By Wayne Hester
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Reuters) – Talks that could lead to Alabama Governor Robert Bentley’s resignation were under way on Monday, as a legislative panel began impeachment proceedings on accusations stemming from his relationship with a former adviser, a state lawmaker and a local news website said.
Bentley’s lawyers have been involved in negotiations for the governor to step down, likely by Wednesday, reported AL.com, citing unnamed sources in Montgomery, the state capital.
State Representative Jack Williams said in a telephone interview that the second-term Republican governor could step down as early as Monday, but that the discussions could also break down without an agreement.
“Honestly, I think it could happen today or it could not happen at all,” Williams said, who was not involved in the talks.
The governor’s office said Bentley, 74, was not directly involved in the talks, according to AL.com. The governor did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the negotiations.
The state House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee on Monday morning opened hearings on whether to recommend Bentley’s impeachment, which could lead to his removal from office.
A report released by the panel accused Bentley of ordering state law enforcement officers to track down copies of an embarrassing recording that suggested he had had an affair with the former senior adviser, Rebekah Mason. It also accused him of retaliating against an official who discovered the relationship.
Bentley has denied having a physical relationship with Mason, who is married. He has repeatedly vowed not to resign, saying he had done nothing illegal.
“If the people want to know if I misused state resources, the answer is simply no, I have not,” Bentley said at a news conference on Friday.
The Alabama Ethics Commission last week found Bentley probably violated ethics and campaign finance laws, and said it would refer its findings to prosecutors.
The Alabama Republican Party’s steering committee on Sunday released a statement saying the governor should step down.
On Saturday, the Alabama Supreme Court overturned a state judge’s order that temporarily halted the impeachment process.
Bentley’s troubles began last year when recordings surfaced of him making suggestive remarks to Mason, before his wife of 50 years filed for divorce in August 2015.
(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Editing by Frank McGurty and Jonathan Oatis)