Alabama Governor's Impeachment Proceedings Are On Hold
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley has won a delay in impeachment hearings that were due to start next week in the state legislature.
He's been fighting in court to avoid facing embarrassing charges that he misused his office to cover up an alleged affair.
Lawyers for the two-term Republican have won a temporary restraining order delaying impeachment proceedings that were set to begin Monday in the Alabama House Judiciary Committee. A Montgomery circuit judge granted Bentley more time to respond to the allegations.
The last-minute legal maneuvers come amid a damaging report released by the panel's special counsel, Jack Sharman. It lays out in sometimes sordid detail an extra-marital relationship between the 74-year-old Bentley and political advisor Rebekah Caldwell Mason.
The report accuses him of using state resources, including law enforcement, to hide the affair and protect his reputation, "in a process characterized by increasing obsession and paranoia."
"Governor Bentley's loyalty shifted from the State of Alabama to himself," Sharman wrote in an executive summary. He said Bentley "encouraged an atmosphere of intimidation" to ensure the silence of his staff.
Earlier Friday, Bentley appeared in a hastily called news conference on the steps of the Alabama Capitol. He apologized for letting the people of Alabama down, but rejected calls from GOP legislative leaders to step down.
"I do not plan to resign," he said. "I have done nothing illegal."
Political pressure for him to resign has been growing since tape recordings were released in 2016 of him making sexually suggestive comments to Mason. Both were married at the time.
Dianne Bentley later filed for divorce. The report says her suspicions of an affair were confirmed when Bentley mistakenly sent his wife a text that read "I love you Rebekah" with a red-rose emoji.
The Alabama House Judiciary Committee sought the investigation ahead of considering impeachment articles against the governor for willful neglect of duty and corruption in office. The chairman says the panel will meet Monday despite the court order, which he is trying to get overturned.
Earlier this week the Alabama Ethics Commission found probable cause that Bentley should face criminal ethics and campaign finance charges, and handed the case to the Montgomery County District Attorney for possible prosecution.
Separately, the Alabama attorney general's office is investigating.
Bentley, a former Baptist deacon, used the language of his religion during his Friday public appearance, acknowledging "personal struggles" and asking for prayer.
"I asked God to take these struggles and to help me carry these burdens," he said. "And I found freedom in that."
Bentley first met Mason, a former television reporter, at their Tuscaloosa church where he taught a couples' Sunday school class. She served as press secretary for his campaign for governor in 2010, and later joined his administration. During his second term, her salary was paid with campaign funds and through a separate advocacy non-profit organization set up by Bentley.
Her husband, Jon Mason, was appointed by Bentley as executive director of the Governor's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
The couple recently accompanied Bentley on a trip to Washington, D.C., for President Trump's inauguration.