Source: Alabama governor to resign amid sex scandal

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) will resign late Monday after reaching an agreement with lawmakers and state law enforcement officials in the wake of an ongoing ethics probe looking into his personal relationship with a senior political adviser, according to a source familiar with the discussions and several local media outlets.

State lawmakers began impeachment hearings Monday, days after the state Ethics Commission found probable cause that Bentley had broken campaign finance rules. The hearings are the first time in Alabama history that the state legislature has considered removing a governor.

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But by the middle of the morning on Monday, Bentley had reached a deal with legislators to quit and avoid an impeachment fight he would almost certainly have lost. Bentley will tell staffers he will resign at a staff meeting scheduled for 2:30 p.m. CDT, the source said.

Bentley’s resignation will come after a year of tumult for the conservative populist, who won office in 2010 by riding a Tea Party wave to beat a field of better-known contenders. Bentley and his wife of 50 years divorced in 2015 after she recorded several sexually suggestive phone conversations between the governor and his senior political adviser, Rebekah Mason.

Bentley used his political position to cover up the affair, threatening staffers, firing the state’s top law enforcement official and using official vehicles to ferry Mason around the state, according to a salacious report by Montgomery attorney Jack Sharman, a special counsel working for the Alabama House Judiciary Committee. The report found Bentley even tried to use state law enforcement officials to break off the relationship.

After the report was issued, senior Alabama Republicans, including House Speaker Mac McCutcheon and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, called on Bentley to resign. On Sunday, the state Republican Party’s executive committee asked Bentley to step down.

“Our laws are pretty stringent, that’s why he’s going to be convicted and removed from office,” said Steve Flowers, an Alabama political analyst. “It’s a heck of a soap opera.”

On Monday morning, the Alabama Media Group reported that Bentley had begun negotiations to step down and plead guilty to charges surrounding the case. The governor’s spokeswoman, Yasamie August, told The Hill in an email that Bentley was not involved in those talks. Bentley had denied on Friday that he was considering stepping down.

August did not respond to a request for comment on reports that Bentley would step down Monday afternoon.

A back-bench state representative and dermatologist, Bentley mounted what looked like a futile run for governor in 2010. Bentley made the runoff by a margin of just over 200 votes, out of nearly half a million cast, then rode the Tea Party wave to beat out a more establishment candidate, now-Rep. Bradley Byrne (R), to claim the Republican nomination. He coasted to the governorship over the Democratic agriculture commissioner that November.

Bentley’s tenure was marked by conservative achievements and fights with a Republican-led legislature dominated by establishment figures he ran against. The first hints of scandal came more than a year ago, when Bentley fired Spencer Collier, the head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. Collier said later he had been fired after refusing to cover up the affair between Bentley and Mason.

Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey (R) will become governor once Bentley resigns. She will be Alabama’s second female governor, after Lurleen Wallach served a year and a half in the 1960s.

Bentley is the third Alabama governor in the last quarter century to face charges related to his time in office. Former Gov. Guy Hunt (R) was convicted of conspiracy and ethics charges in the 1990s. Former Gov. Don Siegelman (D), who was convicted of bribery and mail fraud charges in the mid-2000s, was released from prison in February.