Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley testified under oath Wednesday that House Speaker Mike Hubbard met with him to discuss economic development projects that prosecutors say could have indirectly benefited one of Hubbard’s clients.
That client – a municipal gas utility – was paying Hubbard $12,000 a month at the time. Alabama ethics law forbids lawmakers from taking money to lobby the governor.
Bentley’s testimony provided a brief but dramatic moment in the criminal corruption trial as Alabama’s two most powerful politicians faced each other, one from the witness stand and the other from the defense table, with jurors paying close attention.
The Republican governor is embroiled in his own scandal after admitting making sexually suggestive remarks to a female aide. Twenty-three House lawmakers have resolved to impeach him on charges of corruption and neglect of duty.
In his 17-minute testimony, Bentley recalled meeting or working with Hubbard on efforts to recruit a trucking company and an aircraft company to southeast Alabama.
Prosecutor John Gibbs showed Bentley reports that Hubbard sent to Southeast Alabama Gas Co. board members, describing how he met with Bentley and his commerce director on projects that could deliver new customers for the utility.
Gibbs asked Bentley repeatedly if he believed he was meeting with Hubbard in his capacity as speaker.
“I did. He is the speaker of the House,” Bentley said.
The gas utility also paid for Hubbard’s attendance at the 2013 Paris Air Show, the major trade show of the aviation industry. The governor said Hubbard was invited to meetings there as part of the official state delegation.
The governor offered no commentary on whether what Hubbard did was right or wrong, and the prosecutor focused his questions on facts about the meetings.
On cross-examination by a defense lawyer Bill Baxley, Bentley said he thought the projects he met with Hubbard about were good for the state.
“Yes sir. ‘Cause it was jobs,” Bentley said.
Baxley, who has tried to emphasize Hubbard had to have a job as part of a “citizen legislature,” also had Bentley describe how he has maintained his medical practice while holding public office.
Hubbard faces 23 ethics charges accusing him of using his political positions to make $2.3 million in work and investments.
Hubbard has maintained his innocence and says the transactions were legal.
But others – even some close Hubbard associates – have expressed concerns that Hubbard was violating the ethics law.
Political consultant Dax Swatek, one of three lobbyists who had weekly meetings in the speaker’s office, testified Wednesday that he turned down Hubbard’s request for a $150,000 investment in his debt-ridden printing company. It was an “awkward” moment, he testified, but he believed that it was illegal for Hubbard to ask for the money, and for him to give it.
Bentley and Hubbard were catapulted to higher office in 2010. Hubbard was elected as House speaker after helping Republicans win control of the Alabama Legislature, and Bentley leapfrogged from the House to the governor’s office after winning a longshot election.
Since Hubbard’s indictment in 2014, the two have maintained a congenial tone, saying they could work together despite the expectation that Bentley would be a key witness against Hubbard.
Republished with permission of The Associated Press.