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Roy Moore, Luther Strange advance to Alabama U.S. Senate runoff

Former federal prosecutor Doug Jones wins Democratic nod

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

MONTGOMERY (CFP) — U.S. Senator Luther Strange has survived the first hurdle in his quest to hang on to his seat but must now overturn a lead opened up by conservative culture warrior Roy Moore in the first round of voting in an Alabama GOP special election primary.

U.S. Senator Luther Strange

Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, won 39 percent of the vote in the August 15 vote, to 33 percent for Strange, who got the benefit of a late-stage endorsement by President Trump to edge out U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks of Huntsville for second spot in the September 26 runoff.

Brooks won 20 percent, and the question now is where his voters go after an acrimonious campaign, during which groups aligned with the Senate Republican leadership poured in millions of dollars to bolster Strange by targeting both Brooks and Moore.

After conceding defeat, Brooks offered no formal endorsement, but he complained to reporters that “the non-stop carpet bombing of my reputation and Roy Moore’s reputation, quite frankly, it took a toll in the parts of the state where I was not very well known.”

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

In his victory speech, Moore made a directly play for the votes of the six candidates eliminated in the first round of voting, saying “the attempt by the silk-stocking Washington elitists to control the vote of the people of Alabama has failed.”

“I extend my hand of friendship to my fellow candidates who did not make this runoff,” he said. “Those candidates ran an honorable and ethical campaign. They ran on their own merits and not on the negative attack ads of (Strange).”

A runoff victory by Moore — twice thrown off Alabama’s highest court for defying federal court rulings on same-sex marriage and display of the Ten Commandments — would present a challenge to the GOP’s image nationally and would also be a rebuke to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom Moore has disparaged on the campaign trail.

Trump, too, has a vested interest in Strange’s survival after endorsing him a week before the primary, even though Moore — who has said he believes God put Trump in the White House — has cast himself as a solid supporter of the president’s agenda.

Meanwhile, in the Democratic primary, the victor was Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor from Birmingham, who took 65 percent of the vote to win over seven other candidates.

The Democratic winner will face an uphill climb in a state where a Democrat hasn’t won a Senate seat in 25 years, although the prospect of facing Moore in the general election may give Democrats a glimmer of hope.

Addressing supporters after his win, Jones tried to contrast himself with the Republican candidates by casting himself as “an independent voice.”

“I’m not going to be beholden to a president or a party leader. I’m going to be beholden only to the state of Alabama,” he said. “Tonight we have taken that first step.”

Strange, 64, was appointed to the Senate in February by former Governor Robert Bentley after Jeff Sessions was named as Trump’s attorney general.

At the time, Strange was Alabama’s attorney general, and his office had been involved in investigating the governor’s conduct. Bentley also handed Strange another gift, delaying a special election to permanently fill the Senate seat until November 2018, which would have given Strange nearly two years of incumbency before he had to face voters.

But after a sex scandal forced Bentley from office, new Alabama Governor Kay Ivey reversed course and ordered a special election. And although Strange has strongly denied any impropriety, the unusual circumstances of his appointment by the disgraced Bentley have dogged him in the Senate race.

Moore, 70, first gained national notoriety as a local judge in 1995 after battling the ACLU over his practice of opening court sessions with a prayer and hanging the Ten Commandments in his courtroom.

He parlayed that prominence into election as chief justice in 2000 but was forced out in 2003 after he had a display of the Ten Commandments installed in the rotunda of the state judicial building and then defied a federal judge’s order to remove it.

Moore was once again elected chief justice in 2012, but in 2016, he was suspended by a judicial disciplinary panel for the rest of his term for ethics violations after urging local officials to defy the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

After losing an appeal of his suspension, Moore resigned from the Supreme Court to run for the Senate.

Luther Strange gets Trump endorsement in Alabama U.S. Senate primary

Opponent Mo Brooks says president was “misled” into endorsing Jeff Sessions’s successor

MONTGOMERY (CFP) — A week before Alabama Republicans go to the polls to decide a hotly contested U.S. Senate primary, U.S. Senator Luther Strange has snagged a coveted endorsement from President Trump, in a race where a host of GOP candidates have been vying to claim the Trump mantle.

