MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley failed Friday to stop the House Judiciary Committee from releasing a scathing impeachment report when he filed for an emergency temporary restraining order. But he was successful on a second front.
His attorneys were able to convince Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Greg Griffin to issue a temporary restraining order on impeachment hearings that were slated to start Monday.
The governor was granted an order that freezes all impeachment action until mid-May, barring a successful appeal, while his attorneys attempt to mount a defense.
In addition to the report, the commission purchased a web domain, www.BentleyInvestigation.com, where it posted impeachment-related documents that include such evidence as intimate text messages between the governor and his former aide, Rebekah Mason, with whom he's accused of having an affair.
[MOBILE USERS: View slideshow of text message evidence]
The Alabama House Judiciary Committee kept a promise to release its report Friday, even while Bentley's attorneys fought to withhold it in court. When asked why he decided to release the report without waiting on an order from the court, special counsel Jack Sharman said he felt it was appropriate because the information belongs to the public, and that's where it should be.
Bentley's attorney, Ross Garber, saw it differently.
"We appreciate the Court's consideration of this serious case and are gratified by the result," Garber explained. "The Rule of Law applies. Even in the Legislature. Even in Impeachments. We will review today's document dump – which appears to be an amalgam of hearsay, rumor and innuendo. I continue to have confidence that there will ultimately be fairness and due process in this matter."
Before the hearing, Bentley held a hastily-called news conference on the capitol steps to address the public and ask for forgiveness. While he admitted that he had made mistakes, he said he has no plans to resign.
On Wednesday, the Alabama Ethics Commission found probable cause that the governor broke state ethics and campaign finance laws and referred their findings to the Montgomery County district attorney's office for possible prosecution.
The committee's report summarizes several points before delving into details that would, no doubt, be embarrassing to those involved. Its summary touches on bolded points that state:
- Despite Governor Bentley’s obstructive tactics, the investigation has been objective and thorough.
- Impeachment is a remedy, not a punishment.
- Governor Bentley’s due process objections are meritless.
- 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.
- Campaign funds.
Highlights of the document show evidence that investigators had a difficult time getting cooperation from Bentley. His emails were inconsistent, at times using personal email addresses, and that his staff is said to have also modified flight logs.
The report states that the governor scheduled "hold" hours in his calendar during which time he and Mason could be alone in his office together. His aids also stated that the governor referred to Mason as "baby" during his re-election campaign. The two also reported had what was called a "love bench", as nicknamed by capitol employees, who saw the pair frequently sitting there together.
One entry notes that Mason bragged that Bentley once told her he opened the door of his Washington, D.C., hotel in his boxer shorts, errantly thinking it was her knocking.
Dianne Bentley's suspicions that her husband was having an affair started when she learned Mason was spending the night in the pool house at the Governor's Mansion in Montgomery in Sept. 2013. She started journaling about the lack of physical affection from her husband in late 2013, the report said.
Months later in February 2014 she saw text messages between her husband and Mason that said "I can't take my eyes off of you," during a dinner of the National Governor's Association. She also intercepted text messages between the pair that included red rose emojis and professions of love to "Rebekah".
On a beach trip, the governor was on the phone talking to Mason about fondling her breasts within a minute of Mrs. Bentley leaving for a walk on the beach, the report confirmed. It was with Dianne Bentley's chief of state, Heather Hannah, that the now infamous beach tapes were recorded that March.
The governor is said to have threatened Hannah, telling her "you'll never work in this state if you tell anyone," and in a later confrontation told the woman "watch yourself. You don't know what you're getting into," and that Alabamians "bow to his throne". That staffer later told the investigating committee that she found messages on her car that said "die bitch" and "you will f-ing die."
The report alleges the governor ordered then secretary of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Spencer Collier to research criminal law in preparation for Hannah's arrest. Further, the report contends Bentley misused state resources when he asked his bodyguard, Ray Lewis, to confront staff and order them to stop "gossiping" about Mason, and twice ordered Lewis to break up with Mason for him.
"To ensure the silence of his staff, Governor Bentley encouraged an atmosphere of intimidation," the report stated, adding there was "obsession and paranoia," and that Bentley "subjected career law enforcement officers to tasks intended to protect his reputation."
At one point, the governor is said to have gotten a text from his daughter-in-law that demanded he stop denying the affair or "we'll tell the truth". His response, according to the report, was to order Collier to drive to Jackson, MS to confront her. Collier declined to do so.
The first lady didn't make up her mind on whether she would attend her husband's second inauguration until the day of. And after her divorce filing, the report states Mason drafted a statement for Mrs. Bentley to release, though the first lady never used it.
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