|The Superfund amigos: Jeff Sessions, Luther Strange,|
and Richard Shelby
A shooting into the vehicle of a former Drummond Company executive as he drove south on U.S. 280 near Birmingham, came just eight days after discovery had been filed in a lawsuit suggesting Drummond had paid bribes to former Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange in exchange for his opposition to EPA plans to designate a Superfund site for cleanup in North Birmingham.
Was something in the discovery documents so sensitive that it precipitated the shooting? Let's take a look at our coverage of the discovery from a post dated Feb. 19 under the headline "Testimony: Drummond's contributions to Luther Strange were in exchange for opposition to EPA plans:
Political contributions from Drummond Company to Luther Strange were in exchange for his opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) making North Birmingham a Superfund site, the company's former director of government affairs says in discovery filed yesterday in his $75-million fraud lawsuit against Drummond and the Balch Bingham law firm. . . . States David Roberson:"As head of government affairs at Drummond, I never made or recommended any campaign contributions on behalf of the company that were a bribe and/or in any way illegal. The political contributions to Luther Strange were in exchange for him to sign letters as the state attorney general opposing North Birmingham being made a Superfund site. I never met with Luther Strange in connection with this contribution and was not made aware of it until after the fact."
One question comes immediately to mind: If Drummond bribed Strange, did the company bribe other political figures in Alabama? Strange hardly was alone in his opposition to the EPA's plans in North Birmingham, but former U.S. Attorney Jay Town apparently took steps to protect certain individuals and entities. From one of our posts on the subject:
Watchdog group calls for Jay Town's recusal from Superfund case because of ties to politicos
In August 2017, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) noted Town's conflicts related to the bribery scandal and released a letter that called for him to step down from the case: The reason? Town's ties to certain Alabama political figures. From the letter:
On June 22, 2017, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama, under the leadership of an acting U.S. Attorney, publicly announced an ongoing public corruption investigation that involves the law firm Balch Bingham, the coal company Drummond, and their alleged role in bribing a state legislator in Alabama to block the expansion of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund site in Birmingham. That state legislator has admitted to taking bribes from Balch and Drummond.
POGO’s reason for calling upon you to recuse yourself is that three key officials who are your political allies and supported your appointment as U.S. Attorney—Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Senator Luther Strange, and Senator Richard Shelby—all have deep political, financial, or personal ties to Balch and Drummond. Furthermore, Senator Strange has been linked to the bribery scandal.
What about details on Town's connections to Sessions, Strange, and Shelby? POGO provides them:
In Alabama, there have been public allegations that Senator Strange was present when bribes were offered related to the Birmingham Superfund site (Senator Strange disputes these allegations). As Alabama Attorney General, Senator Strange filed letters with the EPA in October 2014 and January 2015 declaring that the state would not provide any funding for the cleanup of the Birmingham Superfund site, located in a poor African American neighborhood. The Drummond Co. donated $25,000 to his campaign two weeks before the first letter in October 2014 and another $25,000 a month after the second letter in January 2015. A POGO report provides further details, quoting from the letter to Town:
You twice advised Senator Strange in political campaigns. He subsequently supported your nomination for U.S. Attorney. Senator Strange is now alleged to be involved in a bribery scandal under investigation by the office of which you are now in charge.
Another public supporter of your nomination as U.S. Attorney is Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Balch and Drummond were, respectively, Senator Sessions second and third largest sources of campaign funding during his Senate career—and through their political action committees and employees have contributed an approximate total of $300,000 to his campaigns since the late 1990s.
As you may be aware, several Balch attorneys have worked in Senator Sessions’ office through the years. Currently, his high-profile deputy —Jeffrey H. Wood, the acting Assistant Attorney General of the Environment and Natural Resources Division—was a Balch partner up until he joined the Justice Department the day President Trump was inaugurated. Mr. Wood has recused himself from any matter involving Balch and has specifically listed the Superfund site in Birmingham in his recusal list. You should follow Mr. Wood’s lead and recuse yourself as well. We have also requested that Attorney General Sessions recuse himself.
Finally, Senator Richard Shelby, another principal sponsor of your nomination as U.S. Attorney, and for whom you appeared in a television campaign commercial in 2016, is a longtime recipient of campaign money from Balch and Drummond. According to public records, Senator Shelby has received approximately $110,000 from Balch and $155,500 from Drummond over his last three election cycles (1999-2016).
Here are more details about politicians with possible ties to the Superfund bribery scandal, from a post under the headline "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":
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 are more unsavory details:
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.
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 Palmer 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.