Hubbard says politics fueling Ala. ethics probe

Alabama State Capital, Montgomery, Alabama (MGN Online)
Alabama State Capital, Montgomery, Alabama (MGN Online)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard said he believes politics are behind a public corruption investigation that has resulted in one Republican lawmaker’s plea deal and another’s indictment.

Hubbard called the investigation an attempt to undermine the upcoming legislative elections. The incumbent Republican supermajority faces a slate of primary challengers in the June 3 primary, and some lawmakers will have Democratic opposition in the fall.

“I think the main thing is it’s political. I think it’s a price that again we’re continuing to pay for doing really bold things in Alabama.

However, Hubbard did not say whom he was accusing of acting with political motivation. Asked if he meant prosecutors or grand jury witnesses, Hubbard declined to elaborate.

“I have opinions, but I don’t know for sure,” Hubbard said.

He added, “You look at the timing of it, everything. It’s obviously an attempt to influence the outcome of an election. It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is.”

The attorney general’s office declined to comment.

The special grand jury was impaneled by the attorney general’s office. Republican Attorney General Luther Strange said he has stepped aside from the investigation. Strange appointed retired St. Clair County District Attorney W. Van Davis, also a Republican, to serve as acting attorney general in the case.

The grand jury met May 13-16, according to court filings. The direction the probe is taking has not been made public. Alabama grand jury secrecy rules prohibit witnesses from discussing what they were asked.

Rep. Greg Wren, R-Montgomery, pleaded guilty in April to a misdemeanor ethics violation and agreed to assist prosecutors with the ongoing investigation.

Rep. Barry Moore, R-Enterprise was indicted on charges of perjury and giving false statements to law enforcement.

Prosecutors have accused Moore of lying to the grand jury when he denied telling primary opponent Josh Pipkin that Hubbard had threatened to hold up economic development funds if Pipkin stayed in the race. Pipkin recorded a telephone call with Moore and said he has testified before the grand jury.

Baron Coleman, a representative of Pipkin’s campaign, said Moore was the one who made things political by trying to get Pipkin to drop out of the race.

“He was trying to threaten him out of a political contest,” Coleman said.

Accusations of political motivation arose in some of the state’s recent high-profile public corruption investigations. Defense lawyers leveled that charge during a 2012 trial over allegations that casino developers tried to buy votes for a gambling bill. In that case, some key prosecution witnesses were on the opposing political side from some defendants. Three Republican legislators, including one who wore a wire, testified for the prosecution in that case.

In a federal investigation of Alabama’s two-year colleges, defense lawyers accused prosecutor Matt Hart of targeting Democrats. Hart is now special prosecutions division chief with the attorney general’s office and a lead prosecutor in the Lee County investigation.

The investigation is being cited in at least one anti-Hubbard political ad paid for by the state teachers’ lobby, which has often been at odds with Hubbard. The phrase “ongoing investigation” and “special grand jury” appear in the ad attacking Hubbard’s record in Montgomery.

State Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said the investigation has been a “distraction” for incumbent legislators going into elections. However, Marsh said he did not think it would have an impact at the ballot box.

“I don’t think at the end of the day it’s going to change anything,” Marsh said.

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