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3 years ago

Bentley only uses a private email account; here’s why that’s a big deal, and why it’s not

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, right, and Attorney General Luther Strange listen to Alabama Ethics Commission Director Judge John Carroll during an ethics training session at the Capitol Auditorium in Montgomery, Ala., Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015. (Photo: Governor's Office, Jamie Martin)
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, right, and Attorney General Luther Strange listen to Alabama Ethics Commission Director Judge John Carroll during an ethics training session at the Capitol Auditorium in Montgomery, Ala., Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015. (Photo: Governor’s Office, Jamie Martin)

Alabama sports website and liberal political blog on Tuesday declared, “Gov. Robert Bentley has a Hillary Clinton problem.”

The provocative headline fueled a round of talk radio discussion surrounding revelations that Gov. Bentley has never maintained a state government email account, opting instead to correspond using a personal email account.

The article was penned by opinion columnist John Archibald. Mr. Archibald mentioned in the article that he made “an official records request for the governor’s emails,” but only received a reply from the governor’s IT administrator saying, “Governor Bentley does not have, nor has he ever had an email account with the State of Alabama.”

What Archibald did not mention in his column, however, is that he was also sent the records he requested: Text message and email correspondence for the year 2015 between Governor Bentley and his senior political advisor Rebekah Mason. This is a notable omission, one, because it exposes the author’s unstated motivation for making the initial open records request; and two, because it reveals his willingness to leave out pertinent details to advance a narrative.

On the first point, recently published a series of thinly sourced articles citing a Facebook post speculating that Governor Bentley had carried on an illicit affair with Mrs. Mason. The organization received intense criticism among journalists who questioned the ethics of using what the Montgomery Advertiser described as “some people are questioning” sourcing when they really want to report something but are missing verifiable proof. The blowback has presumably compelled Mr. Archibald and other writers to continue digging for vindication.

On the second point, once Mr. Archibald did not get what he was hoping for out of the open records request, he ignored his own findings while continuing to advance the narrative that the Bentley Administration is withholding information.

Yellowhammer News made the same request for records as Mr. Archibald and found that Gov. Bentley and Mrs. Mason have only corresponded via text and email this year on a handful of occasions.

The emails from Mrs. Mason to Gov. Bentley each included a link to a story with no additional comments.

The stories were as follows:
Bentley won’t retreat on taxes as budget stalemate continues | Dothan Eagle
Talladega Mayor Larry Barton describes beating; questions raised about sex tape |
Governor John Kasich speaks at the Iowa State Fair | C-Span

The text message correspondence between Gov. Bentley and Mrs. Mason was not much different.

Mrs. Mason sent the governor a link to one WAAYTV article titled “Alabama Governor Robert Bentley sits down for interview.”

The most interesting insight was from the morning of July 19th of this year when Gov. Bentley sent the following text to Mrs. Mason:

Need a briefing by perry smith 9am on Tuesday. About arming gaurd. I want a plant to arm!! Need you spencer perry and his people. Jennifer by phone for press. Or yas Rebekah for political. Others ? But probably enough.

The Governor followed up moments later with another text that said, “Sent to Seth,” presumably explaining that he had sent the previous text message to his chief of staff, Seth Hammett.

That same afternoon the story broke on Yellowhammer that Bentley had decided to arm the Alabama National Guard in the wake of shootings in Chattanooga, Tennessee in which five service members were killed by a radical Islamist at two separate military facilities.

This is not to say that Gov. Bentley and Mrs. Mason do not interact frequently — even constantly, on some days — only that their interaction is done in person or over the phone, rather than by text and email.

With all of that having been said, let’s dig into an important question that is worth considering, in spite of Mr. Archibald’s dishonest tactics: Is it a big deal that Governor Bentley does not maintain a state government email address, opting instead to correspond using a personal email account?


Transparency is important.

Trust in government is near an all-time low. Many Alabamians already question Gov. Bentley’s honesty after he drastically changed positions on tax increases after winning re-election. In that context, it is a particularly bad idea to fuel the perception of opaqueness by not maintaining a government email address.

