A day after facing the prospect of impeachment proceedings, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley was jailed Monday on two misdemeanor campaign finance charges, according to the Montgomery County Jail's website, and he resigned not long after that news was announced. It was a dramatic end to a scandal that's lasted over a year, but if you're just catching up on it now, you're probably wondering: What's going on with Alabama's governor?
Bentley's problems reportedly began with an alleged extramarital affair. In 2016, a law enforcement officer told AL.com that two years earlier, he allegedly glimpsed a suspicious text message on Bentley's phone. Bentley, a conservative Republican and former Baptist deacon, had apparently dropped his cell phone at a business conference, and the officer in question claimed to have seen an allegedly sexually explicit text from one of Bentley's top advisors, Rebekah Mason.
Soon thereafter, recordings surfaced in which Bentley could reportedly be heard making sexually charged comments to Mason. The recordings more or less made it seem that Bentley, who was married at the time, and the advisor were reportedly carrying out a romantic relationship with one another. Bentley admitted to making sexually explicit comments to Mason, he denied that it ever became a physical affair. "I want everyone to know though that I have never had a physical affair with Mrs. Mason," he said. "I can assure the people of Alabama I have never done anything illegal."
Having an affair isn't a crime. But using state resources to cover-up an affair can be, and that's what Bentley was later accused of doing. Bentley denied these allegations as well, stating, "At no time I have used the resources of my office to facilitate a relationship of any type."
Nevertheless, state lawmakers began investigating the issue, and took steps to possibly impeach the governor. In response, Bentley said in a statement that "there are no grounds for impeachment," and vowed to "vigorously defend myself and my administration from this political attack."
On Friday, the Alabama House Judiciary Committee released the findings of its investigation — despite a last-minute attempt by Bentley's legal team to block its release. The 3,000 page report concluded, among other things, that Bentley and Mason had been carrying out an affair. Investigators also noted, however, that "If Governor Bentley meant to hide his affair from his wife, he did not do it well," and cited several alleged incidents in which members of the governor's inner orbit became suspicious of his alleged relationship with Mason.
The report also alleges that Bentley ordered the state's law enforcement agency secretary to "research criminal law and to be prepared to arrest Heather Hannah, whom Governor Bentley believed had made the recordings" of him and Mason. Hannah is a former staffer of Bentley's now-ex-wife, and according to the report, she later found threatening messages scrawled on her car. Investigators found no evidence of who left those messages. After the report was released, Bentley re-iterated on Friday that he "has done nothing illegal."
The report also alleged that Bentley and Mason had exchanged romantic text messages with one another, but that due to a technical oversight involving his iCloud account, those texts had accidentally been sent to Dianne, Bentley's then-wife.
On Monday, Bentley pled guilty to two misdemeanor charges, including "Knowingly Converting Campaign Contributions to Personal Use." According to the plea deal, Bentley authorized a payment from his campaign fund to a law firm representing Mason in a suit related to the investigation of their alleged affair.
Bentley announced his resignation Monday evening, saying that it is "time for me to step down as Alabama's governor." Although he was unspecific, he acknowledged making "mistakes," and apologized for letting Alabamans down.
"Though I have committed myself to working to improve the lives of people of our state, there have been times that I have led you, and our people down, and I'm sorry for that," Bentley said. The consequences of my mistakes have been grievously unfair to you...I can no longer allow my family life, my dear friends, my dedicated staff and cabinet, to be subjected to the consequences that my past actions have brought upon them."
Shortly after Bentley's announcement, state lawmakers announced that they would be ending their impeachment proceedings, as they were "no longer needed." His successor, then-Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, was sworn in as Alabama's 54th governor later in the day. She's the second woman in state history to hold the position.