BRADENTON, Fla. – The Alabama House Judiciary Committee began impeachment hearings Monday against Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican who has been embroiled in a scandal for several years.
The hearings were scheduled after the governor issued an apology on Friday and went to court attempting to prevent the impeachment process from going forward.
“I do not plan to resign,” Bentley said in a public statement, before apologizing. “I have done nothing illegal. If the people want to know if I misused state resources the answer is simply no, I have not.”
The Alabama Supreme Court ruled Saturday that the impeachment proceedings could proceed, and that a 131-page investigative report by the Judiciary Committee’s special counsel could be released.
Advising the committee Monday, attorney Jack Sharman told the committee that they should consider “whether there exists clear and convincing evidence that warrants the impeachment of Gov. Bentley.”
Neither the governor nor his office cooperated meaningfully in his investigation, said Sharman, a partner at Lightfoot, Franklin & White LLC.
Witnesses and documents obtained as part of the investigation confirmed an inappropriate relationship between Bentley and his former chief advisor, Rebekah Mason, according to Sharman’s written report.
In his report, Sharman said that Bentley directed law enforcement officers to obtain secret recordings made by his former wife showing that the governor spoke provocatively to Mason, as she “enjoyed a favored spot among his staff” while being paid from the governor’s campaign account and from a nonprofit organization.
As the scandal unfolded early last year, Sharman said Bentley directed Secretary of Alabama Law Enforcement Spencer Collier not to provide an affidavit to the Attorney General’s Office about the governor’s relationship with Mason.
Collier ignored the order and was dismissed by Bentley, who also publicly released an incomplete investigative report, Sharman said. Collier was later cleared of any wrongdoing by the attorney general.
After the conclusion of its proceedings, the House Judiciary Committee will vote whether to send the case to the full House for hearings. If the House votes for impeachment, the case goes to the Senate.
On Sunday, the Alabama GOP Steering Committee issued a statement calling on Bentley to resign from office.
“While we are deeply saddened by these circumstances, the Alabama Republican Party holds their elected officials accountable and demands the utmost integrity of office holders,” the statement said.
The impeachment proceedings follow a March 4 ruling by the Alabama Ethics Commission that said it found probable cause to believe that Bentley violated ethics and campaign finance laws.
The Ethics Commission voted to turn its findings – one involving a state ethics law violation and three related to the Fair Campaign Practices Act – over to the Montgomery County District Attorney for possible prosecution.