CLOSE

Governor Robert Bentley reiterates that he is not resigning during a news conference on the capitol steps in Montgomery, Ala., on Friday April 7, 2017.
Mickey Welsh / Advertiser

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama’s governor pursued an increasingly public relationship with a senior political adviser that cut or strained ties with his wife and family, led him to misuse state workers and vehicles and in at least two cases threatened a staffer he believed recorded a conversation he had with the aide, according to a state report.

And on Saturday, the Alabama Supreme Court lifted a temporary restraining order that Gov. Robert Bentley’s lawyers had requested, allowing state legislators to continue Monday with proceedings to impeach the two-term Republican governor.

The allegations were made in a report for the state’s House Judiciary Committee, released late Friday, as it prepares to consider the Bentley’s removal from office.

► More:Alabama governor seeks forgiveness in wake of ethics ruling
► More:Alabama governor may face prosecution after ethics ruling

The 131-report, part of a broader filing running around 3,000 pages, paints a picture of Bentley, 74, becoming enamored with Rebekah Caldwell Mason, 45, while they worked on his 2014 re-election campaign.

The two had known each other for years. The Bentleys, Mason, her husband and three children were members of First Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Mason served as press secretary for Bentley’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign as well as communications director during part of his first term in office.

The report also suggests the governor’s suspicions that his wife taped a suggestive conversation he had with Mason made him emotionally unstable.

At times, Bentley spoke to aides about the relationship with tearful contrition, the report said. At other times, he confronted aides who knew or whom he thought knew about the relationship with defiance, anger and threats.

The report details growing suspicions among Bentley’s friends and family. At one point, first lady Dianne Bentley, who divorced the governor in 2015 after 50 years of marriage, took a cellphone picture of what capitol employees termed “the love bench,” a bench in full view of office windows where Robert Bentley and Mason would sit together.

“If Governor Bentley meant to hide his affair from his wife, he did not do it well,” the report said.

Bentley maintains that he has broken no laws and resisted calls from Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh and House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, also Republicans, to resign. He said Friday that he saw no need to release details of his personal life.

► Related:Panel sends Alabama chief justice’s ethics case to trial
► Related:Alabama House speaker convicted on ethics charges

“Exposing embarrassing details of my past personal life, as has happened in the past, and as I’m told will happen again, will not create one single job, will not pass one budget,” the governor said. “It will not help any child get a good education. It will not help a child get good health care.”

Ross Garber, Robert Bentley’s lawyer, was largely dismissive of the report Friday.

“We will review today’s document dump, which appears to be an amalgam of hearsay, rumor and innuendo,” the statement said. “I continue to have confidence there will ultimately be fairness and due process in this matter.”

Dramatic finish

The report’s release followed three dramatic days in the state capital, pushing the Bentley administration to the brink.

• On Wednesday, the Alabama Ethics Commission found probable cause that Robert Bentley violated the state’s ethics and campaign finance laws.

• On Friday,  Bentley coupled an emotional plea for forgiveness with a lawsuit to delay release of the report and the impeachment process.

“We think it’s appropriate to have that in the public arena,” Jack Sharman, the state House Judiciary Committee’s special counsel, said after a hearing before Judge Greg Griffin of the 15th Judicial Circuit Court in Montgomery. “It is the public’s information. It’s where it should be.”

The state Supreme Court directed briefs to be filed in that case by 1 p.m. CT Monday.

Allegations of the governor’s affair with Mason, first made by former Secretary Spencer Collier of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, came amid major political crises dating to 2014 that led to House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s conviction and removal from office and the removal of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore. Robert Bentley had fired Collier the day before he came forward the the allegations.

The compromised political leadership led to messy fights over the state’s budgets that required multiple sessions to resolve.

Trips, disruptions

The report, culled from interviews with dozens of witnesses, added detail to some of the allegations made against the governor. Collier alleged that Robert Bentley and Mason used state resources to pursue the affair though the scope of the misuse wasn’t clear.

The report alleges that Robert Bentley became increasingly heedless of allowing Mason — who was not a state employee at the time — to use state vehicles, including joining the governor on a helicopter trip to Wilcox County in 2014 while spokeswoman Jennifer Ardis drove to the event.

Ray Lewis, who was responsible for protecting governor, believed that keeping Mason out of the cars was a necessity “based on his years of experience in dignitary protection,” according to the report.

