Gov. Robert Bentley opted to resign on Monday instead of facing impeachment and pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor campaign violations that arose during an investigation of his alleged affair with a top aide. The gentle 74-year-old Republican has faced a remarkable fall after he stepped down as the sex-tinged scandal gathered force over the past few days.
The impeachment hearings were opened by Legislators to take place on Monday. Evidence that Bentley broke state ethics and campaign laws were cited sometime last week by Alabama Ethics Commission. The Commission then referred the matter to prosecutors.
Bentley made a statement in the old House chamber of Alabama’s Capitol shortly after pleading guilty. He apologized for letting his people down. Bentley’s violations were unveiled during the investigation of his affair although they were not directly related to it.
One of the charges against Bentley stemmed from a $50,000 loan he made to his campaign in November. The State laws indicate that major contributions should be reported within a few days. However, Bentley failed to report until January. He was also charged with the use of campaign funds to pay nearly $9,000 in legal bills for Mason in 2016.
Bentley will be required to surrender campaign funds totaling nearly $37,000 within a week and perform 100 hours of community service as a physician as detailed in the plea agreement. He will also lose the opportunity to seek public office again.
Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey will be Bentley's successor, she will become Alabama's second female governor. The first was Lurleen Wallace, wife of segregationist and four-term Gov. George C. Wallace. She ran as a surrogate for her still-powerful husband in 1966 when he couldn't seek re-election because of term limits. Despite securing victory, Wallace died in office in 1968.
Bentley was first engulfed in the scandal last year after recordings surfaced of him making sexually charged comments to 45-year-old political adviser Rebekah Caldwell Mason. According to an investigative report prepared for the House Judiciary Committee, Bentley is said to have encouraged an atmosphere of intimidation to keep the story under wraps and directed law enforcement officers to track down and seize the recordings.
Bentley lawyer Ross Garber had argued that impeachment should be reserved for only the gravest misconduct, noting that only two U.S. governors have been impeached since 1929, and both were indicted for serious felonies.
U.S. Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois was the last one to be impeached in 2009. He was removed from office and is now serving a prison sentence, for conspiring to sell an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat.
Some of the text messages that governor sent to Mason were unveiled by the investigative report. The messages were intercepted by Dianne Bentley, who was Bentley’s wife before they divorced. She was able to read the messages because they also showed up on the governor's state-issued iPad, which she had access to. Dianne Bentley divorced her husband in 2015 after 50 years of marriage.