An Alabama legislator on Tuesday announced plans to file a resolution aimed at impeaching Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley amid an unraveling sex scandal involving one of his top aides. Here's what you need to know:
How did this scandal start?
Rumors swirled in August when Bentley's wife of 50 years filed for divorce just weeks after celebrating their anniversary. In court records Bentley's wife, Dianne, cited an "irretrievable breakdown" in their marriage.
Unverified reports surfaced, claiming the 73-year-old governor had an affair with chief political adviser Rebekah Caldwell Mason, 44, and some lawmakers questioned whether he misused state funds or property to cover up the liaison.
Why are people calling for Bentley to leave office?
The rumors were given little mainstream media coverage until March 22, when Bentley fired Spencer Collier from his post as head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. That same day, Collier told AL.com he saw text messages and heard recordings between Bentley and Mason that were “of a sexual nature.” He accused Bentley of interfering with law enforcement investigations over the course of his affair. A recording of Bentley speaking provocatively to a woman whom he called “Beca” also surfaced.
Bentley has since apologized, denied any wrongdoing and said he has no plans to resign from office. Mason has since resigned from her position.
Resolution outlined, governor's office fires back
At a news conference Tuesday, state Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, outlined an articles of impeachment resolution aimed at Bentley.
"We are looking at this governor who has essentially betrayed the trust of the people of Alabama through actions and lies that have caused us to have some doubt about his leadership," he said.
The governor's office wasted little time addressing the resolution. In a statement, Bentley highlighted his record of saving taxpayers money and vowed to vigorously defend himself against what he characterized as a “political attack.”
“Today's press conference is nothing more than political grandstanding intended to grab headlines and take the focus away from the important issues the Legislature still has to address before the end of the session,” Bentley said.
What does it take to impeach a governor in Alabama?
Section 173 of the Alabama Constitution lays out a loose description of the impeachment process for high-ranking state officials. The section lists willful neglect of duty, corruption, incompetency and “any offense involving moral turpitude while in office,” among other reasons for impeachment.
Henry said his filing accuses Bentley of all those things.
Henry's resolution is likely to continue on to the House Rules Committee for consideration.
It was not immediately clear whether it would have enough support to move forward. Some lawmakers have argued the move would be hasty without a full investigation into any perceived wrongdoing on Bentley's part, the Associated Press reported.
If it does move forward, Bentley could eventually face a trial in the Senate. Senators would act as jury as the state's Chief Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore – who was himself removed from office during a spat over a Ten Commandments monument in 2003 – presides over the case.
As for what comes next in the process – that seems a bit up in the air.
According to a report from AL.com, there is little in the state's Constitution or law books to guide legislators past the trial phase.
“We have a section in Mason's (Manual of Legislative Procedure, the state's parliamentary guidebook) that says the Legislature can adopt politics and procedure to do whatever they need to do,” Jeff Woodard, clerk of the state House, told AL.com.
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