“Lewis explained that, in the event of an emergency situation, the presence of nonofficial personnel could impede his primary duty of protecting Governor Bentley,” it said. Mason left her state job as the governor’s communications director in 2013 to become spokeswoman for his 2014 re-election campaign; though she is his senior political adviser now, she is a consultant and not back on the state payroll.

The relationship disrupted operations of the governor’s office: “Nothing could be done in the office without Mason’s sign-off,” Ardis said.

Seth Hammett, a former Alabama House speaker and the governor’s former chief of staff, said in the report that Mason “upended” his efforts to keep the office disciplined. And sometimes Bentley would decide something late in the evening only to change it in the morning.

“The only person in the administration with regular access to Governor Bentley after hours was Mason,” the report said.

Ten days before the Bentleys’ divorce was final in 2015, Mason drafted a “Bentley Joint Statement” that would have had Dianne Bentley speak appreciatively of her time as first lady, while blasting “erroneous and unsubstantiated media reports” about the governor and Mason’s relationship, according to the report.

“Ms. Bentley never delivered that statement,” the report said.

A ‘watershed’ moment

CLOSE

A recording of Alabama Gov. Bentley having a sexually explicit phone conversation has surfaced. Bentley has denied accusations of having an affair with married staffer Rebekah Mason, and denies taking part in any illegal activities.
Wochit

However, the report points to recordings that Dianne Bentley made of her husband and Mason as a watershed moment.

“Most relevant to the committee’s consideration of the proposed articles of impeachment, however, is the fact that Governor Bentley became obsessed with the existence of the tapes and a desire to prevent them from becoming public,” according to the report.

The recordings — which Heather Hannah, Dianne Bentley’s chief of staff, made a copy of and which Dianne Bentley shared with her son Paul and daughter-in-law Melissa — led the governor to threaten staff members or use them in strange ways.

► 2016:Scandal-plagued Ala. governor faces new impeachment articles
► 2016:Alabama governor took alleged paramour to formal White House dinner

In 2014, the governor confronted Hannah in a kitchen and said, “You will never work in the state of Alabama again if you tell anyone about this (the affair),” according to the report.

On another occasion, the report indicates that Robert Bentley confronted Hannah in the parking lot of the governor’s mansion and suggested that she had planted bugs in his office to listen to his conversations with 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,’ ” the report said.

► More:Lawmaker plans impeachment articles against Ala. gov
► More:Aide to Ala. governor resigns in wake of affair scandal

The report also claims that Robert Bentley directed Lewis to break off the affair on at least two occasions. In the first, Lewis had an hourlong conversation with Mason saying it was time to end the affair, only to have governor enter the conference room where they were meeting. Robert Bentley comforted Mason, telling her, ‘It’s all right, baby. It’s going to be all right.”

“Lewis recalls thinking at that point that his efforts to end the affair were out the window,” the report said.

In fall 2014, Robert Bentley “took significant efforts” to find the tapes, sending staff members to question Hannah and Linda Adams, his director of scheduling, about the tapes. Collier, the Cabinet-level Alabama Law Enforcement Agency secretary, visited and questioned Adams about the tapes, a visit that left her shaken though Collier concluded she didn’t know anything about the recordings, according to the report.

► More:Ethics report filed against Ala. gov. accused of affair
► More:Alabama governor denies having affair with staffer

The report also says governor and Collier asked Special Agent Scot Lee of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s State Bureau of Investigation to investigate Hannah, which Lee refused.

“Lee was bothered by what he called the ‘you may want to look at …’ nature of the proposed assignment,” the report said. “The objective, he felt, was not to solve a crime, but to determine who had the tapes.”

What’s next

The report will form the basis of the impeachment investigation. Chairman Mike Jones of the Alabama House Judiciary Committee said the committee will meet Monday.

Robert Bentley asked for forgiveness Friday but rejected calls from the Senate president pro tem, Marsh of Anniston, Ala., and the House speaker, McCutcheon of Monrovia, Ala., to resign. Both have said impeachment would be a wrenching distraction for the state.

The next governor’s race in Alabama will take place in 2018, and because of term limits Robert Bentley cannot run. If he resigns or is impeached, Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey would become the state’s second female governor — the wife of controversial Gov. George Wallace, Lurleen Wallace was the first, elected in 1966 — and its first Republican woman governor.

Robert Bentley’s resignation is “the only way to avoid taking our state on a long, painful and embarrassing journey whose ending is likely known to us all,” McCutcheon said.

Follow Brian Lyman on Twitter: @lyman_brian

Autoplay

Show Thumbnails

Show Captions

Read or Share this story: http://usat.ly/2nW1USY