4 years ago

The untold story of how the secret Bentley-Mason affair recordings went public

Governor Robert Bentley takes questions from reporters. (Photo: Governor's Office, Jamie Martin)
Governor Robert Bentley takes questions from reporters. (Photo: Governor’s Office, Jamie Martin)

As I drove up U.S. Highway 280, swerving in and out of traffic and making my way from suburban Birmingham toward the city’s center, I thought about the events of the past year that had led up to this moment.

For many months the hottest rumor in Alabama politics was that Governor Robert Bentley had engaged in a long-running extramarital affair with his senior political advisor Rebekah Mason, a married mother of three. At first the idea seemed so absurd I dismissed it as politically motivated nonsense. Now, here I was, driving toward an obscure Birmingham gas station to obtain the indisputable evidence that it was all true.

For the week prior to this midnight meeting, I had been in discussions with confidential sources who claimed to be in possession of secret audio recordings of Governor Bentley and Mrs. Mason. The recordings, I was told, had been made by Governor Bentley’s then-wife, Dianne, and contained explicit details of the Bentley-Mason affair. The sources were wary of their identities being revealed, and one of the sources expressed concerns about the Bentleys’ grandchildren having to endure such embarrassment.

But they agreed on three key points:

Number one, that Robert Julian Bentley — the husband, father, church deacon, dermatologist and now governor — had allowed his once sterling character to be corroded by power.

Number two, that Rebekah Caldwell Mason — the local TV news anchor, small-time communications consultant and now senior advisor to the governor — had willfully destroyed the Bentleys’ marriage of 50 years while simultaneously consolidating near-full control of the executive branch of Alabama’s state government.

And number three, that the evidence they held could spark a seismic event in Alabama politics and bring the Bentley-Mason house of cards crumbling down.

In spite of their reservations about releasing the recordings, it was Governor Bentley’s arrogance, one of the sources said, that was too much for them to endure. While Mrs. Bentley struggled to understand what all had happened and mourned what she felt like was catastrophic damage to her “Christian witness,” her former husband continued to give his mistress unfettered access to every part of his life.

As he walked down the center aisle of the Old House Chamber after delivering the State of the State address, Mrs. Mason was by his side. When he was photographed at a swanky Washington, D.C., gala typically reserved for only governors and first ladies, she was his date. And when any meeting in the Capitol was concluded, she was always the last one left in the room with him.

The frustration and anger simmered for months, but it was now boiling over.

I pulled behind the gas station to find a thumb drive exactly where I was told it would be.

I jumped back in the car and rushed home, plugged the drive into my computer, opened the file, and within a few minutes I knew Governor Bentley’s legacy would forever be defined by what I was hearing.

Rebekah, I just, I miss you. I wish I was with you right now… You know, I worry about sometimes I love you so much, I worry about loving you so much… You’d kiss me? I love that. You know I do love that. You know what? When I stand behind you and I put my arms around you, and I put my hands on your breasts, and I put my hands on you and pull you in real close. Hey, I love that, too.

I cringed throughout the roughly 45-minutes of conversations between the two lovers, but also felt a strange sense of sadness about what had happened and what was surely to come. Families would never be the same. The Bentley and Mason children would endure undeserved ridicule. And the state would weather yet another torrent of embarrassing headlines.

I texted Rebekah Mason, “I know it’s late, but we may need to talk tonight.”

THE DE FACTO GOVERNOR


Rebekah Mason
Rebekah Mason, former senior advisor to Governor Robert Bentley (Photo: Contributed)

My relationship with Mrs. Mason had been up and down over the last several years.

In 2012, Mason, who was at the time the administration’s communications director, sought my advice on the administration’s plans to bolster its online presence. We met for lunch in Birmingham and I offered some thoughts on what later became the Governor’s NewsRoom.

In early 2014, Mason again asked for my thoughts on language in the Governor’s State of the State address, which she hoped would put to bed rumors that he was planning to expand Medicaid after getting re-elected.

But several months later we had a falling out when Yellowhammer published a story pointing out that they were once again refusing to say the governor would not expand Medicaid “under any scenario.”

Tensions rose again in 2015 when Yellowhammer ran a series of stories on Governor Bentley’s decision to go back on his campaign promise to not raise taxes, capped off by an April Fools headline declaring, “Bentley makes it official, switches to Democratic Party,” which caused the phone lines in the Capitol to melt down.

But Mrs. Mason expressed appreciation last year when Yellowhammer criticized other media outlets for publishing tabloid-style stories on the affair rumors, which at the time were unsubstantiated. I told her at the time that I thought the coverage by other outlets had been unethical. I still believe it was.

I decided I was not going to drop the story on the recordings until I had given her a chance to comment.

But I did not hear back until the following morning.

BENTLEY ALONE

Last fall, I called Governor Bentley on his cell phone on a Saturday afternoon.

