MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The disgraced Republican governor of Alabama resigned on Monday in the midst of impeachment hearings surrounding inappropriate relations with his senior advisor, as well as related criminal charges to which he has pleaded guilty.
“I’ve always believed the honor of serving as your governor was a calling that God placed on my life,” Gov. Robert Bentley stated in his resignation speech. “I have spent the last year in deep and earnest prayer over our state and our people. I pray every morning for wisdom and guidance and forgiveness for the sins that I commit.”
As previously reported, last March, Bentley held a news conference in which he admitted to making “inappropriate comments” to Senior Political Adviser Rebekah Caldwell Mason, who is married with three children. While audio footage of the telephone discussions suggests a physical relationship, he denied the allegation, and only admitted to the “mistake” of sexually suggestive talk.
“I love you. I love to talk to you,” the governor said to Mason in one of the phone calls. “Baby, let me tell you what we’re going to have to start doing, we’re going to have to start locking the door. If we are going to do what we did the other day, we are going to have to start locking the door.”
The audio had been recorded by Dianne Bentley, the governor’s former wife, who divorced him in 2015 after capturing Bentley speaking in such manner on the phone with Mason. She had suspected an affair and left her telephone recording in the room so she could hear his conversations with the staffer.
Former Alabama Secretary of Law Enforcement Spencer Collier also blew the whistle as concerned Bentley security officer Ray Lewis played the audio footage for him as recorded by Bentley’s wife. Reports state that inappropriate text messages also exist.
In addition to losing his wife, the First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa, which Bentley had attended for many years, told Christian News Network last year that Bentley is no longer a member of the church—and neither is Mason.
It is not clear as to whether church discipline was exercised and the two were expelled, or whether they voluntarily left. Gil McKee, who serves as senior pastor, desired to keep the details private.
“While church discipline is a church family matter, both Governor Robert Bentley and Mrs. Rebekah Mason are no longer members of First Baptist Church Tuscaloosa,” he said. “I continue to pray for each of them.”
Bentley had at one time been a Sunday School teacher at the church, as well as a deacon. As previously reported, McKee was at odds with Bentley in 2015 after the governor determined that he would follow a court ruling on same-sex “marriage” despite his personal beliefs against it.
A month after the affair evidence came to light, lawmakers moved to impeach Bentley since he refused to resign.
“There are no grounds for impeachment, and I will vigorously defend myself and [my] administration from this political attack,” he tweeted.
Earlier this year, after then-Sen. Jeff Sessions was selected by President Trump to serve as U.S. attorney general, Bentley chose Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange to replace Sessions in the Senate. The move drew questions since Strange had requested that the House Judiciary Committee permit him to lead the investigation into Bentley.
On Friday, Jack Sharman, the special counsel for the House Judiciary Committee, released a lengthy report that asserted Bentley sought to cover up his affair and told others to keep it quiet. Bentley remained determined that he would not let the matter keep him from serving as governor.
“The people of this state have never asked to be told of or shown the intimate and embarrassing details of my personal life and my personal struggles,” he said in a press conference. “Those who are taking pleasure in humiliating and in shaming me, shaming my family, shaming my friends, well, I really don’t understand why they want to do that.”
But by Monday, Bentley was booked at the Montgomery County Jail on charges that he had failed to disclose a $50,000 personal loan to his campaign, and that he used $9,000 of campaign money for payment to Mason’s attorneys. He accepted a plea deal to avoid jail time and felony charges, and resigned hours later.
Under the deal, Bentley will be required to perform 100 hours of community service and will forfeit $37,000 of his campaign funds.
“I can no longer allow my family, my dear friends, my dedicated staff and cabinet to be subjected to the consequences that my past actions have brought upon them,” he said in his resignation speech late Monday.
“Though I have committed myself to working to improve the lives of the people of our state, there have been times that I have let you and our people down, and I am sorry for that,” Bentley stated. “The consequences of my mistakes have been grievously unfair to you, my local and dedicated staff, and my cabinet, and all of our agencies who have continued your exemplary service to our people in your respective agencies in the face of difficult circumstances.”
Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey has now been sworn in to serve as governor.
“Today is a dark day in Alabama, but also it’s one of opportunity,” she said. “I ask for your help and your patience as together we steady the ship and improve Alabama’s image.”