Prosecutor refers allegations against Alabama governor to AG

Alabama Gov Report Release Sandoval pkg_00014313
Alabama Gov Report Release Sandoval pkg_00014313

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Story highlights

  • Ex-wife's staffer said governor told her "people bow to his throne," investigator says
  • Montgomery County district attorney says he doesn't want to interfere with state probe

(CNN)With efforts to impeach Gov. Robert Bentley under way Monday, a local prosecutor referred the possibility of criminal charges -- recommended by the state Ethics Commission -- to Alabama's acting attorney general in the investigation.

"Please note that this is not a recusal," Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey said in an email to CNN. "I simply did not want to interfere with an ongoing investigation by the Acting AG that has been ongoing for several months."
In his letter to Ellen Brooks, the acting attorney general in the Bentley investigation, Bailey says he wishes not to duplicate or interfere with her probe.
How Bailey and Brooks landed in their positions is the result of a domino effect that Bentley detractors say is related to the sex scandal that spurred the impeachment hearings aimed at ousting the second-term governor.
Bailey was appointed by Bentley in 2014 after his boss, then-District Attorney Brooks, retired. When President Donald Trump nominated US Sen. Jeff Sessions to be his US attorney general, it opened the US Senate seat.
Bentley tapped state Attorney General Luther Strange, who was reportedly investigating Bentley, to fill Sessions' seat. The governor then picked Steve Marshall to fill Strange's seat, and Marshall earlier this year recused himself from the Bentley investigation and named Brooks as acting attorney general in the Bentley investigation.

Impeachment hearings begin

Jack Sharman, the state House Judiciary Committee's special counsel, has been investigating the governor for months, and on Friday he submitted to the committee a 130-page document alleging, among other things, that Bentley used state law enforcement officers to intimidate staffers and suppress news of his affair with former political adviser Rebekah Caldwell Mason.
Bentley was desperate to keep news of the affair from spreading beyond the Governor's mansion, where it was apparently common knowledge among staffers, the report said. It paints a portrait of a dysfunctional executive branch plagued by the affair of a Nixonian governor whose "loyalty shifted from the State of Alabama to himself."
"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 said.
Monday's impeachment hearings got off to a sluggish start, with Sharman explaining to lawmakers the history of impeachments and answering procedural questions that included whether Bentley could be impeached for his failure to cooperate with the investigation alone. Sharman has repeatedly said he felt that could be the case.
After a recess, Sharman took to the podium again and began explaining the specific allegations against Bentley, as outlined in his report. Among the accusations are that Bentley angrily confronted Heather Hannah, a staff member to Bentley's wife, twice at the governor's mansion.
According to Sharman, Hannah testified that Bentley, upset because he believed Hannah had helped his wife record incriminating remarks he made to Mason, told Hannah to watch herself and warned her that he was the governor and "people bow to his throne."

Ethics Commission findings

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The report came two days after the Alabama Ethics Commission announced that it had "found probable cause to believe" Bentley violated campaign finance and ethics laws. The panel had received two complaints alleging that the septuagenarian "Luv Guv" -- as he's been dubbed by local media outlets and bloggers -- misused state resources to facilitate his affair.
Officials interviewed more than 45 witnesses and analyzed 33,000 documents during the investigation.
Intentional violations of the Alabama Ethics Act and Fair Campaign Practices Act are Class B felonies, punishable by a prison sentence of between two and 20 years for each violation. A fine of up to $20,000 could also be levied for each violation.
The commission referred the case to Bailey, the Montgomery County district attorney.
The governor's own party has asked him to step down, and last week, Alabama House Speaker Mac McCutcheon and Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh added their voices to the chorus of lawmakers calling on Bentley to resign immediately.
"Let's end this embarrassment to our state right now," McCutcheon said in a press conference Friday. "It's the only way to avoid taking our state on a long, painful and embarrassing journey whose ending is likely already known to us all."

Bentley vows to stay put

Gov. Bentley: I will not resign
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Gov. Bentley: I will not resign 01:19
Bentley has repeatedly denied having an affair with Mason, even after audio recordings surfaced purporting to capture Bentley telling Mason he loved her and enjoyed putting his hands under her shirt.
On one tape, he is heard suggesting, "If we're going to do what we did the other day, we're going to have to start locking the door."
The governor has acknowledged making inappropriate remarks to a staffer, but nothing more. Mason resigned last year, the same year Dianne Bentley, the governor's wife of 50 years, finalized the couple's divorce.
Even after the Ethics Commission findings, an apologetic yet defiant Bentley promised not to quit.
"I do not plan to resign," Bentley said Friday morning from the steps of the state Capitol. "I have done nothing illegal. If the people want to know if I misused state resources, the answer is simply no, I have not."