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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.

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.

Jeff Sessions confirmed as U.S. attorney general; Luther Strange picked for Sessions Senate seat

Governor Robert Bentley appoints Strange amid investigation into purported affair

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitcs.com editor

alabama mugMONTGOMERY (CFP) — A day after U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions was confirmed to be U.S. attorney general on a mostly party-line vote, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange was picked to fill Sessions’s vacant Senate seat.

U.S. Senator Luther Strange

U.S. Senator Luther Strange

However, Strange’s elevation to the Senate post by Governor Robert Bentley on February 9 is already generating controversy because of the outgoing attorney general’s involvement in an investigation into Bentley’s relationship with a former staffer.

Strange has not confirmed if his office has been investigating Bentley’s conduct with Rebekah Mason, who served as one of the governor’s top aides and to whom he has been linked romantically. However, the attorney general had asked a state House committee considering Bentley’s impeachment to suspend its proceedings while his office conducted “necessary related work.”

By sending Strange to Washington, Bentley will now get to pick his replacement as attorney general.

State law also calls for a temporary appointment to fill a Senate vacancy, followed by a special election. But the law leaves the specific timetable for the special election in hand of the governor, and Bentley decided to hold it during the general election in 2018 to avoid the costs of a special election in 2017.

Strange had already announced that he would run in 2018 for the final two years of Session’s current term.

U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Sessions, who had represented Alabama in the Senate for 20 years, was confirmed as attorney general after a contentious debate during which Democrats questioned his commitment to upholding civil rights. In the end, only one Democrat–Joe Manchin of West Virginia–voted for his confirmation.

Three other Southern Democrats–Bill Nelson of Florida and Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia–voted against confirming Sessions.

Strange, 63, is in his second term as attorney general. He is known in Alabama as “Big Luther,” a reference to the new senator’s height of 6-feet 9-inches. He was a basketball standout at Tulane University in the 1970s.

In a statement, Strange said he was “greatly honored and humbled” by his appointment to the Senate.

“I pledge to the people of Alabama to continue the same level of leadership as Jeff Sessions in consistently fighting to protect and advance the conservative values we all care about,” he said.

As attorney general, he developed a reputation for rooting out official corruption, including his office’s successful prosecution of Mike Hubbard, the Republican speaker of the Alabama House who was sentenced to four years in prison.

The extent of his investigation of Bentley remains unclear, although his request to stop impeachment proceedings has been widely interpreted as an indication that such an investigation is underway.

In March 2016, an audio tape 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. Bentley denied having an affair, although he apologized to the people of Alabama for making “inappropriate” comments to Mason, who resigned from his staff a short time later.

The controversy escalated when Bentley fired Spencer Collier, the head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, who said he warned the governor that using state resources to carry on an affair would violate state law.

Collier claimed Mason exhibited so much influence over Bentley that she was “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 has resisted calls for his resignation, despite an ethics complaint and a federal grand jury investigation into his relationship with Mason.

Bentley. now in his second term, is barred from seeking re-election in 2018.

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