Gov. Bentley is not the first governor to exclusively use a private email account. In fact, two former staffers to Alabama Gov. Bob Riley told Yellowhammer Tuesday that they do not recall Riley utilizing a state email account, either.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush earlier this year released hundreds of thousands of emails from his time as the Sunshine State’s chief executive. Many of them were sent via a personal email account housed on a private server. This resulted in Bush being praised by some transparency advocates, and criticized by others who insisted that all correspondence should have been subject to archival by the government’s process, rather than by the elected official’s.

All politicians know the importance of perception. Why create the perception — if not the reality — of surreptitiousness for no good reason? Just use the government’s email system.

The administration has a legal obligation to archive its official correspondence.

In addition to the public relations issues, Gov. Bentley’s decision to forego a state government email account could pose a challenge for the administration’s legal obligation to archive its official correspondence.

The administration downplays those concerns, saying that any of the Governor’s official correspondence with state government officials has been captured by the other individual’s state government email, in spite of the Governor not using one himself.

“If email from a state account on state business is sent to the Governor’s personal account, that email communication is to be preserved by the employee sending the email communication in accordance with the Governor’s Office Records Retention Policy,” said Bentley’s communications director Jennifer Ardis.

When asked if the administration could say with complete confidence that there had never been an instance in which the Governor used his personal email account for official business and it was not captured and archived, Ms. Ardis said they could.

“The Governor’s Office takes its archival responsibility seriously—both from a legacy perspective and a legal perspective,” she said. “As files are closed and matters concluded, these are archived on a rolling basis in accordance with the Governor’s Office Records Retention and Archiving Policy.”


There is not much to archive.

The governor is just plain old school when it comes to communication, conducting most of his business face-to-face or over the phone.

Numerous individuals who regularly interact with the Governor — some inside the Administration, some not — all told Yellowhammer the overwhelming majority of their interaction with Gov. Bentley is done in one of those two ways. Some of them said they had never received a single email during their years working with the Governor.

This has been my personal experience as well. The Governor has typically responded to my emails with a phone call or by having one of his staffers reply to set up a meeting or address my request or concern.

Gov. Bentley is not alone in his sparse use of email.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) raised eyebrows earlier this year for admitting he has never sent an email. Yellowhammer also asked Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) about his email habits.

“I have an iPhone and it belongs to the Senate and it’s all I use,” he said. “I have [sent emails]. Not a lot. The best thing is person-to-person like I’m talking to you. To my staff, talk to them on the phone but also notes. Hand notes. I write a lot. I’ve been here a while; I’m a little older than y’all.”

While it is unimaginable for those of us whose work and personal lives revolve around Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail that someone could go their entire day—much less their entire life—without sending a single email, electronic communication is simply not as important to every day life for previous generations.

This does not excuse Gov. Bentley’s decision to forego a state government email account in favor of a personal one, but the point is, it seems a little over-the-top to make a huge deal out of emails when the guy barely sends any of them.

He’s not dealing with matters of national security.

“Gov. Robert Bentley has a Hillary Clinton problem,” the clickbait headline of’s article on Gov. Bentley’s email practices, is absurd on its face.

The differences between these two individuals and their email issues are so obvious that I hesitate to insult your intelligence by explaining them, but just consider this.

Hillary Clinton’s private email server held classified information like spy satellite images tracking the movement of North Korea’s nuclear assets. That type of intel is typically handled within a special compartment called Talent-Keyhole. In layman’s terms, this is some of the most sensitive information in all of the intelligence community, sometimes even referred to as “above Top Secret.” This is the kind of sensitive intelligence that Russia, China and North Korea deploy armies of hackers to steal.

To compare the sensitive nature of the emails of a governor who’s worrying about state parks and driver’s license offices, to those of the U.S. Secretary of State, who is tackling geopolitical crises and diplomatic negotiations, is beyond ridiculous.