U.S. Senator Luther Strange

“Senator Luther Strange has done a great job representing the people of the Great State of Alabama. He has my complete and total endorsement!” Trump said in an August 8 tweet.

One of the men Strange is battling for a spot in a likely Republican runoff, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, reacted by firing off a statement suggesting Trump has been misled into supporting Strange by the Washington establishment, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“I respect President Trump, but I am baffled and disappointed Mitch McConnell and the Swamp somehow misled the president into endorsing Luther Strange,” Brooks said. “While Mitch McConnell and the Swamp managed to mislead the president last night, I still support the America First Agenda. … We believe our message will win out over the Swamp and Lyin’ Luther.”

Strange was appointed to the Senate temporarily in February after Jeff Sessions was named as Trump’s attorney general. He is running in an August 15 special election primary to fill the seat permanently, a race that has attracted eight GOP candidates

U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks

All three of the leading Republicans — Strange, Brooks and former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore  — have emphasized their support for the president on the campaign trail. But Brooks, who initially supported U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in last year’s presidential race, may have run afoul of Trump in July by coming to Sessions’s defense after the president made noises about firing the attorney general.

Brooks offered to drop out of the race and let Sessions have his Senate seat back, provided the other candidates also agreed to withdraw. None of them did, and, in the end, Trump did not fire Sessions.

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

Moore, who has said he believes God put Trump in the White House, joined Brooks in attributing his endorsement of Strange to the Washington establishment.

“The people of Alabama know me and know that I will stand for the principles which made this country great,” Moore said in the statement. “All of the money, power and prestige of Washington D.C. will not determine who the people will elect as the next senator.”

Polls have shown the race headed to a September 26 runoff, with Moore in the lead and Strange and Brooks battling for second place.

Strange’s pitched battle to stay in the Senate is not what he expected when he was appointed to the post in February by former Governor Robert Bentley. Although state law mandates that Senate vacancies be filled “forthwith,” Bentley delayed a special election until November 2018, giving Strange nearly two years of incumbency before he had to face voters.

But after a sex scandal forced Bentley from office, new Alabama Governor Kay Ivey reversed course and ordered a special election, which opened the floodgates for candidates eager to send Strange back home.

McConnell has backed Strange, and a PAC affiliated with the Senate leader has run ads against both Brooks, a House Freedom Caucus member who has called for McConnell’s ouster, and Moore, whose controversial past has made him a darling of the religious right but a polarizing figure both nationally and in Alabama.

In 1995, Moore, then a little-known circuit court judge in Etowah County, shot to national notoriety after battling the ACLU over his practice of opening court sessions with a prayer and hanging the Ten Commandments in his courtroom.

He parlayed that prominence into election as chief justice in 2000 but was forced out in 2003 after he had a display of the Ten Commandments installed in the rotunda of the state judicial building and then defied a federal judge’s order to remove it.

Moore was once again elected chief justice in 2012, but in 2016, he was suspended by a judicial disciplinary panel for the rest of his term for ethics violations after urging local officials to defy the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

While Strange and the other Republicans battle for their party’s nomination, seven Democrats are vying for a spot in the general election against the winner. Limited polling in the Democratic race has shown a lead for Robert Kennedy, Jr. — not the son of the slain U.S. senator but a Mobile businessman and former naval officer who appears to be benefiting from name misrecognition, in a race full of little known candidates.

Former U.S.Attorney Doug Jones of Birmingham, the choice of Democratic party leaders, is in the second spot in the polls.

U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks jumps into Alabama’s U.S. Senate race

Four-term congressman says he offers “proven conservative leadership”

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

HUNSVILLE, Alabama (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks has announced he will run in a special election to fill Alabama’s open U.S. Senate seat, adding a high-profile name to a crowded field trying to unseat the temporary incumbent, U.S. Senator Luther Strange.

Announcing his candidacy in a series of events across the state on May 15, including in his hometown of Huntsville, Brooks touted himself as “the only candidate for the Senate who has a proven record of conservative leadership,” citing a list of accolades from business and conservative groups for his work in Washington.

