Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley is expected to resign Monday, according to local news reports, the same day the GOP state House started impeachment proceedings against him and less than a week after a state ethics commission recommended he be charged with four felonies related to the affair.
Bentley will also plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges related to allegedly covering it up. On Monday, he showed up to the Montgomery County Jail and posed for a mug shot.
Despite being dogged for a year by salacious allegations of an affair with his top aide and using state resources to cover it up, Bentley fervently denied he had done anything worth losing his job over.”I do not plan to resign,” Bentley said on the Alabama state Capitol steps Friday morning. “I have done nothing illegal.”
But a series of events unfolded over the past few days that intensified the pressure on the Republican governor to make a decision about whether to keep defending himself in a state House and state court or to step down.
The end of Bentley’s career seemed spelled out most concretely in in the thousands of pages of a report released by the House Judiciary Committee attorney on Friday detailing various indiscretions the governor may have tried to keep secret as he allegedly carried out an affair with his married aide, Rebekah Caldwell Mason. The report alleges Bentley sent heart-eyed emojis to Caldwell (texts that were linked up to his now ex-wife’s iPad) and made threats to the first lady’s staff to keep the affair secret. The report also detailed what allegedly went on behind closed doors when Mason, according to the report, left the office “with her hair tousled and her clothing in disarray.”
By Friday afternoon, Bentley was silent. By Saturday, Alabama’s Supreme Court agreed to let state House impeachment proceedings go ahead. By Sunday, the state Republican Party officially called on the governor to step down. By Monday evening, Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, R, is expected to be sworn in as governor.
After he loses his job, Bentley could face jail time as well. The Alabama Ethics Commission recommended Wednesday the governor be charged for four felonies related to campaign finance and ethics fraud tied to his affair, such as an allegation he illegally loaned Mason campaign money for legal funds. Alabama Republicans connected to the transition say Bentley plead guilty to misdemeanor charges related to the affair cover up in an effort to avoid felony charges and potential jail time.
Bentley is expected to resign a little more than a year and a half before the second of his two terms is up. The 74-year-old former dermatologist and Sunday school deacon was an unlikely choice to rise to the state’s top job. He surprised many in Alabama by making it to a run-off in 2010. In his 2014 reelection race, Bentley won the largest percentage of the vote (63 percent) of any modern-day Republican governor in Alabama.
Rumors of an affair between Bentley and Mason had swarmed Alabama politics for months before the story broke finally broke open in March 2016. Bentley fired the state’s top cop over, who then went to AL.com with with sordid details of Bentley and Mason’s alleged affair — including a phone call between Bentley and a woman he addresses as “Rebekah” that, unbeknownst to the two on the phone, was being taped by his now ex-wife.
A defiant Bentley asked God for forgiveness while he was touring a jail to promote his prison reform legislation, said in a news conference he loved some of his staff more than others and responded “no” when a reporter asked if that phone call was the only indiscretion. But he never quite copped to an affair.
Meanwhile, Alabama Republicans in the state legislature had little to lose and much to gain by abandoning Bentley, a politician with little legislative accomplishments and even few ties to the GOP establishment. If Bentley didn’t go of his own accord, Alabama Republicans say he would have been impeached in the next month or two anyway. They defended their right to impeach Bentley in a last-minute court battle that played out on Bentley’s last weekend in office.
Republicans are pretty much the only game in town in deep-red Alabama, so it’s not like a Democrat could sweep in and try to take advantage of this latest scandal to fall a top official.
Bentley will become the third top Alabama public official in less than a year to lose his job over a scandal and/or face jail time. Former House speaker Mike Hubbard, R, was convicted in June of violating state ethics laws he helped pass to up his net worth to some $9 million. And in September, a state ethics court suspended suspended Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, citing “clear and convincing” evidence that Moore tried to block same-sex marriage in the state after the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing it.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Amber Phillips