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REPORT: Bentley used State law enforcement to facilitate affair

By Chip Brownlee and Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

A highly anticipated, bombshell report from the House Judiciary Committee’s Special Counsel Jack Sharman was released today and it drew one major conclusion: Gov. Robert Bentley used the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency to advance his personal interests.

“[Bentley], in a process characterized by increasing obsession and paranoia, subjected career law enforcement officers to tasks intended to protect his reputation,” the report reads.

The report also found that Bentley ordered former ALEA Secretary Spencer Collier not to file an affidavit with the Attorney General’s investigation into former House Speaker Mike Hubbard, who was removed from office last year upon conviction of 12 felony ethics violations.

The special counsel developed a narrative of Bentley and Mason’s relationship, the Governor’s increasing obsession with protecting himself from public humiliation and Mason’s ability to control the Governor and his policy decisions.

In 2015, Collier was forced to meet with Mason to set budget priorities for the legislative session. Another portion of the report notes that no one got to Bentley except through Mason.

“The Bentley-Mason relationship evolved to the point that nothing could be done in the Office without Mason’s sign-off,” the report reads.

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The release of the report follows a full day of back and forth over impeachment, ethics and the release of the report, which the Governor filed a lawsuit to prevent. Less than an hour after the release of the report, Montgomery County Circuit Judge Greg Griffin ordered a temporary restraining order giving the Governor 10 days to respond to the report before impeachment hearings can begin.

A previous tentative schedule announced by Sharman last month set hearings to begin on Monday. Now that may not happen, but Sharman has said he plans to appeal the decision to a higher court.

Throughout the course of his investigation, Sharman interviewed more than 20 witnesses and combed through more than 10,000 pages of documents, the report says. Bentley’s attorneys were critical.

“We will review today’s document dump – which appears to be an amalgam of hearsay, rumor and innuendo,” Ross Garber, one of his attorneys, said. “I continue to have confidence that there will ultimately be fairness and due process in this matter.”

The contents of the report may have pushed Alabama legislative leadership to ask Bentley to resign.

Alabama House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, arguable the State’s most powerful elected official, has also joined a chorus of other State leaders calling for Bentley to resign.

McCutcheon echoed Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, albeit in a slightly more circumspect tone, in calling on Bentley to resign. Insiders say it was presumably giving the Governor one final opportunity to prevent the release of the House’s report.

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McCutcheon and Marsh are perhaps more powerful than the Governor, considering the Alabama Constitution gives more power to the Legislature than to the Executive Branch.

“Let’s end this embarrassment to our state, right now,” McCutcheon said. “Let Alabamians once again look to our Capitol with pride, rather than with shame. If Governor Bentley will take a moment to consider the effect of his position and what it’s having on our state, it’s reputation and its citizens, I’m hopeful he will do the right thing and step down from Office immediately.”

“It’s the only way to avoid taking our State on a long, painful and embarrassing journey, whose ending is likely already known to us all.”

A simple text from the Governor’s spokesperson made it clear that, again, Bentley has no plans to resign. It’s the third time in the last month that his office has attempted to assuage rumors of or calls for his resignation.

Marsh, who spoke Thursday after the release of the four Ethics Commission about 24 hours before, also offered the Governor some stark advice: For the good of the State, step down.

“I hope at the end of the day that the Governor do what’s best for the people of Alabama,” Marsh said. “If it means that these things are pressings, that it’s going to continue to put the State under a cloud if that’s where we’re headed, I hope the governor does what’s best for the State and seriously considers stepping down.”

Sources close to the matter also report that officials from the Attorney General’s Office have also been consulting with the Governor about resigning his office since early this morning, but to no avail thus far.

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On the steps of the State Capitol early Friday morning, at another impromptu press conference announced only 30 minutes before at 8 a.m., Bentley attempted to “tell his side of the story” and asked for forgiveness, but he refused to admit any legal wrongdoing.

“Our State doesn’t need this anymore; our people don’t need this,” Bentley said. “Exposing embarrassing details of my past personal life, as has happened in the past and as I’m told will happen again, will not create one single job, will not pass one budget. It will not help one child get a good education, and it will not  help one child get good health care.”

Bentley said all he ever wanted to do for the people of Alabama was to “take care of them and love them.”

“Once again, let me say, I do not plan to resign,” Bentley said. “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 Governor, who has been under fire from lawmakers since last spring, said he has worked hard to move beyond his “past mistakes.” He said he turned to God.

“Especially this time of year, at Easter, I am grateful I serve a loving, forgiving God, who loves me and loves each and every one of us unconditionally,” Bentley. “Last year, I got to a point where I recognized and I realized that I could not carry these bourdons on my own.”

That day, he said he asked God to take his struggles and help him carry his bourdons.

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“I found freedom in that,” said Bentley, who often brought up being a Sunday School teacher at his Tuscaloosa church. “I gave him all of me.”

The Speaker and the Governor’s comments ran parallel on Friday to a legal battle over whether the House could release its report and hold hearings next week on impeachment. Montgomery County Circuit Judge Roman Shaul heard several hours of arguments this morning, but recused himself later in the day. He had been appointed by Bentley and served as counsel to Wendall Ray Lewis, a former security staffer who is currently suing the governor.

Shaul did not seem inclined to preventing the release of the report from the House special counsel, but seemed to be considering other ways of getting involved in the House process. The new judge hearing the case, Circuit Judge Greg Griffin, was also appointed by Bentley.

Attorneys for Bentley, David Byrne and Ross Garber, have argued that the House’s process and plan doesn’t give the Governor due process or give his attorneys time to develop an adequate defense.

House leaders say their process is currently just an impeachment investigation, and Bentley has gotten more rights — like being able to present a defense at all — than a suspect would normally get in an investigation. The Governor will get more time and due process if or when the question of whether to permanently remove Bentley goes to the Senate.

Investigative reporter Josh Moon contributed to this report. Email Chip Brownlee at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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