“The solutions to America’s challenges are there. The roadblock to these solutions is all too often the U.S. Senate,” Brooks said. “We must elect senators with the understanding and backbone needed to face and defeat America’s challenges.”

Since 2011, Brooks, 63 has represented Alabama’s 5th District, which is anchored in Huntsville and takes in five counties in the northern part of the state along the Tennessee border.

During his announcement speech Brooks–who pointedly refused to endorse Donald Trump in last year’s presidential race–did not mention the president, a contrast with other candidates in the race who have embraced him.

U.S. Senator Luther Strange

Strange was appointed to the Senate seat in February by former Governor Robert Bentley after Jeff Sessions left to become U.S. attorney general. Although state law mandates that Senate vacancies be filled “forthwith,” Bentley delayed a special election until November 2018, giving Strange nearly two years of incumbency before he had to face voters.

But after a sex scandal forced Bentley from office, new Alabama Governor Kay Ivey reversed course and ordered a special election this year, which opened the floodgates for candidates eager to send Strange back home.

Brooks is the eighth Republican in the race, along with Roy Moore, the controversial favorite of the Christian right twice elected and twice ousted as Alabama’s chief justice; State Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, who launched the effort to impeach Bentley, and Randy Brinson, president of the Christian Coalition of Alabama.

Also expected to run is the top Republican in the Alabama Senate, Del Marsh from Anniston.

Two Democrats are also running, although any Democrat would be considered a longshot in a state where the party hasn’t won a Senate seat since 1992.

Party primaries are scheduled for August, with a runoff to follow if no candidate gets a majority. The general election is in December.

Twice-ousted Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore running for U.S. Senate seat

Moore, suspended for defying U.S. Supreme Court on same-sex marriage, will take on Luther Strange in GOP primary

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Roy Moore, the controversial favorite of the Christian right twice elected and twice ousted as Alabama’s chief justice after battles over same-sex marriage and the Ten Commandments, has announced he will run in a special election against U.S. Senator Luther Strange.

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

In an April 26 speech to supporters in front of the State Capitol, Moore offered a full-throated defense of religious conservatism, saying “before we can make America great again, we have got to make America good again.”

“The foundations of our country are being shaken tremendously,” he said. “Our families are being crippled by divorce and abortion. Our sacred institution of marriage has been destroyed by the Supreme Court, and our rights and liberties are in jeopardy.”

Moore also announced he was resigning his chief justice post, just days after a panel of retired judges appointed by his colleagues on the Alabama Supreme Court turned down his appeal of a suspension handed down by a disciplinary panel in 2016.

Moore becomes the third Republican to step forward to challenge Strange, who was forced to defend his seat nearly a year before he expected to face voters after new Alabama Governor Kay Ivey reversed a decision by her disgraced predecessor and ordered a special election.

Moore was elected chief justice in 2012, but in 2016, he was suspended by a judicial disciplinary panel for the rest of his term for ethics violations after urging local officials to defy the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. That suspension was upheld April 20 by the panel of retired judges appointed to hear his appeal.

In 1995, Moore, then a little-known circuit court judge in Etowah County, shot to national notoriety after battling the ACLU over his practice of opening court sessions with a prayer and hanging the Ten Commandments in his courtroom.

He parlayed that prominence into election as chief justice in 2000 but was forced out in 2003 after he had a display of the Ten Commandments installed in the rotunda of the state judicial building and then defied a federal judge’s order to remove it.

Although he won two statewide races for chief justice, Moore lost races for governor in 2006 and 2010 to Robert Bentley, whose resignation led to the special election for Strange’s Senate seat.

Bentley resigned April 10 as state lawmakers were considering impeaching him over efforts to cover up a relationship with a former female aide. He pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors and agreed never to seek political office again.

In February, Bentley appointed Strange to fill the seat vacated when Jeff Sessions left the Senate to become U.S. attorney general. But he delayed a special election for the vacancy until November 2018, despite a state law mandating that vacancies be filled “forthwith.”

