The Alabama Ethics Commission’s next meeting is April 5 and the topic of whether Gov. Robert Bentley (R) should be impeached could come up for discussion.
And just in case this does hit the fan, the Associated Press reported contracts for top-dollar lawyers on both sides of the case had been signed, sealed and delivered.
The Alabama House has added $160,000 to the contract of special counsel Jack Sharman. He will now make at least $350,000.
Meanwhile, Gov. Bentley’s administration signed a deal with attorney Ross Garber for an extra $85,000 on top of the $100,000 he was already earning from defending the governor.
All will be paid with state funds.
Bentley has been accused of misusing state resources and property in connection with his alleged affair with his former communications director and political advisor, Rebekah Mason.
Both Bentley and Mason have denied any wrongdoing.
However, Bentley has admitted making inappropriate comments to Mason. For instance, he said in one phone conversation with her, “You know what. When I stand behind you and I put my arms around you and I put my hands on your breasts.”
Bentley could hardly dispute the veracity of that charge.
As PJM reported, his now ex-wife recorded the whole phone call for posterity.
“But baby, lemme tell you what we’re gonna have to do tonight,” Bentley added in the recorded phone call. “Start locking the door. If we’re gonna do what we did the other day, we’re gonna have to start locking the door.”
PJM also reported that during a March 23, 2016, press conference, in which he was described as “nervous” and “awkward,” Bentley said he felt he had to “apologize to the people of the state of Alabama” for his relationship with Mason.
The confession before reporters in Montgomery came a couple of hours after several people who worked for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, including the former head of the ALEA, pushed the Bentley-Mason affair into the public spotlight.
Mason resigned from the Bentley administration. But her husband — yes, she was married at the time of the alleged affair — still makes more than $91,000 a year as head of Serve Alabama, a state agency.
The Alabama House Judiciary Committee voted March 8 to direct special counsel Jack Sharman to get back to his investigation of impeachment articles against Bentley.
The committee’s investigation was stalled in November due to an order from former Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange. But now that Strange has been appointed to fill out U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ term in the Senate, the probe has been reopened.
The committee directive to Sharman ordered him to “resume his activities and investigation and to coordinate as much as is practical and possible with any other related investigations and proceedings so that we will stand better ready to move forward with public hearings when appropriate.”
Alabama’s new attorney general, Steve Marshall, confirmed to reporters that his office is investigating the governor.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said in February that he thinks Bentley did violate state law by using campaign funds for Mason’s legal fees.
“We follow the law,” Merrill told AL.com. “The law says that’s not a permissible expenditure. He views it differently.”
Merrill and Bentley’s attorneys agree on that point.
William Athanas, an attorney for Bentley, sent an email to AL.com stating the state Fair Campaign Practices Act does allow campaign money to be spent on legal fees.
However, Rep. Mack Butler (R) said Merrill’s statement and Strange’s appointment to the U.S. Senate have ramped up interest in Bentley’s possible impeachment.
“Everywhere I go people are interested and want to know the status of impeachment,” Butler told AL.com.
Another of Bentley’s fellow Republicans, Rep. Paul Beckman, chided his colleagues during the March 7 House Judiciary Committee hearing for moving too slowly to authorize the investigation.
“We’ve done nothing,” Beckman said. “So the question the public is asking us, ‘Are we really serious about this, or if the fix is in?’”
Adding to the drama in Montgomery, Ala., was the sudden hospitalization of Gov. Bentley. He underwent a cardiac procedure March 8 after suffering from an irregular heartbeat.
The AP reported Bentley, 74, was admitted to Baptist Medical Center South with atrial fibrillation.
Bentley’s office released a statement later that day that said the governor’s normal heart rhythm was restored and Bentley was sent home the same day.
Of course, Butler admitted, there is always the chance that there is nothing to the charges against Gov. Bentley.
“But we definitely owe it to our constituents to get to the bottom and find out,” Butler said.
The House Judiciary Committee decision to move forward with the investigation came one day after the panel rejected a similar resolution over fears an impeachment could get in the way of a possible criminal prosecution against Bentley.
This is uncharted territory for all concerned.
The Alabama House has not considered impeachment for more than 100 years.
In that case, Alabama Secretary of State John Purifoy, a Confederate Army hero of the Civil War, was accused of giving another candidate for secretary of state $1,000 to drop out of the election.
Purifoy failed to list the expenditure on his campaign finance forms.
That’s the only time the Alabama House has been involved in an impeachment. And, if it happens, this one could be quite different.
“The difficult part is that we’ve never impeached a governor before,” Rep. Ed Henry (R) told Yellowhammer. “The Constitution is fairly vague about the process.”