By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
Attorney General candidate Alice Martin on Tuesday faced tough questions about her conflicting statements on whether or not she pursued former Governor Robert Bentley’s appointment to become Attorney General.
Appearing on the “Matt & Aunie” radio show on Talk 99.5 in Birmingham, Martin was asked why she previously said she did not interview for the appointment, when the record shows she actually did.
Martin, a former U.S. Attorney, has made Bentley’s appointment of current Attorney General Steve Marshall a central issue in the campaign, claiming Marshall’s appointment led to a “sweetheart” plea deal for Bentley.
During the interview, Martin quickly clarified that she did, in fact, ask for the job, but that admission only produced more questions from co-hosts Matt Murphy and Aunie Lindenburg as to whether that was appropriate given that she was leading the AG’s office investigation into Bentley.
Listen to the interview in its entirety online HERE.
In February 2017, Bentley famously appointed then-Attorney General Luther Strange to the U.S. Senate, filling the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions. The appointment was widely criticized because Strange’s office had been investigating Bentley for various suspect activities.
As Chief Deputy Attorney General at the time, Martin had been leading that grand jury investigation into Bentley. Strange’s departure elevated Martin to acting Attorney General, though Marshall, a local district attorney from North Alabama, would eventually be appointed to fill the job permanently. Upon assuming office, Marshall recused himself from the Bentley investigation and appointed retired prosecutor Ellen Brooks, a Democrat, to handle the case. Less than three months later, Bentley resigned from office after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges of campaign finance violations.
Answering questions about this musical chairs scenario on a previous appearance on the “Matt & Aunie Show,” Martin told the hosts she was focused on running the day-to-day operations of the AG’s office, to include the investigation into Bentley. She did not interview for the top job, she said, but rather met with Bentley to discuss what the position entails so as to better inform his judgment.
Murphy: “…I would be curious then, Alice, to know, as disrespectful as you feel like then-Governor Bentley was being with the process, why you would have agreed to interview with him for the Attorney General’s position?
Martin: “Well, Bentley called me the day that he appointed Luther Strange to the Senate and I was asked to come speak to the Governor. During my time with the Governor, his question to me was, ‘tell me about the office, how many people work in it,’ those kind of things. He never asked me any questions about serving as Attorney General, so I don’t consider that it was a job interview. I was asked to come and, by law, I was the Acting Attorney General, so when the Governor called, I went over.”
Lindenberg: “So there never was an offer on the table? Maybe he was just…”
Martin: “Never, never. It was a show.”
Listen to that radio interview HERE.
This wasn’t the first time Martin has denied or at least downplayed her desire for Bentley’s appointment. In previous interviews, she said her meeting with Bentley was “not really an interview” and similarly characterized it as a discussion about the position, not for the position.
At an appearance in Butler County, Martin said “I never asked for anything from Governor Bentley on an appointment,” responding to opponent Ches Bedsole’s comment that “the only two people running for this job were the one who took the interim appointment and the one who took the permanent appointment,” referring to Martin and Marshall, respectively.
ON THE AIR
On Tuesday, co-hosts Murphy and Lindenberg confronted Martin with a note she wrote Bentley thanking the former governor for interviewing her, stating her qualifications for the job, and asking to be considered for the appointment.
The note, dated February 10, 2017, reads:
Thank you for the opportunity to interview for the appointment to serve as Alabama’s 50th Attorney General. I humbly submit my 36 years of civil & criminal legal and judicial experience to serve my passion and my state.
[description of experience]
It would be an honor to serve and I appreciate your consideration.
That’s when things got a little awkward on the radio.
Murphy: Alright so once again, I’m just trying to get some clarity, that you, when you went to go meet with the governor, you didn’t consider that to be an interview?
Martin: When I got in there, it was not an interview, it was what does the office-
Murphy: I mean did you think it was an interview?
Martin: Well, he said come over and visit, he didn’t say come over you’re being considered
Murphy: But I mean you wrote the governor after and thanked him for the interview.
Martin: I don’t know if I did or not.
Murphy: I mean I have the note…
Martin: And that’s fine if I did.
Murphy: That’s your letter to governor right?
Murphy: And you say thank you for the opportunity to be interviewed for the appointment of Alabama’s 50th Attorney General.
