said it was "as close as it comes" to having a "story cold," but he "stuck it away," apparently not even consulting an editor about it. Whitmire hinted that other reporters in the mainstream press had received the information and ignored it.
Merrill, a Republican ally of former governor Bob Riley and a friend of Riley's son Rob, went on to handily win the secretary of state race over Democrat Lula Albert-Kaigler. Would Merrill have won if Whitmire had revealed the contents of court documents in his possession? That's hard to say. But multiple sources told Legal Schnauzer yesterday that the documents in question are from a divorce case in Tuscaloosa Circuit Court styled Bryan Scott Brinyark v. Mildred Murphree Brinyark.
Sources sent us copies of Millie Brinyark's deposition in the case, dated September 22, 2010, and Merrill's name is front and center. Ms. Brinyark, a former teacher, admits to allowing the married Merrill to touch her "private parts" and that she performed oral sex on him.
How small a person is John Merrill, this guy who wants to represent Alabama in the U.S. Senate? He actually had the audacity to blame his 2015 troubles on a "smear campaign." And al.com journos apparently were dim-witted enough to believe him. From Legal Schnauzer:
According to al.com, Merrill claims to be the victim of a "smear campaign" by unnamed individuals who widely circulated portions of the deposition to the press, politicians, members of his church, and others. How can it be a smear campaign when it involves public documents, about testimony that Merrill largely admits is true? The al.com journalists apparently did not ask Merrill that question.