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Report charges Bentley used law enforcement officers to hide evidence of affair, obstructed probe
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Alabama Governor Robert Bentley is defiantly insisting he won’t resign, despite release of a politically damaging report detailing alleged efforts to cover up evidence of his relationship with a former female aide.
The report, prepared for the House Judiciary Committee, alleged that Bentley used law enforcement officers to retrieve audio of a salacious conversation with Rebekah Mason that had been recorded by his former wife, smeared the state official who disclosed their relationship and tried to obstruct the committee’s investigation into what has become known as the “Luv Guv” scandal.
He even tried to use law enforcement officers to break up with Mason on his behalf, according to the report.
Meanwhile, the legislature’s two top Republicans–House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston–are both calling on fellow Republican Bentley to step aside.
Resignation is “the only way to avoid taking our state on a long, painful and embarrassing journey whose ending is already likely known to us all,” McCutcheon said.
The Judiciary Committee had been scheduled to begin hearings on possible articles of impeachment against Bentley on April 10. However, Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Greg Griffin issued a temporary restraining order blocking the committee from beginning impeachment hearings until a hearing on May 15, just a week before the legislature is set to adjourn.
Bentley’s attorneys also tried unsuccessfully to block release of the Judiciary Committee report.
As his lawyers fought in court, the governor took to the steps of the Capitol for an extraordinary six-minute appearance before reporters in which he denied doing anything illegal, 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.”
He also insisted that the focus on the scandal was a distraction from his work on behalf of the people of Alabama.
“The people of this state have never asked to be told of, or shown, the intimate and embarrassing details of my personal life and my personal struggles,” he said. “Exposing embarrassing details of my past personal life … will not create one single job, will not pass one budget. It will not help one child get a good education, and it will not help any child get good health care.”
Addressing the people of Alabama, Bentley said “there’s no doubt that I have let you down. And all I ask is that you continue to pray for me, and I will continue to pray for you.”
He also said that “with the strength God gives me every day, and the blessed assurance I have in my salvation through Jesus Christ, I have worked hard to move beyond my past mistakes.”
In the midst of the scandal, the governor also said “I asked God to take these struggles and to help me carry these burdens. And I found freedom in that. And I completely gave Him all of me.”
The Judiciary Committee’s investigative report, prepared by outside counsel Jack Sharman, 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, which surfaced in March 2016, the septuagenarian governor can be heard expressing “love” to an unidentified party in a telephone conversation and talking 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- The report also noted the Alabama Ethics Commission’s April 4 finding of 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 has been referred to local prosecutors in Montgomery.
Bentley has denied having a sexual relationship with Mason, but he apologized to the people of Alabama for making “inappropriate” comments. Mason, who is married, also denied the affair but resigned from Bentley’s staff shortly after the allegations became public. Mason did not cooperate with Sharman’s investigation, according to his report.
In addition to possible impeachment proceedings and an investigation by the Ethics Commission, Bentley’s relationship with Mason is also being investigated by the state attorney general’s office and a federal grand jury. Collier is also suing him.
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.
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. He would be succeeded by Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey.
No Alabama governor has ever been impeached, although the 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.