POGO Investigation Traces Conflicts of Interests in ‘Alabama’s Watergate’--Key Players: AG Sessions and Sen. Strange
Today, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) released a report that traces the connections of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Senator Luther Strange (R-AL) and officials in Alabama to a major bribery scandal, part of an alleged scheme to block the expansion of a heavily polluted Birmingham Superfund site.
The report finds that both Sessions and Strange, who was appointed to fill Sessions’ Senate seat when he took over as Attorney General earlier this year, have deep connections to Alabama coal giant, Drummond Co., and its law firm, Balch & Bingham. According to the Justice Department, employees for the two entities were responsible for a $360,000 bribe to an Alabama state lawmaker.
The investigation into public corruption is ongoing, led by an Acting US Attorney who will be replaced by Trump’s nominee for the position, Jay Town, if confirmed by the Senate. According to POGO’s report, records show that Town “twice advised Strange in political campaigns” and his nomination was strongly endorsed by Sessions.
Sessions’ has a longtime reliance on campaign contributions from Balch and Drummond -- his second and third top source of campaign funds since the late 1990s, respectively. Sessions has also staffed his Senate office and Justice Department with attorneys from the Balch law firm, including Jeffrey Wood, a former Balch partner who currently heads the Environment and Natural Resources Division, which litigates Superfund violations, among other matters. A Woods filing with Justice formally recuses him from dealings with Balch and specific matters involving its clients, including the Birmingham Superfund site at the heart of bribery scandal.
POGO is calling on Sessions to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s bribery investigation and any possible prosecutions. POGO is also calling on Senator Strange to abstain from voting on the the Senate confirmation of Jay Town as US Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama since that office running the bribery investigation. If confirmed, Town may need to recuse himself from the case as well.
According to Justice Department regulations, “...no employee shall participate in a criminal investigation or prosecution if he has a personal or political relationship with…Any person or organization substantially involved in the conduct that is the subject of the investigation or prosecution.”
“Taken together, the tangle of financial and political ties involving Sessions, Strange, and Town on one side, and the firms and individuals reportedly under investigation in the bribery scandal on the other, create a rat’s nest of conflicted interests,” POGO’s report says.