After taking office, Ivey reversed course and ordered the election this year. Party primaries are scheduled for August, with a general election in December.

In addition to Moore, two other Republicans have so far entered the race for the Senate seat — State Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, who launched the effort to impeach Bentley, and Randy Brinson, president of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, who will likely vie with Moore for the Christian conservative vote.

No Democrats have so far announced.

Will Robert Bentley brouhaha rub off on U.S. Senator Luther Strange?

Strange’s candor about Bentley investigation, timing of special election being questioned

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Now that the sex and cover-up scandal that has transfixed Alabama for nearly a year has claimed the political scalp of ex-Governor Robert Bentley, state political circles are fixating on another question: Will the Bentley imbroglio also ensnare U.S. Senator Luther Strange?

U.S. Senator Luther Strange

Bentley punched Strange’s ticket to Washington in February, tapping him to fill the seat vacated when Jeff Sessions was confirmed as U.S. attorney general. The governor also handed Strange another generous gift — he delayed a special election for the Senate vacancy until 2018, even though state law mandates that the governor call an election “forthwith.” That meant that Strange’s supposedly temporary appointment would last nearly two years.

At the time, Strange was Alabama’s attorney general, and the resolution of the case against Bentley–in which he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and resigned–has raised questions about not only the timing of the special election, but also Strange’s push first to delay Bentley’s impeachment and then downplay an investigation into his conduct. Both men are Republicans.

In November 2016, just before the presidential election, Strange asked leaders of the House Judiciary Committee to suspend their work on possible impeachment charges against Bentley because it might impact “related work” by the attorney general’s office.

But after being appointed by Bentley to the Senate, Strange tried to tamp down speculation that the governor was under investigation, telling reporters, “We have never said in our office that we are investigating the governor. I think it’s actually somewhat unfair to him and unfair to the process.”

But just days later, Strange’s successor as attorney general, Steve Marshall, confirmed that Bentley was indeed under investigation. And because he, too, had been appointed by Bentley, he recused himself and named a special prosecutor, who negotiated the plea deal that pried the former governor from office.

Strange has insisted that his actions as attorney general regarding the Bentley investigation were above board. However, Bessemer attorney Sam McClure has filed a complaint with the Alabama State Bar Association, asking for Strange to be disbarred for accepting the Senate appointment after delaying the impeachment proceedings, which he said violated legal ethics.

McClure has indicated he will file a similar complaint with the Alabama Ethics Commission, which could also investigate Strange.

However, a strong argument against any quid quo pro between Bentley and Strange is the fact that at the time he asked the Judiciary Committee to suspend its process, Donald Trump had not been elected. So Strange had no way of knowing that Sessions would be appointed as attorney general and a Senate vacancy would open.

In another twist, a legislator who pushed for Bentley’s impeachment, State Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, now says he met with Bentley shortly after Strange’s appointment, and the then-governor told Henry that he sent Strange to the Senate not to impede the investigation into his own conduct but because Bentley thought Strange was corrupt and wanted to get him out of the state.

Henry has now told this story in both national and state media outlets, prompting strong denials from Bentley’s attorney. Two other state legislators have now gone on the record saying that Henry told them the details of what Bentley said in that meeting, although they were not privy to the conversation.

Also up in the air is the possibility that Strange might have to face a special election to hang on to his seat. Saying Bentley’s appointment of Strange “smells to high heaven,” Republican State Auditor Jim Zeigler, has gone to court to overturn Bentley’s decision to delay the special election until 2018.

New Governor Kay Ivey, also a Republican, might also reverse course and order an earlier vote, although she has so far given no indication that she’s considering doing so.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley resigns over “Luv Guv” scandal

Bentley pleads guilty to misdemeanor charges; Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey sworn in

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Facing likely impeachment and possible felony charges, Robert Bentley resigned as Alabama’s governor April 10 and pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors stemming from his efforts to extricate himself from a scandal over his relationship with former aide Rebekah Mason.

Sign seen at Alabama state line (Courtesy Facebook)

Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey was then sworn in as the state’s new chief executive, becoming only the second woman to ever hold Alabama’s highest office.

