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Alabama Governor Robert Bentley defiant as damning report on “Luv Guv” scandal is released

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.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley

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.

Impeachment hearings set for Alabama Governor Robert Bentley

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.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley

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.

Grand jury may be investigating Alabama Governor Robert Bentley

Probe centers on the governor’s alleged affair with a former aide

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

alabama mugMONTGOMERY, 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.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley

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.

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