By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
The allegations facing U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore are not Alabama’s first experience with alleged sexual improprieties among the state’s top brass. The reaction, however, is much different from the two men who led the charge against former Gov. Robert Bentley when he was accused of having an affair with a top adviser.
On Thursday, hours after the Washington Post’s bombshell article published, accusing Moore of sexual misconduct with a 14-year-old girl in 1979, State Auditor Jim Zeigler spoke with the Washington Examiner, invoking Jesus and the Bible in defense of Moore.
“Take the Bible. Zachariah and Elizabeth for instance. Zachariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist,” Zeigler told the Examiner. “Also take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”
Another Alabama conservative also got national attention over the weekend because of his defense of Moore. State Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, told AL.com that he believes Moore is the actual victim and that the accusers should be considered “accomplices” for any crime that allegedly was committed. Henry later went on CNN to echo similar thoughts.
“And if these women truly believe that Roy Moore is a sexual predator, then they are equally as guilty for allowing a sexual predator to be out there for 40 years,” Henry said, though he said he didn’t believe the allegations at all.
“It does not pass the smell test,” he said. “As much as you guys want to make it into something, it doesn’t pass the smell test.”
But a year ago, when a former state law enforcement head levied allegations of sexual misconduct against Bentley, Zeigler and Henry were two of the first and the strongest to condemn the governor and his alleged misconduct.
On March 23, 2016, after months of rumors and rumblings that emerged after the first lady filed for divorce, former Alabama Law Enforcement Secretary Spencer Collier, who had just recently been ousted from his post, publicly accused Bentley of having an affair with one of his top political advisers, Rebekah Caldwell Mason.
The allegations put the reputation of the mild-mannered dermatologist turned governor from Tuscaloosa at risk, and the fallout ultimately destroyed his late-blooming political career, resulting in a months-long impeachment process that ultimately led to Bentley’s resignation and guilty pleas to two misdemeanor campaign finance violation charges.
When the allegations surfaced, Bentley denied any physical relationship, though he apologized for any inappropriate sexual comments or behavior that he might have made toward Mason. The reaction to the allegations, despite Bentley and Mason’s fervent denials, was swift — led wholeheartedly by a state lawmaker and an official who both have now rushed to the defense of Moore.
Two days after the allegations against Bentler were made, Zeigler, who became known as perhaps Bentley’s toughest critic, filed a complaint with the State Ethics Commission requesting an investigation into whether Bentley misused any state funds to facilitate the affair, saying, at the time, that Bentley was “mislead[ing] the people of the state about the nature of his relationship” with Mason.
A few days after that, reports began to surface that Henry, along with a few other conservative members of the Republican caucus, were planning to file articles of impeachment against Bentley over his relationship with Mason.
“The only thing I can see that he can do to rectify this would be to resign,” Henry told the Cullman Times on March 25, the same day Zeigler filed his ethics complaint. “If he doesn’t, I’m perfectly willing to participate in the impeachment process, or to bring recall legislation that would allow the people of Alabama to remove him.”
Henry was clear and forceful. Bentley should step down or resign, he said at the time. He confirmed, a few weeks later, his willingness to lead an impeachment charge against the embattled governor over his relationship with Mason.
“We’re looking at this governor who has essentially betrayed the trust of the people of Alabama through actions and lies that have caused us to have some doubts about his leadership,” Henry said at a press conference on April 5, the first day back from a break in the legislative session, when he announced he would be filing articles of impeachment with three other lawmakers.
“Our actions, while we may in a spiritual sense find our forgiveness, they still have consequences, and those consequences are this process and the possible removal from office,” Henry went on to say at his press conference.
Bentley, at the time, called Henry’s impeachment push “politically motivated.”
Both Henry and Zeigler’s efforts to bring down Bentley proved successful. With a House committee nearing an impeachment vote on April 10, 2017, Bentley made a deal with prosecutors to step down. Zeigler’s complaint to the ethics commission had just been referred to prosecutors four days earlier.
Both men, who have been staunch Moore supporters throughout the campaign, have refused to pull their endorsement of the former chief justice.
The Post’s report quoted four women on the record, who accused Moore of pursuing them when they were between the ages of 14-18, and he was an assistant district attorney in Etowah County in his early 30s. Leigh Corfman, one of the women, said she was 14 years old when Moore pursued her and initiated sexual contact at least once at his home when he was 32.
Alabama’s age of consent was then and is now 16-years-old.
Moore has denied any wrongdoing.
The Post said none of the women sought them out, instead, reporters on the ground heard rumors and found the women themselves. They were initially reluctant to speak about the incident but agreed after several interviews. The Post said at least 30 people who knew Moore between 1977-1982 corroborated the accounts.