A report scheduled to be released this week by the lawyer for the legislative committee considering the potential impeachment of Gov. Robert Bentley may bring the Alabama House closer than ever before to a vote on the Republican leader’s political future.
Jack Sharman, special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, is set to present the findings of his investigation into potential misconduct by the two-term governor to the body on Friday, over the objections of Bentley’s legal team.
Bentley’s chief attorney in the matter, Ross Garber, says impeachment is a “grave” decision that cannot be made quickly or taken lightly, and calls the committee’s special counsel “out-of-control.”
“The citizens of Alabama went to the polls,” Garber told media at a press conference in Montgomery. “They cast their votes for governor. Their votes shouldn’t be thrown out because of an unelected private lawyer.”
Garber is no stranger to political maelstroms, having represented former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford in the impeachment proceedings against him; As governor, Sanford had disappeared with his mistress in Argentina for over a week, but Garber was able to help prevent Sanford’s impeachment by a large margin.
Now, Garber is defending Bentley, who is accused of misusing state resources in association with his admittedly inappropriate relationship with former top aide Rebekah Caldwell Mason. In this fight, Garber is hitting hard at the counsel on the opposing team, taking direct aim at Sharman.
“I believe the vast majority of the members of the committee are in the dark on what the special counsel is up to,” Garber told reporters. “They had no idea he created this process.”
At the end of March, Sharman sent a letter to Bentley and members of the committee setting out a tentative timeline for the impeachment to proceed.
“There are a number of variables, internal and external, that could have an impact on this schedule,” Sharman wrote to Bentley’s legal team on March 23. “In addition, you have indicated the Office of the Governor, Gov. Robert Bentley personally, or both, may file a lawsuit. Obviously, litigation could change any schedule.”
The proposed schedule begins Friday, April 7, with Sharman presenting the committee, the governor and the public with a conclusion of his investigation into Bentley’s alleged misdeeds. Following that report, four days of hearings will be held in mid-April, followed by a committee vote on the charges May 1 and a final House vote on impeachment May 9.
Bentley’s attorneys oppose the timeline, though, saying it robs the governor of due process.
“This timeframe is completely unreasonable and insufficient for the governor to prepare a defense,” Garber and David Byrne, Bentley’s legal advisor, wrote in response to Sharman’s proposed timeline.
However, Sharman — who worked for one of the House committees that investigated Bill Clinton in the 1990s — says Bentley’s legal maneuvering isn’t about justice.
“Unfortunately, this is just largely an effort to impede the investigation,” he said, adding that due process is afforded in a trial, which would occur in the Senate if the process makes it that far, but not in the House, which is the first step toward impeachment.
“This is not a trial,” Sharman said. “It’s an investigation to help the committee make a recommendation.”