MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama legislators plan to set up a committee to probe the merits of impeaching Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, who has acknowledged making sexually charged remarks to a female aide.
House Rules Chairman Mac McCutcheon on Thursday called Bentley's actions "shameful," but said lawmakers need more information on what happened and clarity on the state's seldom-used process of impeachment.
"I want to make sure we have all of our facts," McCutcheon said.
The move hit the pause button on proceedings as legislators try to wade through the facts of the accusations against Bentley and a murky impeachment process that hasn't been utilized in a century. It wasn't immediately clear what, if any, action might be taken before the end of the session next month. McCutcheon said he'd like to resolve the issue before the end of session but wouldn't speak to a specific timeline.
"In no way is this thing being looked at to try to slow it down or sweep it under the rug," McCutcheon said. "This is an important issue for the state, and we need to look at it the right way."
Rep. Ed Henry said he plans to file a resolution to establish an investigatory committee with the power to subpoena and hear testimony about the allegations against Bentley. Henry on Tuesday filed initial articles of impeachment but asked the Rules Committee to place that resolution on hold while an investigatory committee is established.
Henry said he will work to push impeachment proceedings through the House before the legislature adjourns in May.
"I don't want this to linger and be something that is a stigma to the state of Alabama for a length of time," Henry said.
Bentley has admitted making inappropriate remarks to a senior political adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, who has since resigned. The admission came after former Alabama Law Enforcement Secretary Spencer Collier — a day after being fired by Bentley — accused the governor of having an affair with Mason and of interfering with law enforcement investigations. Bentley has denied both accusations.
Henry's impeachment articles cite suspicions that the governor might have inappropriately used his office resources to conceal or advance an "inappropriate" relationship with Mason. The impeachment articles also cite a lack of transparency surrounding Mason's paycheck, which Bentley's campaign paid.
Henry said Thursday he doesn't think an "adulterous relationship" is necessarily grounds for impeachment. But he said he believes several "bald-faced lies" were made about the relationship to lawmakers, showing Bentley's incompetency as a leader.
Bentley said Tuesday that the call for impeachment was "political grandstanding" as fallout from the scandal engulfed the governor.
Bentley now faces several Ethics Commission complaints, which include allegations that Bentley misused state property.
Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, D-Red Bay, filed a complaint Wednesday alleging Mason improperly lobbied against his bills without registering with the Ethics Commission while working as Bentley's communication adviser. Bentley twice vetoed Morrow's bill that would establish armed volunteer security forces at schools.
Bentley's Communications Director Jennifer Ardis said in a statement Thursday the governor vetoed Morrow's bills due to safety and inadequate training concerns.
Mason directed The Associated Press to her lawyer, who hasn't returned a call for comment.
Dianne Bentley, the governor's ex-wife, filed for divorce in 2015, saying their 50-year marriage had suffered an irreparable breakdown.
Alabama voters in November, as part of a piece-by-piece rewrite to the Alabama Constitution, will vote on changes to the part of the Alabama Constitution that deals with impeachment. The proposed change clarifies that it requires a two-thirds vote in the Alabama Senate to remove someone from office.