I know it was a Saturday because we were both watching college football — me at my suburban Birmingham home, him at the Governor’s Mansion in Montgomery. He was sick and had almost completely lost his voice, but was in good spirits, in spite of the controversy swirling around him.

I told him I was not calling about anything in particular, but just wanted to tell him I had been praying for him and his family.

We spoke for about 10 minutes, but it was not until we got off the phone that I had a revelation.

While the rest of Alabama was engulfed in a typical college football weekend and likely surrounded by friends and family, the state’s governor was home alone, estranged from his family and an outcast in his own party.

It would be several months before more details of his moral and ethical failures would go public, but there was already a very real sense that he was on an island — that all he had left was the office he holds and that he would not give it up voluntarily and relegate himself to an early retirement of obscurity.

MASON’S CHANCE TO COME CLEAN

The morning after I obtained the audio recordings I spoke on the phone with Rebekah Mason for almost an hour. It was a roller-coaster conversation that made it abundantly clear that, in spite of Mrs. Mason’s communications background and the obvious dangers of carrying on an affair with the governor, there had not been much thought given to what they would say if they were ever caught red-handed.

She wanted to hear the recordings. I told her that was not possible.

Then came the excuses.

Sometimes when you’re a woman working in politics, she said, you have to just let inappropriate comments roll off of you like water off a duck’s back.

I stopped her from continuing and told her the recordings did not support that narrative. I could feel her anxiety growing.

“What should I do?” She asked.

My advice was very simple: Tell the truth.

It became clear that she was deeply conflicted. She did not want her children to hear what must be on the recordings. She did not want to be a front page headline and the butt of every joke in Montgomery, like Goat Hill’s version of Monica Lewinksy. But she also did not want to give up just yet. Her unlikely rise from small town television anchor to the most powerful political operative in the state had not come easy, and she was not convinced the ride was over.

She asked for an hour to think. I agreed.

She texted me several times asking for more details about the recordings. She said she and the governor were meeting about what to do.

One hour turned into several hours, and I texted her one last time saying I could not wait any longer to run the story, even though I wanted to include a comment from her or the governor.

Silence.

I hit “publish,” closed my computer and sat back in my chair.

My phone buzzed a few minutes later. It was Mrs. Mason.

“I’m sorry,” she texted.

The story was international news within the hour.


32 mins ago

February event promises answers to VA health care concerns

The Veterans Affairs departments of the state and federal government are teaming up to put on the Montgomery Veterans Experience Action Center (VEAC).

VEAC will be on February 5 from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Campton Bowl Multiplex in Montgomery.

The agencies promise it will be a time “for veterans to get answers—and sometimes resolutions—regarding their benefits and healthcare.”

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Veterans Service Officers will be in attendance, as will workers trained to handle claims both new and existing.

The groups welcome both veterans and family members, saying the event will provide the opportunity to “receive one-on-one service to address any and all issues” with the VA.

The Alabama Department of Veterans affairs reminds those attending that “for assistance with VA claims and services, veterans should bring proper documentation about their case: DD 214, all medical records about any military and civilian disability, and dependency documents.”

Other services available at the event will be the American Red Cross, Still Serving Veterans, and job opportunities from the Alabama Department of Labor.

Anyone seeking additional information can call (334) 625-3480.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

52 mins ago

Alabama lawmakers renew push to create lifetime concealed carry permits

Members of the Alabama legislature introduced bills this week that would create a standard, statewide process for any individual that wants a concealed carry permit for a firearm. Under the proposed system, permits would be issued for terms of one year, five years or the remaining lifetime of the permit holder.

State Representative Proncey Robertson (R-Trinity) is sponsoring the effort in the House, and State Senator Randy Price (R-Opelika) is carrying the Senate version. Robertson spent over 25 years as a police officer in North Alabama.

The cost of a lifetime permit would be $200, with a reduced fee for senior citizens. Robertson wrote on Facebook that active and retired military service members would pay nothing. Currently, Alabamians can purchase a permit from their county sheriff’s office for up to five years. The price of a permit varies by county.

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Sheriff’s offices often benefit from the revenues brought in by pistol permits. Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran once told AL.com that his department depends on the income from the permits “for a number of things.”

Various efforts by Republican lawmakers to alter Alabama’s gun laws have run out of steam before becoming law in recent years.

As part of the new permitting system proposed this week, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) would have a new role in streamlining the permit process and administering background checks.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has come out in favor of the effort, telling members they should contact their state legislators “to secure passage of this critical legislation.”

“The NRA strongly supports this streamlined permitting process,” NRA Alabama State Director Art Thomm told the Alabama Political Reporter.

