Alabama governor faces impeachment hearings after ruling
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley will face impeachment hearings beginning Monday after the state Supreme Court gave lawmakers the greenlight to move ahead with an effort to oust the governor, who is fighting to stay in office amid fallout from an affair with a top aide.
The Alabama Supreme Court on Saturday reversed a short-lived victory for Bentley when a judge on Friday blocked impeachment proceedings. After the high court’s ruling, the House Judiciary Committee quickly announced plans to proceed with hearings on Monday.
Bentley, a 74-year-old dermatologist and former Baptist deacon, has been engulfed in a sex scandal since recordings surfaced in 2016 of him making suggestive remarks to a female aide before he and his wife of 50 years got divorced.
Bentley has vowed to stay in office despite growing calls for his resignation. He stood on the marble steps of the state Capitol on Friday and somberly acknowledged making personal mistakes but maintained he did nothing to merit his removal from office.
“I do not plan to resign. I have done nothing illegal. If the people want to know if I misused state resources, the answer is simply no. I have not,” Bentley said. He criticized unnamed people he said were delighting in exposing the embarrassing details of his personal life.
The governor’s legal team has argued that the proposed hearings are fundamentally unfair and do not give the governor the adequate opportunity to respond to accusations. The Supreme Court justices asked for briefs on the matter to be filed by Monday.
“It’s disappointing to hear the committee will plow forward while the Supreme Court is considering the case. We have no idea what the committee has planned for Monday or who its witnesses will be,” Bentley lawyer Ross Garber said.
Special Counsel Jack Sharman said the committee’s position was that it is free to proceed with the hearings.
“I want to thank the members of the Alabama Supreme Court for quickly acting on our appeal and recognizing, what a circuit court judge didn’t understand, that there are three branches of government and the Alabama Legislature is free to conduct its business as prescribed in the state constitution,” House Judiciary Chairman Mike Jones said in a statement.
The committee, following a week or so of hearings, will make a recommendation to the full House of Representatives on whether Bentley should be impeached.
The development was the latest in a wild week in Alabama politics as the Republican governor battled the Republican-controlled Alabama Legislature over his possible impeachment. The Alabama Ethics Commission on Wednesday found probable cause that Bentley broke ethics and campaign law and referred the matter for possible prosecution.
Sharman on publicly released his report to the House Judiciary Committee on Friday. The report made similar accusations and said the aide, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, wielded great influence over Bentley. Sharman wrote that Bentley encouraged an “an atmosphere of intimidation” in his administration to keep his romantic relationship secret and sent two state law enforcement officers to try to track down and retrieve a recording of a sexually-charged phone call he made to a woman presumed to be Mason.
“Gov. Bentley directed law enforcement to advance his personal interests and, in a process characterized by increasing obsession and paranoia, subjected career law enforcement officers to tasks intended to protect his reputation,” the report said.
The recording was made by his then-wife, Dianne Bentley, who left her iPhone recording as she went for a walk on the beach in 2014. Dianne Bentley’s chief of staff told Sharman that Bentley threatened her because he believed she had something to do with the recording.
The report also included text messages Dianne Bentley gave the committee. She was able to read text messages that her husband sent to Mason because they also appeared on his state-issued iPad, which she had possession of.
“I’m so in love with you. We are pitiful,” Bentley wrote in one message.
The governor’s lawyer called the report an “amalgam of hearsay rumor and innuendo.”