However, there are times when governors do have to deal with issues related to homeland security. For instance, portions of certain natural disaster response or preparedness plans could be classified because they contain information related to the power grid or other critical infrastructure. Yellowhammer asked the Governor’s office if he had ever discussed such issues via email.

“Classified and privileged information is shared and discussed with the Governor face-to-face only,” the Governor’s spokesperson said in response.

7 mins ago

Gang from Southern California attempts to takeover Anniston

According to a report from ABC 33/40, Anniston is experiencing newfound gang problems, with a gang from Southern California recently descending on the Alabama town to “control this area.”

Growing concern has been building in the community, with residents noticing increased gang graffiti sprayed onto buildings in Anniston.

While Anniston police explain that a white marking that resembles the Star of David is a known gang symbol of the Gangster Disciples, a gang has been around Anniston since the early 1990’s, a new blue marking is being sprayed over the Disciples’ graffiti.

ABC 33/40 reported that this blue graffiti “is associated with another gang from Southern California and fairly new to Anniston.”


“If another gang comes in and crosses out that image, such as the pictures that you have, it’s a sign of disrespect, it’s a sign of saying, ‘No, you don’t control this area. We control this area,'” Captain Nick Bowles with the Anniston Police Department told the news station.

Local law enforcement also outlined that people living in areas where the gangs operate are already aware of their presence.

“It’s their next door neighbor, it’s their grandson, it’s their child that are doing these gangs,” Bowles explained.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

52 mins ago

Nominations being accepted for ‘Bama’s Best Breakfast Joint’

Alabama is well known for its Southern hospitality and cooking, and now one contest will attempt to crown the best of the best when it comes to the Yellowhammer State’s breakfast joints.

“Breakfast — It’s the most important meal of the day, and ‘Simply Southern TV’ wants to know which local restaurant butters your biscuit by serving up the state’s best breakfast,” a release from the Alabama Farmers Federation announced.

From coffee shops, downtown diners or donut dives, Alabamians can now nominate their favorite local breakfast spot in the Bama’s Best Breakfast Contest.

To make a nomination, simply comment on the Facebook post here. Comments must include the respective establishment’s name and city.


Please note that Bama’s Best Breakfast seeks to promote Alabama-based restaurants, so national chains will not be eligible. However, specific locations of Alabama-based chains will be eligible to compete.

Nominations close November 29 at 1:00 p.m. The top eight nominees will be ranked in a bracket and then compete in daily head-to-head matchups from December 10-20.

The winner, which will be announced December 20, will receive a $300 cash prize and a commemorative plaque, along with being featured in the fifth season of “Simply Southern TV.”

This contest is sponsored by the Alabama Wheat & Feed Grain Producers, a division of the Alabama Farmers Federation. “Simply Southern TV” is a production of the Alabama Farmers Federation and the Alabama Farmers Cooperative. It airs on Sunday mornings in each media market across the state.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 hour ago

Alabama to receive $49M in BP oil spill restoration grants

Four Gulf states are getting an additional $280 million in restoration grants from the BP oil spill of 2010.

Louisiana is getting $161.4 million to restore two barrier islands and a headland in the Terrebonne Basin.


The work will restore Timbalier and Trinity islands, which “are currently at a critical minimum width in some areas,” and the West Bell Headland.

“Additionally, this proposal includes funding to enhance plans for the long-term sustainability of the entire length of Louisiana barrier islands,” the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation said Monday.

Florida is receiving $53 million for seven projects, including $16 million to protect coastal forest and wetlands along the Lower Suwanee River and Big Bend coast, the foundation said in a news release.

Nearly $49 million will go to eight Alabama projects, including $22.5 million to create and restore artificial reefs.

Texas will get $19 million for five projects, including $6 million to protect 575 acres of coastal habitat in Cameron County, next to the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge’s Bahia Grande Unit.

The foundation is getting $2.5 billion over five years for restoration projects.

The money’s coming from criminal damages paid by BP PLC and drilling company Transocean Deepwater Inc.

Monday’s grants are the sixth round and bring the total so far to $1.3 billion.

The spill was off Louisiana, which suffered the worst damage and has received more than $625 million for 13 projects.