“Not only would it bring much-needed 21st century technology to Alabama’s antiquated system, but it would be the first time law-abiding Alabamians were given the option for a lifetime concealed carry permit,” he added.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

1 hour ago

Doug Jones: Schiff speech, impeachment evidence presented by House Dems ‘compelling’

In a video tweeted out by his office on Friday, Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) opined that evidence is “continuing to mount” against President Donald Trump as the impeachment trial unfolds in the Senate.

The video, lasting just over five minutes and 30 seconds, started with Jones praising the Thursday speech given by Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA), one of the lead House impeachment managers.

Jones used Schiff’s line of, “In America, right matters,” as a theme for the video and even turned it into a hashtag when sharing the video on his personal Twitter account.

Alabama’s junior senator opened the video by reciting the line twice, placing heavy emphasis on it. He would also later close the video with the line.

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“That was the most compelling statement to me yesterday,” Jones remarked about the line.

Senator Jones’ newfound usage of #rightmatters may very well remind Alabama voters of what he tweeted when announcing his “nay” vote on confirming Justice Brett Kavanaugh: #RightSideofHistory.

Jones in his Friday video went on to say about the case presented by House Democrats, “Yesterday’s evidence was pretty compelling. It continues to get compelling.”

“Remember we have talked significantly about direct evidence,” he continued. “We have heard a lot of direct evidence on the president’s abuse of power. We’ve heard it from witnesses who talked to the president. We’ve seen press conferences. We’ve seen text messages. We’ve seen emails. Not all of those emails were provided by the administration; they were done pursuant to a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request and a lawsuit. But we have them nonetheless.”

“And the circumstantial evidence begins to mount,” Jones added.

He then recited the definition of circumstantial evidence as, “Proof of a chain of facts and circumstances that tend to prove or disprove a fact.”

“That is continuing to mount,” Jones asserted.

The senator commented that he is “anxious to see” what the president’s legal team will “say and do” when given the chance to present their case.

Later in the video, Jones renewed his call for Democrats to be able to call witnesses during the trial. However, he mocked the idea of “reciprocity,” the concept that Republicans would be able to call witnesses if Democrats are allowed to, as “silly.”

Jones specifically said that Hunter Biden should not be allowed to be called as a witness. Jones has endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential bid, saying that he would ultimately back whomever the Democrats nominate against Trump, no matter how radical that individual is.

Watch the full video:

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Alabama State Port Authority signs concession agreement for automobile RO/RO terminal

The Alabama State Port Authority and AutoMOBILE International Terminal (AIT) this week signed a concession agreement for the $60 million automobile roll on/roll off (RO/RO) terminal currently under construction.

AIT will operate the facility when completed in early 2021.

The agreement was signed at the Port of Mobile. AIT is a joint venture between Terminal Zarate, S.A., a Grupo Murchison company headquartered in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Neltume Ports, headquartered in Santiago, Chile.

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“We’re extremely pleased to see these world class services companies invest in both our region and our port. AIT’s investment will create a new U.S. gateway for shipping finished automobiles for both U.S. and global manufacturing and consumer markets,” James K. Lyons, director and CEO of the Alabama State Port Authority, said in a statement.

The under-construction 57-acre (23.06 hectares) terminal is located on the ASPA’s main port multimodal complex, and when completed, will have an annual throughput of 150,000 units. The facility is located on Mobile Harbor and is serviced by five Class I railroads and a rail ferry service with connections throughout North America and immediate, unencumbered access to major U.S. interstate and highway systems.

The Port Authority and AIT over two years ago signed a Memorandum of Understanding regarding the automobile RO/RO terminal.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Doug Jones: Jeff Sessions’ recusal ‘about the only thing I think he did right as attorney general’

As the race for the Republican Party’s nomination for Alabama U.S. Senate race has heated up, the topic of then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from any investigation dealing with the 2016 presidential election has become the hot campaign topic.

At a Marshall County campaign stop earlier this month, Sessions defended his decision on the recusal, noting that it was following the Department of Justice rules and procedures. However, since then, both U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) and former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville, two of Sessions’ opponents in the GOP senatorial nomination contest, have both raised the issue in the context of Sessions’ ability to serve as a U.S. Senator.

Incumbent Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook), who will be the opponent in the November general election for the eventual Republican nominee, disagreed with Byrne and Tuberville.

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Jones, also a former U.S. attorney during the Clinton administration, categorized Sessions’ recusal as “about the only thing” Sessions did properly during his service as the Trump administration’s top law enforcement official.

“I do,” Jones replied. “It’s about the only thing I think he did right as attorney general. But he absolutely did that correctly. I’ve been a DoJ person myself. I was in the position of U.S. attorney, and I think he had to do that. I think it was the right thing to do. And I said that at the time, by the way. This is not something new. I said that at the time.”

“We’ll see who ends up being the nominee,” he continued. “But there will be plenty to talk about — about Jeff’s record if he ends up being the nominee. But that is one thing he and I will both agree on.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.