Alabama media reporting Bentley is negotiating a deal to resign, plead to lesser charges in “Luv Guv” scandal
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Alabama’s House Judiciary Committee has opened hearings on whether Governor Robert Bentley should be impeached over his alleged efforts to cover up evidence of a relationship with a former female aide, a scandal which is already the focus of several criminal probes.
Even as the hearings opened April 10, AL.com, a website for three large Alabama newspapers, was reporting that Bentley’s resignation may come before the end of the week.
Citing unnamed sources, the website reported that Bentley, 74, who is facing possible felony charges stemming from the so-called “Luv Guv” scandal, was negotiating a deal to plead guilty to lesser charges and let Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey take over as the state’s chief executive.
Bentley’s office denied that any negotiations were taking place, according to AL.com.
The report came just days after Bentley, in an extraordinary appearance before reporters, vowed that he would not resign, asked the people of Alabama to pray for him and cast aspersions on the motives of his accusers.
“Those who are taking pleasure in humiliating and shaming me, shaming my family, shaming my friends–I don’t really understand why they want to do that. It may be out of vengeance, it may be out of anger, maybe out of personal political benefit. I don’t know,” he said.
“I actually forgive those who have hurt me, and I’m asking them to forgive me as well.”
Bentley’s resignation would cap a remarkable fall from grace for the dermatologist-turned-governor from Tuscaloosa, whose good name and political future have been swept aside by the salacious story of a septuagenarian Baptist grandfather of seven carrying on with a married mother of three who is nearly three decades his junior.
Bentley’s has denied having a sexual relationship with Rebekah Mason, but he apologized to the people of Alabama for making “inappropriate” comments to her, which were surreptitiously recorded by his former wife and later made public. Mason also denied the affair but resigned from Bentley’s staff shortly after the allegations became public.
Attorneys for Bentley tried to stop the Judiciary Committee from beginning its impeachment hearings, arguing that the governor had not been given enough time to prepare a defense. While a judge in Montgomery agreed and issued a restraining order, the Alabama Supreme Court later overturned that ruling and allowed the hearings to proceed.
The committee’s first witness was Jack Sharman, the outside counsel it hired to investigate Bentley’s conduct.
In an sensational report released April 7, Sharman alleged that “in a process characterized by increasing obsession and paranoia,” Bentley used law enforcement officers to try to retrieve audio of a salacious conversation with Mason secretly recorded by his former wife, then smeared the state official who publicly disclosed their relationship and tried to obstruct the committee’s investigation.
According to the report, Bentley even tried to use law enforcement officers to break up with Mason on his behalf, although he later changed his mind.
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 and removed from office, although in 1993 Republican Guy Hunt was forced to resign after being convicted on felony theft charges for looting his inaugural fund to pay personal expenses.
With possible impeachment looming, Bentley has been under increasing pressure to resign, including from fellow Republicans. The list includes House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, State Auditor Jim Zeigler, and Terry Lathan, chair of the Alabama Republican Party.
The Alabama Ethics Commission has also found probable cause that Bentley broke ethics and campaign finance laws by misusing state resources and using campaign funds to pay Mason’s legal fees. That finding, which has been referred to local prosecutors in Montgomery, could result in felony charges.
Bentley’s relationship with Mason is also being investigated by the state attorney general’s office and a federal grand jury.
Sharman’s report alleged that:
- Bentley used law enforcement officers to try to track down copies of an audio recording made in 2014 by his former wife, who caught him “speaking provocatively” to Mason, including trying to recover a copy from one of his sons. In that audio, Bentley expresses “love” to the person at the other end of the line and talks about how much he enjoys touching her breasts. In 2015, Bentley and his wife of 50 years, Dianne, divorced.
- Bentley asked law enforcement officers to “end his relationship with Mason on his behalf” but later changed his mind.
- Bentley smeared Spencer Collier, the former head of Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, with baseless accusations in order to discredit him. In March 2016, Bentley fired Collier for misusing state funds, citing findings of an internal report. But Collier was later cleared of any wrongdoing, and Sharman concluded that the report’s findings were disclosed to “further demonize” Collier, who knew about the governor’s relationship with Mason and publicly disclosed it shortly after he was fired. He is now suing Bentley.
- Bentley tried to impede Sharman’s investigation by refusing to cooperate and not complying fully with a subpoena for documents. Sharman said the committee “may consider the Governor’s non-cooperation as an independent ground for impeachment.”
- Mason “enjoyed a favored spot among (Bentley’s) staff, exercising extraordinary policy authority while receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from Governor Bentley’s campaign account and from an apparently lawful but shadowy non-profit,” according to the report. The non-profit was the Alabama Council for Excellent Government, a 501(c)(4) group set up to support Bentley’s political agenda, which paid Mason’s salary while she worked on his staff.
- According to the report, the governor “made little effort” to hide his “inappropriate relationship” with Mason from his inner circle.
During her time in the governor’s office, Mason was, by Bentley’s own description, one of his top aides. 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.
Bentley, elected in 2010, is serving his second term. He is term-limited from seeking re-election in 2018.