State House Judiciary Committee will hear testimony starting April 10
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Alabama’s House Judiciary Committee will begin taking testimony on April 10 concerning possible impeachment proceedings against Governor Robert Bentley over his relationship with a female subordinate.
The schedule for the hearings was disclosed in a letter sent to Bentley’s attorneys by Jack Sharman, the special counsel hired by the committee to investigate allegations that Bentley may have misused state resources to carry on an extramarital affair with aide Rebekah Mason, which both of them have denied.
Sharman said he will issue a report with findings from his investigation on Friday, April 7, and hearings before the committee will begin the following Monday. However, he said that schedule could slip if Bentley files a lawsuit over the proceedings, which the governor’s attorneys have indicated is possible.
Bentley’s attorneys, Ross Garber and David Byrne, pushed back on the process in a strongly worded letter to Sharman, complaining that his proposal for hearings exceeded the authority granted to him by the committee.
They also complained that Sharman’s proposed timetable would deprive the governor of due process by giving him only three days to prepare a defense after receiving the investigative report.
Sharman said Bentley, who has refused the committee’s request to submit to an interview under oath, would be able to testify in front of the committee. However, if he does, his testimony could be used against him in any future criminal proceedings.
Bentley’s relationship with Mason is already the subject of investigations by the state attorney general’s office, a federal grand jury and the Alabama Ethics Commission. He is also being sued by Spencer Collier, the former head of Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, who went public with allegations about Bentley’s affair with Mason after the governor fired him.
In March 2016, an audio recording surfaced in which the governor can be heard expressing “love” to an unidentified party in a telephone conversation and talking about how much he enjoys touching her breasts.
Collier identified Bentley’s paramour as Mason, alleging the two had an ongoing sexual relationship and that he warned the governor that he would be breaking the law if he was used state resources to carry on an affair.
Bentley denied having a sexual relationship with Mason, but he apologized to the people of Alabama for making “inappropriate” comments. Mason also denied the affair but resigned from Bentley’s staff shortly after the allegations became public.
Just who made the 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, 74, and his wife of 50 years, Dianne, divorced. He has declined to say whether his inappropriate conduct played a role.
Collier claimed that he was fired 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.
During her time in the governor’s office, Mason was, by Bentley’s own description, one of his top aides. However, she was not a state employee, and her salary was paid by the Alabama Council for Excellent Government, a 501(c)(4) group with ties to Bentley.
Collier said Mason exhibited a svengali-like influence over Bentley that made her the “de facto governor.” He 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.
If the Judiciary Committee approves articles of impeachment, the matter would go to the full House. If the House votes to impeach Bentley, he would be temporarily suspended from office pending trial in the Senate, and a conviction in the Senate would result in his removal from office.
No Alabama governor has ever been impeached, although the Yellowhammer State is no stranger to gubernatorial misdeeds.
In 1993 Republican Governor Guy Hunt resigned under pressure after he was convicted for looting his inaugural fund to pay personal expenses. Former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman also served five years in prison after being convicted of trading government favors for campaign contributions while he was governor.
Bentley, elected in 2010, is serving his second term. He is term-limited from seeking re-election in 2018.