Sen. Strange answers questions on Bentley investigation - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

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Sen. Strange answers questions on Bentley investigation

Sen. Luther Strange answers media questions about the investigation of former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley. (Source: WAFF) Sen. Luther Strange answers media questions about the investigation of former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley. (Source: WAFF)
Rep. Mike Ball at a rally for former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard. Rep. Mike Ball at a rally for former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard.
(Source: Rep. Mike Ball) (Source: Rep. Mike Ball)
(Source: Rep. Mike Ball) (Source: Rep. Mike Ball)
(WAFF) -

Former Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange asked lawmakers to pause the impeachment of former Gov. Bentley so his office could investigate. Months later, while offering no evidence of an active investigation, he asked Bentley for the appointment to the United States Senate that was left open when Jeff Sessions was appointed United States attorney general.

READ MORE: Questions remain over Strange's Senate appointment

The Alabama House Judiciary Committee says they were ready to move forward with Bentley's impeachment as early as December 2016, but the attorney general's office halted before they could proceed. But why? And more importantly, how did that impact the events that followed?

Sen. Strange finally sat down with WAFF 48 News to answer our questions.

WAFF: If Gov. Bentley had been impeached in December, do you think you'd still be sitting where you are today?

Strange: I don't know. That's for somebody else to speculate on.

And now, we'll never know. The impeachment committee paused their investigation for three months at the request of the prosecutors from the attorney general's office.

Strange: That's just a simple, everyday occurrence in law enforcement. You don't want people stepping on each others toes.

But the House committee never got to finish their investigation. Bentley resigned on April 10, avoiding any punishment from legislators. Meanwhile, what came from the attorney general's office investigation? A slap on the wrist, in the form of a plea deal for Bentley, with a relatively small fine and community service.

I asked Strange three times about his decision to halt the investigation.

WAFF: There's clear evidence in the Sharman report that House Judiciary Committee had something on Gov. Bentley. Now why bring all that to a halt? I think the people of Alabama deserve a better answer to that question.

Strange: It was the result of a meeting between the special prosecutors in my office and the leadership in the legislator. That's just a simple. everyday occurrence in law enforcement. You don't want people stepping on each others’ toes. At the end of the day, the legislators proceeded, Jack Sharman is a great lawyer. The ethics office did their job, we did our job, and it all worked out.

I asked Alice Martin, a prosecutor with the attorney general's office, about that meeting with the House committee before Strange's November letter calling off the committee's investigation. She said the committee told the attorney general's office they didn't have enough evidence to proceed. But I asked Mike Jones again, and he reiterated last week’s comments.

"We weren't looking to stop or pause. We were ready to go," said Jones.

Which led me to my next question:

WAFF: A lot of people are shifting their eyes now to you and the attorney general's office. Mike Ball is one of those people alleging corruption in the AG's office during your tenure. Why is he saying this?

Strange: Mike Ball was one of the people that worked against our office for many years, going back to the Hubbard Case, which was done by my team. When we needed people to support the AG's office, Mike Ball was at pep rallies supporting the Speaker of the House, attacking our office.

Pictures from the rally Strange is talking about on Oct. 21, 2014 show Ball standing behind the convicted House Speaker. But text messages Ball shared with WAFF 48 News show that though he stood by Hubbard, he was in full support of Strange too.

One, dated Oct. 28, 2014 says, “I will also do what I can to make sure the public knows I whole heartedly support your reelection." Another on Sept. 8, 2016
says, “I am glad the truth has finally come out about Mike Hubbard.”

WAFF: it sounds like Mike was supporting your office, so for you to say that he's been against you this whole time really doesn't match up from text messages we have from Mike Ball.

Strange: Someone could send me a text message saying, "Hey, I like you and I think you're a great guy, I support you." What I know is he was at the pep rally when they called our office despicable, unethical, political and everything else when we were trying to do the job that people expect us to do, what I said I would do, which is drain the swamp in Montgomery.

WAFF: Why is he doing this? Does he have it out for you? The AG's office? A personal vendetta?

Strange: I think it's clearly a personal vendetta, if you look at who he’s associated with, the Speaker of the House. Who would be angry at our office? The allies of the Speaker of the House. I think it speaks for itself. You choose which team you're on. I needed him on our team when we needed somebody to help support our office.

Rep. Ball maintains he supported Strange and feels Strange traded justice for his position. Strange maintains he is the victim of political attacks and that he was not directly involved in charging former Bentley.

WAFF: What criminal charges from your office came down on Bentley?

Strange: I left the AG's office, the investigation that my team started, I wasn't involved in any of the charges to bring against Gov. Bentley.

Ball did request Strange investigate a prosecutor in the attorney general's office. Ball says that prosecutor used his office to intimidate anyone who questioned the timing of former House Speaker Mike Hubbard's indictment, which was announced two weeks before the 2014 election.

Strange had accusations of his own against Ball, saying Ball was constantly trying to undermine his office, evidenced by that complaint, and that he tried to cut the attorney general’s budget.

WAFF 48 News is already investigating those claims and will reveal our findings next week.

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