Alabama has received more than $195 million for 32 projects; Florida more than $160 million for 33 projects, and Texas more than $150 million for 47 projects.

Foundation spokesman Rob Blumenthal said Mississippi, which has received nearly $140 million for 18 projects, did not have any new projects considered for this round of grants.

The smallest grant awarded Monday was $100,000 to remove invasive species and debris from Hurricane Harvey and then plant native vegetation at the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center within the Port Aransas Nature Preserve.

“Hurricane Harvey destroyed two miles of boardwalk and uprooted significant stands of wetland vegetation in the preserve that settled as debris, smothering existing wetland vegetation and causing significant degradation of coastal marsh habitat,” a news release said.

“The debris has prevented the regrowth of marsh vegetation and limited the flow of freshwater to the area.”
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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2 hours ago

7 Things: Controversial deputy AG is out, Walt Maddox gets a participation trophy from himself, the SPLC demands no penalties for unpaid speeding tickets and more …

7. Ivanka Trump has a Hillary Clinton problem

— In what will surely be viewed as hypocritical and foolish behavior, President Donald Trump’s daughter and White House official, Ivanka Trump reportedly had been using a personal email account to conduct government business including interactions from a private email account with cabinet secretaries and forwards of her schedule to her assistant.

— There are no serious allegations that Trump used the email for anything that would be considered classified, but with the Democrats taking over the House of Representatives, they will surely be looking to exact revenge for the issues raised in the 2016 campaign. The fact that Jared Kushner set up a series of email accounts will also be scrutinized.

6. Alabama native and Yellowhammer founder Cliff Sims has written “Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House” about his time in the White House


— While going from Trump’s campaign to the West Wing, Sims kept pages of notes from his time as one of Trump’s trusted confidants.

— Sims summed the book up with a twist on one of Trump’s famous quotes, “Lincoln famously had his Team of Rivals. Trump had his Team of Vipers. We served. We fought. We brought our egos. We brought our personal agendas and vendettas. We were ruthless. And some of us, I assume, were good people.”

5. The dumb fight with the Trump administration and CNN may be over

— After suggesting the White House would still revoke the press pass from CNN’s Jim Acosta, it appears they are prepared to give him back his pass permanently and issue a series of rules that all reporters must follow.

— The rules state that reporters may only ask one question, follow-ups are given “at the discretion of the president or other White House officials” and reporters must “physically surrender” the microphone when asked to, but these have not been agreed to by the press so this could enter another contentious phase.

4. Another federal judge has decided he is in charge of immigration enforcement and stops President Trump from enforcing new asylum rules while the border patrol had to close a border entry point yesterday

— A federal judge says the Trump administration can no longer deny asylum to migrants who illegally cross the southern border. The judge added, “[H]e may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden” while the previous president’s DACA decision still stands.

Democrats are also raising concerns about an email conversation between Trump administration officials wondering if the administration will share census information with other agencies, making it less likely that illegals will fill out the census.

3. The Southern Poverty Law Center thinks Alabama shouldn’t be able to use unpaid traffic tickets to suspend licenses — They already want bail ended 

— The SPLC wants to block Alabama Law Enforcement Agency from suspending driver’s licenses of drivers with unpaid parking tickets, leaving the tickets unpaid and without penalty for not paying them.

— The lawless argument the SPLC is making here is basically that people shouldn’t have to pay the penalties for the offenses they commit, which is similar to their argument that bail is illegal.

2. Failed gubernatorial candidate Walt Maddox gifts himself a participation trophy for getting 20,000 more votes than Senator Doug Jones and still losing

— In what millennials would call a “weird flex,” Tuscaloosa’s mayor decided to take to Twitter and post an infographic laying out how his loss to Governor Kay Ivey in early November was a really some symbolic victory.

— Maddox cited his 20,000 more votes than Sen, Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook) got in 2017, claimed he had enough votes to win any other gubernatorial election since 2018 and surpassed his expected vote total and his number of donors. But he still lost by 300,000+ vote.