Martin: Yes that is what it says, and as I said I wrote him a letter before when I heard that Strange was being moved
Murphy: Well Alice don’t you think it’s a little unfair, that you’re suggesting malfeasance on the behalf of Steve Marshall for accepting the position…
Martin: I’m not, I’m not and that’s what you need to understand is that someone was going to get appointed. What I have distinguished myself from Steve Marshall is that Im a lifelong Republican and that’s the difference.
Murphy: Well you said at a Butler County candidate forum on February 20th ‘I have never asked anything from Governor Bentley on an appointment.’
Do you deny saying that?
Martin: I don’t remember saying that.
Murphy: Butler County candidate forum on February 20th, public forum, you said ‘I have never asked anything from Governor Bentley on an appointment.’
Martin: No, no what I was responding to was Ches Bedsole had said that I had asked for that and gotten the appointment from the governor and it was my understanding that I became acting Attorney General by operation of law, just like Kay Ivey became Governor.
Murphy: But you asked for the job?
Martin: Yes, I’ve already said that.
Martin’s point about becoming acting AG automatically is correct. As Chief Deputy Attorney General – the state’s number two prosecutor – she became acting Attorney General when Luther Strange vacated the post, just as she says. However, her assertion that she “never asked for anything from Governor Bentley on an appointment” was flatly wrong and contradicted by, of all things, her own handwritten note.
Confronted with the note, Martin confirmed it was her handwriting and conceded the point that she did, in fact, interview for the job.
Muprhy wasn’t finished.
Murphy: How is it appropriate if you were over the investigation of the Governor that you asked for a thing of value from the person you were investigating?
Martin: Well the state bar has already answered that question and said that it was not improper for Luther Strange to ask for the Senate appointment and I think the same holds here.
Murphy: What about you? Do you think it’s ethical?
Martin: Ethical? I think there was going to be an appointment and I wanted to protect the integrity of that appointment, Matt, that’s I what I think.
Murphy: Do you think it’s ethical to ask for an appointment from someone you are currently investigating is the question.
Martin: Either way, whoever was going to come into the office was going investigate or recuse.
Murphy: What about you, I’m asking about you.
Martin: I do not think it was unethical.
Murphy: And you were investigating the governor and you asked for a role as Attorney General and you’re comfortable.
Martin: The state of Alabama needed an Attorney General who would follow through with a recusal and an appointment of someone who would follow through on that grand jury investigation thats whats important.
The interview goes on and, in many ways, gets testier. But that’s the gist. Again, listen for yourself online HERE.
WHY IT MATTERS
Why does it matter whether or not Martin interviewed for Bentley’s appointment? And, more to the point, why would she parse words over whether or not she wanted the job or interviewed for it?
First, Martin has made Marshall’s appointment by Bentley a central issue in the campaign, repeatedly claiming that it led to a “sweetheart” plea deal for the former governor. Martin says she would have been tougher on Bentley and would not have handed the case over to a “hand-picked retired Democrat.” For it to be known that she herself wanted the job might make her criticism appear more like sour grapes.
Second, Martin has also made her leadership of the Bentley investigation a top campaign talking point. In several appearances and interviews, she has touted “leading the grand jury investigation” or “running the Bentley investigation.” For it to be known that she interviewed and asked Bentley to appoint her while she was actively investigating him might undermine her tough-on-Bentley message. That same appearance of duplicity, after all, is what dogged Strange since the moment Bentley sent him to the Senate.
CAN’T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS
Bentley’s appointment of Steve Marshall as Attorney General will continue to be an issue in this primary race. Marshall is an accomplished prosecutor and popular in the law enforcement community from his time as District Attorney and now Attorney General. But, anyone appointed dog catcher by Bentley would have opponents running ads tying them together after the former governor’s fall from grace.
That’s politics and, ultimately, fair game.
It’s also fair for Martin to criticize what she saw as soft prosecution and sentencing of Bentley, so long as it’s clear that she wanted the job, too, and would have handled things differently somehow.
But, you can’t have it both ways.
Martin has a distinguished record as a prosecutor and a reputation for being tough on corruption. She touts more that 140 public corruption convictions – an impressive number, to say the least. It’s more than enough to make her a qualified and formidable candidate to become the state’s top prosecutor.
But, as Matt Murphy articulated toward the end of their exchange, “I understand you want to characterize yourself as the corruption candidate, but that’s difficult to do if you’re going to misrepresent yourself from the jump with regard to whether you were willing to interview for this position.”