Before heading to bed last night, President Trump tweeted his endorsement of incumbent Sen. Luther Strange in the special Alabama Senate race. This morning, Rep. Mo Brooks responded by accusing that appointed senator in a new statement not just of obstruction and bribery, but also blackmail.
With less than a week before the primary, that last charge is as desperate as it is remarkable. Naturally, it deserves unpacking.
Running in a state that Trump won by 28 points, Brooks begins by tempering his remarks. "I respect President Trump," Brooks writes, "but I am baffled and disappointed Mitch McConnell and the Swamp somehow misled the President into endorsing Luther Strange." After that, Brooks holds nothing back.
Strange didn't earn his Senate seat, Brooks says. The former Alabama attorney general "corruptly and unethically held a criminal investigation over the head of disgraced Governor [Robert] Bentley to obtain the senate appointment."
And that's the boldest attack because it's potentially the most damning. Bentley was battling impeachment charges over a sex scandal with one of his aides when he appointed Strange, the man who was supposed to be carrying out the investigation. Naturally, quid pro quo rumors have abounded ever since.
During an earlier January interview though and while he was also interviewing for the appointment, Brooks told the Washington Examiner he didn't "know enough about the evidence and the details to have an opinion."
That was before Strange headed to Washington and before the Alabama House of Representatives, with the help of the new attorney general, released 3,000-plus pages of evidence detailing how Bentley intimidated witnesses to hide his misconduct and chartered the governor's jet to have the torrid affair.
Three days later after that dossier dropped, Bentley resigned in disgrace.
Even before a special Senate election was called, Strange tried dispelling those quid pro quo rumors. "It's frustrating when people question your integrity," Strange said just days before the Bentley resignation.
"When I was attorney general," Strange reminisced, "we had the strongest public integrity unit in the country." In an editorial board meeting with the Washington Examiner, he pointed to his old campaign promises "to clean up Montgomery; drain the swamp or whatever."
And he has a point. Strange made plenty of enemies as the state's top cop. One investigation led to the impeachment of a county sheriff, another ended with a felony conviction of the Alabama speaker of the House. But what's most significant is what he left unfinished: The Bentley investigation.
Back in January, I wrote that it'd be nearly impossible for Strange to shake speculation if he accepted the appointment. Regardless of whether Bentley actually loosened justice's blindfold and tipped the scales in Strange's favor, the appearance of impropriety is unavoidable. Whether that's enough to change his political fortunes remains to be seen.
Brooks hasn't made the Bentley scandal an issue until now. The conservative must've waited until the last moment to make an issue of the scandal to counter the president's endorsement.
"In any event, while Mitch McConnell and the Swamp managed to mislead the President last night, I still support the America First Agenda, and all the polls show we have momentum," Brooks concluded. "We believe our message will win out over the Swamp and Lyin' Luther."
Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.