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Bentley’s Plea Deal Assures He’ll Vanish into Sunset

This afternoon, Alabama Governor Robert J. Bentley plead guilty to misdemeanor charges in exchange for immunity from more serious felony charges. The biggest storyline is that Bentley is forever forced from public life.

As a result of his plea bargain, Bentley resigned as Governor around 5:00 p.m. today and Lt. Governor Kay Ivey was sworn in as Alabama’s second ever female Governor, not long after 6:00 p.m. The former school teacher, banker, and State Treasurer vowed that her new administration will be “open…transparent… and honest.”

To back up a step, Bentley has been under scrutiny from three different entities since Yellowhammer released an audio file of his sexually charged telephone overtures to senior staffer Rebekah Mason a year ago. Since then, investigations by the Alabama Ethics Commission and the state Attorney General’s office were aimed at criminal charges, while the House Judiciary Committee was investigating him for impeachment. Today’s plea deal effectively erased all three investigations in exchange for Bentley promising to resign as Governor and never again return to public life.

Just last week, Bentley claimed he was being denied due process, and as recently as Friday he adamantly maintained his innocence. As he blundered forward, however, other prominent Republicans clearly understood the situation’s gravity. Senate Majority Leader Del Marsh and House Speaker Mac McCutcheon both asked him to step down last week, and the Alabama Republican Party Steering Committee soon followed suit.

Until today, however, the Governor refused to embrace the inevitable conclusion others reached much earlier—his Rebekah Mason cover-up efforts were so egregious, he’d left himself no path forward.

The first shoe dropped last Wednesday, April 3, when the Alabama Ethics Commission found probable cause that Bentley had violated state ethics laws and the Fair Campaign Practices Act. Three of these findings involved felonies, each punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The Ethics Commission referred the case to prosecutors.

The other shoe dropped last Friday, April 5, when Special Counsel Jack Sharman’s findings were released to the House Judiciary Committee. As we reported then, Sharman’s report copiously documented Rebekah Mason’s extraordinary influence on the Governor and how Bentley subsequently created an “atmosphere of intimidation” in his office and misused state resources to hide their affair.

By today, reports began to emerge that the 74-year old Bentley’s lawyers were engaged in negotiations with prosecutors. While some details of the resulting plea deal are yet to emerge, and no one knows if Rebekah Mason’s immunity is part of it, its big components are out:

The state dropped the felony charges against Bentley in exchange for his guilty plea of campaign finance infractions. For punishment of those lesser crimes, he’s agreed to give his $39,000 campaign fund to the state and repay about $9,000 more he took from that fund to pay Mason’s legal bills. He must also practice medicine for 100 hours as a pro bono community service and serve one year on probation.

To execute this plea bargain, the now former governor was processed into the Montgomery County jail this afternoon, fingerprinted, and his mug shot was snapped, before being released.

As quickly as the end came, the events that led to it were agonizingly slow. For this reason, everyone seems ready to move on from this regrettable chapter in Alabama’s history. As House Judiciary Committee member, Representative Paul Beckman, reflected:

It’s a sad day, but we’re also relieved. The rule of law prevailed in Alabama today…not as quickly as we liked, but it nonetheless prevailed. Now, we can return our focus to governing. We’re finally able to handle the state budget and the other pressing issues we need to address to move Alabama forward. As regrettable as all this has been, I think it will serve to renew our optimism, and I believe it will unify us as a state. I’m tremendously optimistic about Governor Kay Ivey. She’s honest and trustworthy and I have no doubt she’ll bring the positive change the Governor’s Office.

Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed shared similar thoughts:

The people of Alabama deserve and expect their political leaders to be men and women of integrity. The state can move forward now under the honorable and trustworthy leadership of Governor Kay Ivey, and I look forward to working with her administration. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh will now serve as the presiding officer over the Alabama Senate. Senator Marsh is a very capable public servant, and I will continue to work closely with him to advance an agenda that puts the people of Alabama first.

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