In the hours after a former friend and fired top cop told the media he could prove Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) was having an affair, Bentley has twisted himself into a pretzel to admit everything but the affair.
Yes, Bentley had said sexually explicit things to a staffer, the governor admitted as an audio recording of him purporting to do as much became public. But the relationship was never physical, the governor said.
“At times in the past, have I said things that I should not have said?” he told reporters Wednesday. “Absolutely. That’s what I’m saying today.”
When a reporter asked if the governor was in love with the adviser he’s rumored to have had an affair with, Bentley said this:
“I love many members of my staff, in fact, all the members of my staff. Do I love some more than others, absolutely.”
And when a reporter asked if that taped phone conversation was the only instance of wrong behavior, Bentley said: “No.”
Let’s be absolutely clear by noting that the governor denies he had or is having an affair with his chief adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, who is married. On Wednesday, Bentley apologized for “any conversations and behavior that was inappropriate.”
But it’s hard not to hear his explanations as the story unravels and ask whether the governor is telling the whole truth.
The way in which this drama is unfolding, quite frankly, doesn’t help Team Bentley's argument that the affair allegations are simply a piece of fiction conjured by a spurned friend.
Things first blew open Tuesday night when Alabama’s former top cop, whom Bentley fired earlier in the day, called AL.com and said he could prove Bentley was having that long-rumored affair with Mason.
The details Spencer Collier shared sounded like something out of a Hollywood political thriller: Furtive glances at just the right time of the governor’s cellphone, secretly recorded audio tapes by distressed family members, a friendship gone awry.
At first, Bentley’s office pointed to past stories in which Bentley called the affair rumors “ridiculous.” The rumors became prominent in Alabama when his wife of 50 years, Dianne Bentley, filed for divorce in 2015. Bentley told AL.com he was caught off-guard by the divorce.
But Bentley has now been forced to address the secret audio recordings of himself talking on the phone to a woman he called Rebekah as local media published them. The recordings, made by family members trying to ascertain the nature of Bentley’s relationship with his top adviser, lend plenty of credence to Collier’s claims. Among the things you can hear Bentley saying:
“Baby, let me know what I am going to do when I start locking the door. If we are going to do what we did the other day, we are going to have to start locking the door.”
“You know I just I worry about sometimes I love so you much. I worry about loving you so much.”
Mason released a statement saying Collier's accusations are “clear, demonstrated gender bias.” She added: “There is no way that man would have said what he did today about another man.”
Bentley, 73, is not known for generating salacious headlines. He’s in the middle of his second four-year term as governor. In 2014’s reelection race, he won the largest percentage of the vote (63 percent) of any modern-day Republican governor in Alabama. He’s also a deacon and Sunday school teacher at First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa, a reputation he’s leaned on heavily.
It’s likely there are a few more twists and turns left in this story. How Bentley responds to them could determine whether he’s known in Alabama as a popular, conservative Christian governor who made a mistake, or yet another politician to fall from grace.