By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Republican Party’s Steering Committee has joined the chorus of state leaders calling for Gov. Robert Bentley’s immediate resignation over the fallout from his relationship with a former top political adviser.
The party’s 21-member main governing body passed a resolution Sunday night calling for Bentley to step down from his office. The party’s call follows similar demands from State Republican leaders last week, including House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Madison, and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston.
“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 committee’s resolution reads.
McCutcheon, arguably the State’s most powerful elected official, called on the Governor to resign Friday before a damning 130-page report on the Governor from the House Judiciary Committee’s special counsel was released. McCutcheon’s announcement was, according to Goat Hill insiders, an attempt to give the Governor an out before the report was released.
“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.”
The Governor’s spokeswoman, Yasamie August, made it clear Friday afternoon that the Governor had no plans to resign. In response to the question of whether the Governor plans to resign, she said, “No, not at all.”
Marsh, the leader of the Alabama Senate, spoke out Thursday after the release of the four Ethics Commission charges about 24 hours before. He called on the Governor to step down for the good of the State.
“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 say that officials from the Attorney General’s Office consulted with the Governor about resigning his office Friday. But the unified chorus of calls for his resignation had no effect on the Governor through Friday.
“Once again, let me say, I do not plan to resign,” Bentley said Friday morning at an impromptu press conference on the marble steps of the Alabama Capitol. “I have done nothing illegal. If the people want to know if I misused state resources, the answer is simply no, I have not.”
Lawmakers and law enforcement officers, sources close to the Governor and even some within the Governor’s Office said Sunday night that Bentley was close to resigning, but was concerned about what investigations would continue if he were to step down. His resignation could come sooner than expected, the sources said.
Those sources said Bentley, beleaguered from the past week, had all but consented to stepping down, but the sides had not yet reached an agreeable deal that would halt not only the impeachment process but also weigh favorably for the governor in the ongoing criminal investigations by state and federal officials, the Alabama Political Reporter’s Josh Moon reported.
Friday was the culmination of a bad week for the 74-year-old doctor and Baptist deacon turned Alabama Governor, who has been under fire since March 2016 for his relationship and alleged affair with a former top staffer, Rebekah Mason.
In April 2016, several Alabama House members filed articles of impeachment against the Governor, launching a year-long process that is set to result in impeachment hearings beginning Monday — if it gets that far.
The hearings are expected to detail an investigation by the House Judiciary Committee’s special counsel, Jack Sharman, who has been investigating the governor for possible misuse of state funds and resources. Sharman’s investigation involved interviewing more than 20 witnesses and combing through more than 10,000 pages of documents.
The Governor has admitted to an inappropriate relationship with Mason that ended up killing his 50-year marriage with former First Lady Dianne Bentley, who divorced the Governor in 2015. The Governor has also denied any legal wrongdoing, but exhibits released with the House’s investigation tell a different story — a story of a governor who became increasingly obsessed with his image and even used State resources and personnel to protect himself from public humiliation.
“[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.
According to the report, Bentley irected law enforcement officers, including Collier and former security officer Wendall Ray Lewis, to end his relationship with Mason on his behalf and drive to Tuscaloosa and Greenville to recover lewd recordings of him and Mason. He also wanted investigations into those with to recordings to see if there were any crimes they could be charged with.
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.
Meanwhile, Mason developed increasingly political and policy authority within the Governor’s Office, enjoying a favored spot on his staff and hundreds of thousands of dollars in monetary compensation. 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.
The House is not the only body investigating Bentley, and if he chooses to step down, it is unclear but unlikely that the other investigations would end. The Alabama Attorney General’s Office and the Montgomery County District Attorney, on recommendation from the Alabama Ethics Commission, are also assumed to be conducting separate criminal investigations.
The Ethics Commission last week referred four charges to the Montgomery DA, all of which were class B felonies. If the Governor is formally charged by either of the law enforcement agencies, he could face up to 20 years in prison and $30,000 in fines for each of the four charges.