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Sen. Luther Strange: The Importance of Taking on Corruption

DECEMBER 03, 2017 // AL.COM

Recently, the National Association of Attorneys General asked me to deliver the keynote speech to their National Anticorruption Academy. The topic they wanted to hear about was a simple one -- an honest, eyes-open assessment of the challenges attorneys general face when they decide to take on public corruption at the highest levels of government.

It's a subject I know a lot about. At a time when Alabama seems to lag in important categories, we can be proud to know that we lead the nation in a very important one - holding politicians accountable. There is hardly an abundance of commentary on this record of accomplishment.

When I was elected your attorney general in 2010, public corruption was something our citizens had been asked to tolerate for too long, and it was a problem no one seemed eager to tackle. The prior attorney general had shuttered the office's public corruption unit, and the federal authorities were turning a blind eye to crimes committed under their noses.

I vowed to do something about it.

I brought in renowned prosecutor Matt Hart and gave him a simple mandate--root out corruption wherever you find it. I gave his team the resources they needed to put together the best team of corruption fighters in the country--Alabama's own Untouchables. And then I put them to work.

These devoted public servants convicted over two dozen public officials and secured the impeachment of a sheriff for human trafficking and drug offenses.

I never imagined that their dogged efforts would turn up malfeasance in one of the highest places of them all, the office of the Alabama Speaker of the House, Mike Hubbard. But when the evidence was clear and beyond dispute, they did the only right thing they could do about the corruption they found--expose it, no matter what the cost.

To avoid even the appearance of political motivation, I recused myself from the Hubbard prosecution, putting my faith in the team. But the fact that I had recused myself from the case didn't stop some from attempting to bully the team into dropping the prosecution.

Bringing a member of your own political party to justice will never be popular with some politicians, but we were all surprised by the backlash we received. The threats came swift and sure.

They told us they'd reduce the office's budget to zero.

They told us they'd hold rallies denouncing me and accusing my office of corruption.

In the end, they did reduce the budget to zero. They did hold rallies, and some of the most ardent supporters of corruption in Montgomery denounced me and made false accusations against my team.

But what they couldn't do is stop the team from pursuing justice.

When Jeff Sessions became United States Attorney General, I was faced with a dilemma. Governor Robert Bentley asked me to fill his seat in the Senate. I believe in serving when called and I wanted to do what was best for the people of Alabama, but Bentley was under an investigation for ethics violations. In some circumstances, I might have worried that leaving the job of Attorney General would undermine that investigation.

But not with the team we had assembled. Shortly after I joined the Senate, the team, using the special grand jury we established, secured a guilty plea and the resignation from office of Governor Bentley.

In fact, this special prosecution team continues to win, most recently securing the conviction and removal of Jefferson County's District Attorney-elect.

As I leave the political stage, one of my proudest legacies is the outstanding work of these dedicated prosecutors. And they're not done. The latest from John Archibald suggests that they are on the verge of more crucial victories over corruption in our state. This team has a lot to be proud of, and so do the people of Alabama.

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