"I am truly sorry, and I accept full responsibility," Bentley said
He maintained that the relationship never got physical
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley denied at a news conference Wednesday that he and a top aide had a sexual affair after explicit recordings of him became public.
Bentley did not deny the legitimacy of the recordings or that it was his voice but told the press that they were made two years ago and, since then, he has made apologies to his family and that of the aide, Rebekah Mason, a former spokeswoman and policy adviser.
“I am truly sorry, and I accept full responsibility,” said Bentley, a Republican serving in his second term. “Today, I want to apologize to the people of Alabama.”
But throughout the news conference, he maintained that the relationship never got physical.
“I want everyone to know, though, that I have never had a physical affair with Mrs. Mason,” Bentley said.
Bentley spoke out after his former law enforcement chief, Spencer Collier, held a news conference earlier in the day in which he accused the governor of the affair and inappropriate use of resources. Collier was fired by the governor the day before.
Collier alleges the governor leased a state plane so that he could cover up the affair, because Mason’s name did not have to be put on flight manifests. Collier was fired by the governor the day before following an internal investigation which found state dollars were misused while he was the head of the agency. But, Collier says the governor asked him to lie in a separate, unrelated investigation.
“As … governor, I have never done anything illegal. I have never asked any member of my staff or any cabinet member to lie,” Bentley said on Wednesday. “At no time have I ever used the resources of my office to facilitate a relationship of any type.”
The tapes were made by the Bentley family, according to AL.com, which published excerpts. AL.com reported that it was allowed to hear portions of the tapes by people close to the Bentley family.
The goal was to figure out if Bentley was involved in a relationship. An attorney for Bentley’s wife did not immediately respond to CNN for a request for comment.
One portion of the audio was quoted to Bentley at the news conference.
“When I stand behind you, and I put my arms around you, and I put my hands on your breasts, and I put my hands (unintelligible) and just pull you real close. I love that, too,” Bentley said in the recording.
It was not clear from the recording alone who the governor was talking to.
Asked how that did not speak to a physical relationship, Bentley said, “Well, what I’m saying is there was no sexual activity.” He did not elaborate on what that meant.
Bentley and his wife were divorced last year.
Mason has responded to the controversy by accusing Collier of “gender bias.”
“Since 2010, I have proudly served as Gov. Robert Bentley’s Campaign Press Secretary, Communications Director, Advisor, Campaign Communications Director and now Senior Policy Advisor. “It is an honor to serve our Governor and the people of our state,” Mason said in a statement provided to CNN by the governor’s office.
In a follow-up email with CNN, Mason stood by the governor’s comments on the recordings, saying everyone has moved on.
“Those recordings were made over two years ago. Governor Bentley had apologized to me and to my family, we accepted his apology and have moved forward,” Mason said. “I continue to serve in the Bentley Administration along with the rest of our team, and I look forward to the opportunities we have to make our state stronger.”
She is an adviser to the governor but no longer a state employee.
Bentley has said he will not step down.