Ala. Gov. Bentley Agrees To Plea Deal And Resigns Amid Scandal
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley insisted he was not resigning right up until the moment that he resigned.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
ROBERT BENTLEY: So thank you and goodbye. And I love this state from the bottom of my heart and the people who live here. God bless you.
INSKEEP: The two-term Republican reached a plea deal that led to his departure from office. He'd been fighting allegations that he misused his office to cover up an affair with a top political aide. NPR's Debbie Elliott joins us now from Montgomery, Ala. Hi, Debbie.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: What was it like to be in the room for that resignation speech?
ELLIOTT: You know, he was in the Old House Chambers, a historic room in the Alabama Capitol. People had gathered and were awaiting word of what was going on, many rumors flying at the time that he had reached a deal.
And, indeed, while we were waiting, he was being booked at the Montgomery County jail and appearing in state court to plead guilty. And then he took to the podium and announced that he was, indeed, going to resign. Here's what he said.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
BENTLEY: I can no longer allow my family, my dear friends, my dedicated staff and Cabinet to be subjected to the consequences that my past actions have brought upon them.
ELLIOTT: Now, those past actions, you know, Steve, I'll remind you, involved the lengths to which he went to cover up an inappropriate extra-marital relationship with a senior political adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason. So there were also questions about state resources and campaign funds being used to further the alleged affair. And this is what got him in trouble.
INSKEEP: Now, did people not know until he actually spoke, not know for sure, that he was on his way out?
ELLIOTT: People knew by the time he reached the room.
INSKEEP: OK. So what happened, given that Bentley had said he was going to fight? He said as recently as the weekend, I believe, he was going to fight and then suddenly had to go.
ELLIOTT: Well, the specter of a drawn-out and embarrassing impeachment process. News of this deal in the works came just as the Alabama House Judiciary Committee was convening an impeachment hearing. And they were set to determine whether Bentley should be impeached and then removed from office for willful neglect of duty and corruption in office.
Republican State Representative Ed Henry had filed those articles of impeachment about a year ago. So this had been going on for a long time. After this all went down yesterday, he said Bentley's resignation was long overdue, given that the former Baptist deacon had campaigned on family values.
ED HENRY: Then it was all ripped off like, I mean, just a horrible, nasty wound. We got to see behind the curtain. And what we saw, we didn't like.
INSKEEP: Does the plea deal mean that Bentley is done with the legal process, Debbie?
ELLIOTT: Well, it means that he will not face state prosecution on ethics charges. The Alabama Ethics Commission had recommended that there was probable cause there. But in this plea deal, he is now barred from political office. He'll be on probation for about a year. He says he'll look for ways to serve otherwise.
The first way will be he has some community service to fulfill. He's a physician and a dermatologist, so he'll be doing that for like a hundred hours. And then he's got to pay back the roughly $9,000 his campaign paid for Rebekah Caldwell Mason's legal fees. And then he's going to have to forfeit what's left in his campaign account, that's about $37,000.
INSKEEP: How'd the new governor, Republican Kay Ivey, start off?
ELLIOTT: Well, she was sworn in just moments after the governor made his resignation just across the hall. She says she promises an open and honest administration. There's going to be a whole lot of pressure for that, given that three of Alabama's last six governors have found themselves afoul of the law for abusing their position.
INSKEEP: Debbie, always a pleasure to hear your voice. Thanks very much.
ELLIOTT: Likewise, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Debbie Elliott in Montgomery, Ala. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.