By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
The House Judiciary committee has suspended its impeachment hearings against Governor Robert Bentley after receiving a request from the State’s Attorney General’s office citing concerns that the hearings could jeopardize the AG’s criminal investigation into a separate criminal matter.
AG Luther Strange made his request to Representative Mike Jones, who chairs the House Judiciary committee, in a letter on Thursday.
“At this time, I believe it would be prudent and beneficial to delay the work of the House Judiciary Committee,” Strange wrote.
Although Strange is careful in his letter not to specifically name Bentley as the target of his office’s work, Jones apparently believed that to be the case. The House Judiciary Committee issued a press release Thursday afternoon to announce that Jones had suspended the committee’s activity due to Strange’s request.
The release noted that Strange was conducting “a separate investigation of the governor.”
“I said at the (first committee meeting) that this committee would work cooperatively with other investigating agencies and today’s action testifies to that,” Jones said. “We are temporarily suspending activity at the request of the attorney general but not abdicating our responsibility.”
Then, Bentley’s attorney, Ross Garber, tossed a monkey wrench into the inter-government cooperation by issuing a statement saying he was unaware of any investigation involving the Governor or the Governor’s staff.
“It is appropriate that the committee’s investigation has been suspended,” Garber wrote. “While the (AG) has indicated that he is conducting ‘related work,’ I am aware of no investigation by the (AG) into the governor or any personnel in the Office of the Governor.”
Several sources close to the investigation tell a different story.
APR first reported that the Governor was at least one target of a Special Grand Jury in Montgomery three weeks ago. At issue, according to sources, is Bentley’s possible misuse of State funds – both to conceal and facilitate his improper relationship with a staffer, Rebekah Mason, and to allegedly misuse the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s database to dig up private information on political opponents.
There is also the matter of sizable chunks of State dollars flowing to Mason’s husband, Jon, who headed Bentley’s office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives and owned a small public relations firm. That firm was awarded thousands of dollars in contracts during Bentley’s time in office.
The Judiciary committee considering articles of impeachment against Bentley also planned to cover much of that ground, and it had started to subpoena information from Bentley and Jon and Rebekah Mason.
“I believe moving forward with the impeachment hearings while there is an active criminal investigation would put a number of parties in a difficult position,” Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon said. “I support pausing the committee investigation and allowing the criminal proceedings to run their course.”
Bentley has been under fire for his inappropriate relationship with Mason since several audio tapes of the Governor talking with Mason were made public. The recordings were made by the Governor’s former wife of 50 years, Diane.