MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama lawmakers started impeachment hearings Monday for Gov. Robert Bentley as they consider whether to oust him over accusations he used state resources to hide an alleged affair with a top aide.
The hearings began three days after the Republican governor made a somber plea for forgiveness from the steps of the Alabama Capitol, acknowledging that he had let people down but promising that he had done nothing illegal or anything to merit his merit removal from office.
As the hearing commenced, there were growing calls among Republicans for Bentley to voluntarily step down. The Alabama Republican Party’s steering committee passed a resolution Sunday calling on Bentley to resign immediately, echoing calls from GOP leaders in the House and Senate.
Jack Sharman, the special counsel for the House Judiciary Committee, is scheduled to make his presentation of evidence to the committee as it begins a week of hearings that will culminate with a vote on whether to recommend Bentley’s impeachment. Sharman will outline the details of a report published Friday that accused the governor of directing law enforcement to advance his personal interests and protect his reputation.
“We now sit ready to hear the evidence that has been gathered and to allow the governor to confront that evidence,” Chairman Mike Jones said at the opening of the hearing. “I trust we will all approach this with a fair and open mind.”
Bentley has struggled to shake off a scandal after recordings surfaced last year of him making romantic and sexually charged comments in 2014 to a top female aide before his divorce.
One of the accusations centers on claims that Bentley sent both the state law enforcement secretary and his state security officer to try and track down the recordings.
Bentley has steadfastly refused to resign.
“If the people want to know if I misused state resources, the answer is simply no. I have not,” Bentley said Friday. He said unnamed people were taking joy in exposing the embarrassing details of his personal life.
The impeachment articles filed against Bentley accuse him of corruption and neglect of duty.
The Alabama Ethics Commission last week found probable cause that Bentley broke state ethics and campaign laws. The matter has been referred to the attorney general’s office.
Sharman last week released thousands of pages of documents and interviews he obtained. They included multiple text messages that Bentley sent the aide, such as “I sure miss you. I need you. I want you. You are the only one.”
The governor’s then-wife, Dianne Bentley, was able to read the text messages because they also showed up on his state-issued iPad, which he had given the first lady. Dianne Bentley provided the messages to the committee.
The former first lady’s chief of staff also told the committee’s special counsel that Bentley threatened her job because he believed she had helped his wife make the recordings.
If the House votes to impeach Bentley, he will automatically be removed from his duties and can only be returned to office if acquitted in a trial-like proceeding before the Alabama Senate.
Bentley lawyer Ross Garber, who represented South Carolina and Connecticut governors in impeachment proceedings, has argued that only the “most grave misconduct” merits impeachment, noting that only two U.S. governors have been impeached since 1929, and both were indicted for serious felonies.
“It is not unusual for elected officials to have ethics and campaign finance issues. In fact, many governors face these things. It is very rare, though, for legislators to try to leverage those issues to impeach a governor. In fact, it is simply not done,” Garber told The Associated Press in an email.
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.