By: Lee Hedgepeth
The committee considering the impeachment of Gov. Robert Bentley has issued a lengthy report outlining the two-term Republican’s alleged misdeeds in office. The report, which was released while the governor’s legal team argued in court to prevent its publication, pours fuel on the political and legal fire the state’s chief executive has found himself in since his extramarital relationship with former top aide Rebekah Caldwell Mason went public last year.
The 131-page report was compiled by the House Judiciary Committee’s special counsel, Jack Sharman, and is the result of interviews, statements, and other evidence collected by the committee totalling thousands of pages. It gives weight to many of the claims made by former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Spencer Collier, who Bentley fired after Collier cooperated with authorities conducting the criminal probe of then-Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard.
Collier filed suit against Bentley, claiming he was fired not only because of his cooperation with law enforcement, but also because he refused to facilitate and cover up the governor’s affair with Mason.
“Governor Bentley directed law enforcement to advance his personal interests and, in a process characterized by increasing obsession and paranoia, subjected career law enforcement officers to tasks intended to protect his reputation,” Sharman’s report concludes.
Then, page after page, the report sets out a narrative of Gov. Bentley allegedly doing just that, particularly in an effort to find and destroy an explicit recording of Bentley and Mason that has since been released.
“For example,” page 10 of the report says, “Governor Bentley directed law enforcement officers to end his relationship with Mason on his behalf; drive to Tuscaloosa to recover a copy of the recordings from his son; drive to Greenville to confront a longtime public servant about whether she had a copy of the recordings; and investigate who had a copy of the recordings and identify potential crimes with which they could be charged.”
The report says that Bentley eventually backed off any potential investigation of the recording’s origins when law enforcement told him that they would follow through any leads to their logical conclusion, even if it led to Bentley family members.
“To ensure the silence of his staff,” the report continues, “Governor Bentley encouraged an atmosphere of intimidation. Concern over the recordings appears to have become an obsession. Meanwhile, Mason enjoyed a favored spot among his staff, exercising extraordinary policy authority while receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from Governor Bentley’s campaign account and from an apparently lawful but shadowy non-profit.”
Regarding the atmosphere of intimidation, the report reveals some startling details – that such a dark working environment extended well beyond the governor’s staff and beyond the capitol itself.
According to the report and her testimony, Heather Hannah, former Executive Assistant to then-First Lady Dianne Bentley, said the governor personally confronted her twice over a potential recording, once threatening her that she “will never work in the state of Alabama again if you tell anyone about this (affair).”
“The second Bentley confrontation of Hannah occurred shortly thereafter when she came face-to-face with Governor Bentley in the parking lot of the Mansion,” the report says. “Then, Governor Bentley confronted her about his suspicion that she had bugged his office to listen to conversations between him and Mason. Hannah relates that Governor Bentley warned her to ‘watch herself,’ that she ‘did not know what she was getting into,’ and that because he was the governor, people ‘bow to his throne.’”
Then in June 2016, days after her testimony to the Alabama Ethics Commission, Hannah found writing on the windows of her vehicle parked outside her home: “Bitch Die.”
About a week later, someone threw a rock through her front window. She reported both incidents to police.
The report also lays out potentially illegal campaign practices by the Governor, including a potentially unlawful contribution by the Republican Governors Association meant to offset a Las Vegas trip attended by Bentley and Mason that included a Celine Dion concert. It also reveals the overall practice of funding Mason’s work for Bentley, which wasn’t paid for by taxpayers, but involved a shadowy nonprofit called Alabama Council for Excellence in Government – ACEGOV.
After the report’s release, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Greg Griffin issued a temporary restraining order preventing the House Judiciary Committee from acting on the report for at least ten days, a move applauded by Bentley lawyers that argued the governor had not had time to respond to report.
Sharman has said he’ll file an appeal of that ruling, which could potentially prevent the committee from meeting on Monday as was previously scheduled.
The governor has consistently denied improperly using state resources and says he has no intentions of resigning.