“This is both a dark day in Alabama, but yet also, it’s one of optimism,” Ivey said after taking the oath of office. “I ask for your help, for your patience, as together we steady the ship of state and improve Alabama’s image.”

Bentley’s resignation capped a remarkable fall from grace for the dermatologist-turned-governor from Tuscaloosa, whose good name, marriage and political future were all 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, who has denied having an affair with Mason, repeatedly insisted that he had done nothing illegal and wouldn’t resign. But after top Republican leaders abandoned him and the House Judiciary Committee began impeachment hearings that appeared likely to lead to his removal from office, he reached a deal with the state attorney general’s office that spares him from possible felony charges in connection with what has come to be known as the “Luv Guv” scandal.

Robert Bentley’s mugshot (From MCSD)

As he held his last news conference as governor, announcing his departure, Bentley was once again apologetic, although he did not mention that he would soon leave the Capitol to plead guilty to criminal charges.

“Thought I have committed myself to working to improve the lives of the people of our state, there have been times that I have let you and our people down, and I’m sorry for that,” Bentley said. “I can no longer allow my family, my dear friends, my dedicated staff and cabinet, to be subjected to the consequences that my past actions have brought upon them.”

Bentley also said “the time has come for me to look at new ways to serve the people of our great state” outside of political office.

A short time later, Bentley was booked at the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department, looking straight ahead and smiling slightly in his mugshot.

Bentley pleaded guilty to converting campaign funds for personal use by using $8,912 in political contributions to help pay Mason’s legal fees. He also pleaded guilty to not reporting a $50,000 loan he made to his campaign committee within the period required by law.

Under terms of the deal, Bentley received a 30-day suspended sentence, was put on a year’s probation and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service. He was also ordered to reimburse his campaign for Mason’s legal fees, pay a $7,000 fine and forfeit almost $37,000 that remained in his campaign account.

The deal resolves all pending state charges against him, including a referral from the Alabama Ethics Commission, which found probable cause that Bentley broke four felony ethics and campaign finance laws. It also allows Bentley to keep his medical license.

However, a federal grand jury has also been investigating the scandal, and the state plea deal would not affect any possible future federal charges.

Earlier in the day, the House Judiciary Committee had begun impeachment hearings against Bentley, in which committee’s special counsel, Jack Sharman, began outlining how Bentley allegedly misused his office to try to contain the fallout from his relationship with Mason.

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.

Bentley’s wife, Dianne, later divorced him, ending 50 years of marriage. Mason, who has also denied having an affair with Bentley, remains married. Her husband, Jon, resigned from his job as head of Bentley’s faith-based outreach program the day after Bentley resigned.

New Alabama Governor Kay Ivey

Ivey, 72, served eight years as state treasurer before being elected lieutenant governor in 2010. She will serve out the remainder of Bentley’s term, which ends in 2019.

After taking the oath of office, Ivey said that while as lieutenant governor she had been prepared to take over as governor if called upon, she “never desired it and certainly never expected it would come.”

“I pledge to each of you that I will do my very best. The Ivey administration will be open, it will be transparent, and it will be honest,” she said.

Ivey’s ascension to the governorship could potentially shake up the 2018 governor’s race. While Bentley was term-limited and could not run again, Ivey would be eligible to run and, as the incumbent, would have a signficiant advantage in what had been seen as a wide-open race.

Alabama’s only other female governor was Lurleen Wallace, who was elected in 1966 to succeed her husband, George, who was barred from succeeding himself. She died after in 1968, after just 15 months in office.

While no Alabama governor has ever been impeached, the state is no stranger to misdeeds in high places.

In 1993 Republican Governor Guy Hunt was forced to resign after being 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.

In 2016, the former speaker of the Alabama House, Mike Hubbard, was convicted on 12 felony ethics violations for using his office for personal gain and accepting gifts from lobbyists. Bentley was a witness in Hubbard’s trial, although he was not implicated in the case.

Impeachment hearings begin for Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, as resignation reports swirl

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.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley

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.

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