1. Alabama’s Attorney General fires/accepts the resignation of controversial prosecutor Matt Hart

— Matt Hart, the deputy attorney general of Alabama who led the Special Prosecutions Division, left his position on Monday. Hart has a series of high-profile government corruption convictions under his belt.

— Hart oversaw the convictions of former Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, the deal that saw Governor Robert Bentley resign and numerous other high-profile cases, but his tactics have been questioned repeatedly and many have alleged there is something more to this move than meets the eye.

3 hours ago

Doug Jones at Mobile U.S. Senate trade roundtable: Pentagon could play role in national security tariffs

MOBILE – Although President Donald Trump remains very popular in Alabama, his trade policies among the state’s business leaders appear to be mixed.

For the steel industry, which has been a fixture in Alabama for generations, the Trump administration’s handling of trade is a resounding success. Yet, for those in agriculture and auto manufacturing, there is much room for improvement.

That seemed to be the takeaway from a roundtable convened by Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook) at the University of South Alabama on Monday.


The roundtable, an event sanctioned by the U.S. Senate under the body’s Homeland Security Committee, will be part of the permanent record of the Senate and that will be considered for legislation.

“I have a couple of bills pending involving automobile tariffs and national security tariffs,” Jones said. “So, it will be part of that record in the legislative history should those come to the floor or come to a vote.”

A statutory change under consideration according to Alabama’s junior senator regarding trade has to do with which cabinet department handles tariffs levied on a national security basis.

Jones says that could be best handled by the Department of Defense and not the Commerce Department.

“Under the national security threat, it bifurcates the process and moves the initial determination about national security – for instance, automobile – whether or not automobiles are a national security threat – that would move that to the Defense Department, who is better equipped to address national security concerns rather than the Commerce Department.”

Jones told Yellowhammer News the roundtable provided insights into how current trade policy directly impacted Alabama and influenced decision-making by business executives.

“It confirms what we’ve been saying – that the uncertainty of this policy is creating some problems,” Jones said to Yellowhammer News. “People are holding off. They’re not sure whether or not to expand their business, whether it is a small business or whether it is a big business. It shows there can be some serious consequences if certain tariffs are imposed. At the same time, it shows you where there can be successes – with the steel industry to stabilize markets.”

“One of the purposes of the hearing is to make sure the public is aware, people are aware,” he continued. “I think one of the takeaways that people will understand is that this policy and the retaliatory tariffs right now are having a devastating impact on farmers. We stand to lose a lot of overseas markets if this is not resolved. That’s the whole point of this. Let’s get it resolved one way or another, so we know where we stand. It’s gone on long enough.”

Jones elaborated on his personal views on trade when asked if a “free trade” or “fair trade” label could be applied to his views. He acknowledged there needed to be a balance of elements of free and fair trade. However, he also said his preference is trade alliances as opposed to trade wars.

“I don’t if you can really describe – I think fair trade is the most important aspect of that,” Jones said to Yellowhammer News. “There is always a strong element of free trade that’s included in that. You’ve got to balance trade with rogue countries like China has been over the years. And you got to make sure that countries that are subsidizing their trade do not have an unfair advantage because we want to protect our workers here in this country.”

“At the same time, we are much more of a global economy now and interconnected than we have ever been in the history of this earth,” he added. “And we got to recognize that – that what we can do, work together, is the way to try and manage this and help our country help other countries and help the global economy as well as our own. We want to make sure our workers are protected. We can do that better by forming alliances instead of doing trade wars.”

Monday’s roundtable participants included Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama vice president Robert Burns, Mercedes-Benz U.S. International general counsel Rick Clementz, Honda Manufacturing of Alabama assistant division manager Allyson Edwards, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama president David Fernandes, Aker Solutions project director Graham Jones, Baldwin County farmers Mark Kaiser and Daniel Perry, Nucor Steel Decatur vice president Mike Lee, Alabama State Port Authority Director & CEO Jimmy Lyons and Fairfield Works Tubular plant manager Brent Sansing.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and is the editor of Breitbart TV.