Alabama Governor Robert Bentley has been on the ropes for a while now. The origins of the story all boil down to allegations of improper relations with an aide which… Okay. Let’s just say it. The guy cheated on his wife with one of his staffers before divorcing her and she was less than thrilled with his behavior. Since that doesn’t technically qualify as breaking the law, you’d normally not see him getting the boot from his job unless the voters decided to do it in the next election. But the initial deed led to some complicating factors which the legislature sees as grounds for removal. After one judge put a hold on any impeachment action, the state supreme court turned that around and ruled that they could move forward. (Associated Press)
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley will face impeachment hearings beginning Monday after the state Supreme Court gave lawmakers the greenlight to move ahead with an effort to oust the governor, who is fighting to stay in office amid fallout from an affair with a top aide.
The Alabama Supreme Court on Saturday reversed a short-lived victory for Bentley when a judge on Friday blocked impeachment proceedings. After the high court’s ruling, the House Judiciary Committee quickly announced plans to proceed with hearings on Monday.
There’s no need to go into the salacious details of the affair and how Mrs. Bentley found out about it, aside from noting that she had some recordings that pretty much left no doubt in the matter. It’s what happened behind the scenes which may wind up seeing Bentley heading for the exits. As the old saying in politics goes, the coverup is always worse than the crime. The “crime” in this case likely couldn’t see Bentley impeached as noted above, but the actions he took in an apparent attempt to keep the scandal from going public will probably have him in legal trouble. The Washington Post detailed some of the charges earlier this weekend.
“Gov. 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,” the report said.
House Judiciary Committee special counsel Jack Sharman wrote that Bentley’s relationship with Rebekah Caldwell Mason was well-known within his inner circle. Bentley’s loyalties shifted from the state to himself as he tried to keep the relationship quiet, Sharman wrote.
Bentley obstructed the legislative investigation by refusing to cooperate and redacting text messages and other material requested by the committee, the report said. Bentley also directed law enforcement staffers to try to uncover who had recorded conversations of him and Mason, Sharman wrote.
The Governor continues to insist that he never misused state resources, but that phrase doesn’t always mean piles of cash directly changing hands. If Bentley was sending the cops out to track down leakers and stop his wife’s recordings from making their way into the press, that’s going to be a fairly open and shut case. (Assuming it can be proven and some police are willing to testify to that effect of course.) Also, this isn’t exactly a partisan witch hunt by Bentley’s political opponents. The top Republicans in the legislature have already called on the Governor to resign and spare everyone the inevitable embarrassment.
But if he has no intention of leaving quietly, it’s possible that he could hang on to power for quite some time. His current term doesn’t end until January of 2019 and removing a sitting governor through impeachment is notoriously difficult. Given the fact is that he hasn’t actually been charged with any crime yet and without proof of criminal wrongdoing, he could make the impeachment process very difficult. He might even come out of it in one piece. But what then? Particularly in the south you’re unlikely to hang on to much of the women’s vote in 2018 if the public is convinced that you dumped your wife of fifty years in favor of a newer, younger model and were cheating on her in advance of the split. Arguments about the technicalities of state government resources tend to get overshadowed by such things.
Given that Bentley has already admitted to “mistakes in his personal life” we can pretty much assume the extramarital affair allegations are more than simply “alleged.” Such things are not supposed to put one in legal peril, but the reality of politics is that you tend to pay a price for it. I’m not sure why the Governor would want to put either his family or the voters through all of this at this stage of the game. Perhaps with a bit more time to reflect on it he’ll just decide to get off the stage and sort out this mess in private.