By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
It is fairly obvious by now that Robert Bentley was awful at concealing an affair.
He accidentally sent an “I love you Rebekah” text to his wife, Diane. He got caught on a recording make a phone call to his mistress – twice. He didn’t know his iPad was connected to his iPhone.
Bentley was no Don Draper, to say the least.
But when it comes to keeping criminal investigations quiet, the man’s a regular CIA spook.
Despite numerous rumors floating around Montgomery over the last year and a number of State media stories last July about the formation of a grand jury possibly looking into Bentley, only APR reported additional information later on those investigations. That report came in October, when APR snapped photos of Bentley and his security team heading into a grand jury room.
In hindsight, it was a masterful job of masking reality. Because while Bentley’s legal world seemed rather calm on the surface, he was kicking like a madman just underneath.
Multiple sources have confirmed to APR that at one point in the last year, Bentley had four different investigations hanging over his head – a State Grand Jury, a Federal Grand Jury, the House Judiciary Committee inquiry and the Alabama Ethics Commission. All of them centered around his alleged misuse of State resources relating to his affair with Mason and various campaign finance issues.
“The only real question was which one was going to act first,” said a Montgomery attorney who represented two witnesses against Bentley.
It was the Ethics Commission.
A week ago, that five-judge panel voted to send four felony charges against Bentley to Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey for prosecution. One of those charges was an ethics law violation, alleging Bentley misused state resources and personnel, and the other three were campaign finance related, alleging Bentley failed to report contributions within the mandatory timeframe, misused funds by paying Mason’s legal fees and accepted contributions outside of the time limits.
It was a crushing blow to Bentley, but it was one his criminal attorneys felt he could beat if the charges ever landed before a jury.
But that, of course, assumes a somewhat level playing field, and that’s where the House Judiciary Committee’s investigation starts to play an important role.
If nothing else, the Committee’s special counsel, Jack Sharman, had gathered enough embarrassing evidence of Bentley’s affair that the former governor would be forever embarrassed. It would be almost impossible for Bentley to stand before a jury and proclaim his innocence after the entire state read through his steamy text messages with Mason.
Making it even worse, though, was the fact that Bentley had, just a couple of weeks earlier, come very close to stepping down, a source close to Bentley said. It was to be billed publicly as a resignation for health reasons, the source said, but in reality, it would have been an agreement to end the state investigation and allow Bentley to quietly step away.
It was brokered, the source said, by acting attorney general Ellen Brooks, who had a cordial relationship with Bentley. Brooks was brought on after Attorney General Steve Marshall recused from the investigation.
Three sources involved in the investigations against Bentley said they were concerned that Brooks would be an impediment in the efforts to build a criminal case against the governor. They pointed to a variety of circumstantial evidence to support their beliefs, such as Bentley’s role in allowing Brooks to step down as Montgomery’s DA and appoint her handpicked successor, Daryl Bailey.
In the end, those concerns proved unfounded, or at least irrelevant, as Brooks was part of the team that pushed criminal charges against the governor and worked out a plea deal that removed Bentley from the Governor’s office.
But orchestrating that deal, with its many starts and stops, was easier said than done…