Gov. Robert Bentley used law enforcement personnel to benefit himself personally and to protect his reputation, according to conclusions of the House Judiciary Committee’s special counsel in a report released Friday.
The 131-page report and about 3,000 pages of exhibits detail multiple incidents in which Bentley is alleged to have used officers to stifle rumors he was having an affair with a staffer.
Bentley’s lawyers Friday morning asked the court to halt both release of the report and impeachment hearings that had been set to begin Monday. A judge did issue a temporary restraining order delaying impeachment hearings.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, said in a statement that a notice of appeal has been filed on that order. The committee still intends to meet Monday morning “to address procedural issues and to fully inform the committee of the actions that took place today (Friday),” Jones said.
Ross Garber, Bentley’s attorney, was largely dismissive of the report in a statement he gave to the Montgomery Advertiser.
“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.”
Rough Week for Bentley
The release of the report caps a rough week for Bentley. On Wednesday, the state Ethics Commission found probable cause to believe the Republican governor had broken state ethics and campaign finance laws and referred the case to the Montgomery District Attorney’s Office.
On Thursday, Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh called on Bentley to resign, and Friday House Speaker Mac McCutcheon joined that chorus, saying, “It’s the only way to avoid taking our state on a long, painful and embarrassing journey.” Bentley declined both requests.
In the report, special counsel Jack Sharman said neither Bentley nor former aide Rebekah Mason cooperated with the investigation.
His report describes Bentley as becoming increasingly paranoid and vindictive as word leaked out about his relationship with Mason, a relationship the governor has said was improper but not physical.
It describes the family life of the former Baptist Sunday school teacher crashing as his infatuation with Mason grew. His children began to suspect he was suffering from dementia, going so far as to try to trick him into a psychological evaluation.
Phone Messages, Texts Alert Wife
But his then-wife of 50 years suspected an affair. Dianne Bentley caught his part of two conversations with Mason by leaving her cell phone in record mode near the telephone during a beach vacation. She also was able to read text messages between the two on an iPad her husband had given her, which he did not realize synced with his state-issued iPhone, the report stated
It is allegations concerning Bentley’s attempts to track down those recordings and squelch rumors of an affair that make up the bulk of the special counsel’s report, as well as forming the basis for articles of impeachment filed against the governor.
“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,” the report concludes.
It alleges that, among other things, Bentley had the former head of his security detail, Ray Lewis, meet with women who worked in his office to tell them not to talk about what they saw in the office.
Twice Bentley dispatched Lewis to break up with Mason for him, Lewis told investigators, and once he was sent to Tuscaloosa to try to persuade Bentley’s son to turn over recordings that implicated Bentley in an affair.
Lewis said he repeatedly warned Bentley that Mason should not be allowed to travel with him on the state plane or in state cars after she left the governor’s office to work in his re-election campaign. But Bentley frequently overruled him.
Lewis said he and Spencer Collier, then secretary of Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, talked with Bentley and advised he end his relationship with Mason. After that, Lewis’ overtime pay was questioned and he eventually stepped down as detail leader for Bentley’s security.
The report alleges that others who were suspected of knowing about or possessing the recordings got visits from other law enforcement agents.
Bentley Confronts Wife’s Staffer
Bentley himself twice confronted Heather Hannah, who was on his wife’s staff, because he believed she was involved with recording him, the report alleges. She testified he once threatened that she would never work in state government again if she talked about what she knew, and the other time he told her to “watch herself.”
Collier told investigators he balked when Bentley told him to research the law to see whether Hannah could be prosecuted. He later was fired from his post amid an investigation into his expenses.
The report includes a litany of other allegations law enforcement officers made that they were asked to try to find out who had the recordings or talk to people suspected of leaking information about governor’s office operations.
Mason’s Growing Influence
The report also describes Mason’s growing influence in state government even after she left the governor’s office to run a nonprofit he had established. Officers and office staffers told investigators that she frequently traveled around the state with the governor and attended many meetings in the office.
“Jennifer Ardis, who had succeeded Mason as Governor Bentley’s press secretary, stated that the Bentley-Mason relationship evolved to the point that nothing could be done in the Office without Mason’s sign-off,” the report states. “She stated that Governor Bentley’s typical reaction to any advice given without Mason present was, “What does Rebekah think about it?”
The report also notes that the Ethics Commission earlier in the week found probable cause that Bentley violated ethics and campaign finance laws, but it did not draw any conclusions on that issue.
A sampling of stories on the impeachment investigation from other media:
Report: Bentley Misused Vehicles, Personnel for Affair (Montgomery Advertiser)
Alabama Governor Halts Impeachment, Not Disparaging Report (Associated Press)
Report Describes Bentley’s ‘Obsession and Paranoia’ (Decatur Daily)