Probe centers on the governor’s alleged affair with a former aide
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
MONTGOMERY, Alabama (CFP) — A special prosecutor has been put in charge of a federal investigation of Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, and a grand jury may be looking at whether the governor misused his office to carry on a purported affair with an aide.
A letter sent to attorneys representing people questioned in the investigation, obtained by AL.com, says that U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has appointed U.S. Attorney John Horn from Atlanta to handle the case, after the federal prosecutor in Montgomery, George Beck, recused himself.
Horn has been U.S. attorney in the Atlanta-based Northern District of Georgia since 2015. He is perhaps best known for successfully prosecuting Eric Robert Rudolph, who was convicted of setting off a bomb during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Although the letter did not state that a grand jury investigation was underway, the subject line of the letter reads, “Re: Grand Jury Investigation.”
A grand jury probe would be the latest in a long series of headaches for Bentley in the wake of allegations he had an affair with Rebekah Mason, a former top aide.
A group of state legislators is pushing for his impeachment, he is facing an ethics investigation, and he is being sued by Spencer Collier, the former head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, who went public with the affair allegations a day after Bentley fired him.
Collier claimed that he was removed by the governor because he refused to mislead the state attorney general’s office about an investigation related to a political ally, a charge Bentley denied.
Bentley also denied the affair, but he apologized to the people of Alabama for making “inappropriate” comments after an audio recording surfaced in which the governor expresses “love” to an unidentified party in a telephone conversation and talks about how much he enjoys touching her breasts.
Just who made that recording isn’t clear, but, according to Collier, an unidentified member of Bentley’s own family provided it to ALEA officials in August 2014.
In 2015, Bentley, 73, and his wife of 50 years, Dianne, divorced. He has declined to say whether his inappropriate conduct played a role.
A few days before receiving the audio, Collier said he confronted the governor about his relationship with Mason, after a member of the governor’s security detail accidentally saw an inappropriate text message from Mason on Bentley’s cell phone.
Collier said he informed the governor that he would be committing a crime if he used state resources or campaign funds to facilitate the affair. The governor told Collier he would break off the affair but never did, Collier said.
He said Mason exhibited so much influence over Bentley that she was “the de facto governor.” Collier said he had received complaints about Mason from other law enforcement officials, as well as members of Bentley’s cabinet and members of his family.
Mason, who has also denied an affair, resigned from Bentley’s staff shortly after the allegations were made public.
Bentley, a dermatologist, was elected to his second term in 2014 and is term limited in 2018. He is the third Alabama governor in the last two decades to run into legal trouble.
In 1993, Republican Governor Guy Hunt was forced to resigned after he was convicted for looting his inaugural fund to pay personal expenses. Former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman is currently serving a six-year sentence after being convicted of trading government favors for campaign contributions while he was governor.