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Alabama governor resigns to avoid impeachment





MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Governor Robert Bentley resigned Monday rather than risk impeachment over allegations he abused his powers to cover up an extramarital affair with a top aide.

The attorney general’s office announced the resignation, along with a plea deal under which Bentley will plead guilty to two misdemeanor campaign finance charges.

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Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey was sworn-in as Alabama’s governor later in the day.

The 74-year-old Bentley, a Republican and one-time Baptist deacon, revealed his decision during a Cabinet meeting and then addressed reporters at the Capitol.

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Bentley’s voice choked with emotion as he said he always tried to live up to the high expectations placed on the person who holds the office. He also apologized for his mistakes.

Bentley was booked Monday at the Montgomery County sheriff’s office on the misdemeanor charges. He appeared sullen and looked down at the floor during the proceedings.

Attorneys went over the charges as a plea agreement was signed, and Bentley told a judge he understood the charges.

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The agreement specifies that Bentley must surrender campaign funds totaling $36,912 within a week and perform 100 hours of community service as a physician. He also cannot seek public office again.

The sex-tinged scandal gathered force over the past few days and legislators turned up the pressure by opening impeachment hearings Monday. Bentley had steadfastly refused to resign, even though it appeared he had practically no support in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Bentley’s resignation follows the ouster of former House Speaker Mike Hubbard, who left office in 2016 after being convicted on ethics charges, and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was suspended from his post last year over an order opposing same-sex marriage.

Bentley, a staunch family-values conservative who won two terms partly because of his reputation for moral rectitude, was first engulfed in scandal last year after recordings surfaced of him making sexually charged comments to 45-year-old political adviser Rebekah Caldwell Mason.

An investigative report prepared for the House Judiciary Committee and released last week said Bentley encouraged an ‘‘atmosphere of intimidation’’ to keep the story under wraps and directed law enforcement officers to track down and seize the recordings. The report portrayed the governor as paranoid and obsessed with trying to keep the relationship secret.

The committee on Monday opened what had been expected to be days of hearings.

Bentley lawyer Ross Garber had argued that impeachment should be reserved for only the ‘‘most grave misconduct,’’ 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 said in an email.

Garber also represented former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who in 2009 became the last U.S. governor to be impeached. He was removed from office, and is now serving a prison sentence, for conspiring to sell an appointment to President Barack Obama’s vacant U.S. Senate seat.

The investigative report contained text messages that the governor sent to Mason. They were intercepted by Bentley’s then-wife, Dianne Bentley, who was able to read the messages because they also showed up on the governor’s state-issued iPad, which he had given her.

‘‘I sure miss you. I need you. I want you. You are the only one,’’ one message read.

Dianne Bentley divorced her husband in 2015 after 50 years of marriage.

At one point, according to the investigative report, the governor sent the head of his security detail to fetch the recording from his son, Paul Bentley, who responded: ‘‘You ain’t getting it.’’

The former first lady’s chief of staff also charged that Bentley threatened her job because he believed she had helped his wife make the recordings.

The Alabama Ethics Commission last week cited evidence that Bentley broke state ethics and campaign laws. The matter has been referred to prosecutors.

On Friday, the 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 removal from office.

He has denied having a physical relationship with his former aide, though in some of the recordings he talked about the pleasure he got from fondling her breasts.

GOP leaders in the House and Senate have called on Bentley to resign, as has the Alabama Republican Party’s steering committee.

Two of Bentley’s predecessors in the past three decades have been convicted of crimes: Republican Guy Hunt in the 1990s, for misusing funds, and Democrat Don Siegelman, who was convicted of bribery in 2006.


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