Amid growing evidence of an alleged affair with a former top aide and allegations that he used public resources to carry it out and cover it up, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) spent a year denying he had anything worth losing his job. But on Monday, Bentley resigned from his job and pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors related to covering it up.
It's a dizzying about-face in a sometimes hard-to-follow, sometimes too-good-not-to-follow saga. Here's everything that led to this moment.
March 22, 2016: It appeared to start when Bentley fired the state's top cop. That same day, the top cop told AL.com that Bentley had been having an affair with one of his top advisers.
In 2014, the fired cop said, Bentley was at a business conference when he apparently dropped his phone. A law enforcement official just so happened to see on the dropped phone a text message of a sexual nature from the governor's married chief adviser, Mason.
Bentley, whose wife of 50 years had recently and abruptly filed for divorce, denied any wrongdoing.
March 23, 2016: A sexually explicit phone call between Bentley and a woman he calls “Rebekah” made its way to the media. (Side note: Could have seen that one coming.)
The recording was made by his wife,Dianne Bentley, who was trying to ascertain the nature of Bentley’s relationship with his top adviser. In the recording, you can hear Bentley talk about putting his hands on her breasts and 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.”
March 24, 2016: Bentley says this to defend himself: “I love many members of my staff, in fact, all the members of my staff. Do I love some more than others, absolutely.”
“Wow,” I wrote in response. “You know you're in trouble when you say what Bentley just said.”
Mason resigned from her job.
March 31, 2016: A state accustomed to scandal is officially embarrassed. That's what AL.com's Gore tells The Fix in a must-read interview running down the whole saga: “Everybody's talking about this. This is an embarrassment to the state. I hear that a lot — that he's embarrassed us. And that takes a lot. We have a high tolerance.”
The rest of March 2016: Republican lawmakers drop Bentley like a hot plate that they accidentally picked up after it had been sitting on the sidewalk at high noon in an Alabama August. Some called for an investigation into whether he used state property to carry out the alleged affair; others wanted to start impeachment proceedings. Republicans had little to lose and a lot to gain in ditching Bentley. As I reported at the time:
Republicans are pretty much the only game in town in this deep-red state, so it's not like a Democrat could sweep in and take the governorship when or if Bentley steps down or is recalled. Plus, Republicans have a pretty deep bench they can pull from to replace him.
April 4, 2016: At an unrelated visit to a jail, Bentley said he had asked God to forgive him — but he doesn't say for what, exactly.
April 5, 2016: Alabama GOP lawmakers take the first step to impeach their governor. Bentley is defiant.
There are no grounds for impeachment, & I will vigorously defend myself & administration from this political attack. https://t.co/6yUH6APOeB
— Gov. Robert Bentley (@GovernorBentley) April 5, 2016
February: Longtime Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) is confirmed as President Trump's attorney general, and Bentley gets to pick his replacement. He chooses the state's attorney general, Luther Strange, who was considering investigating Bentley for the whole affair saga.
March 7: Alabama lawmakers in the House Judiciary Committee split 6 to 6 in a vote on whether to continue investigating if Bentley used state resources to conduct his alleged affair. They didn't split on partisan lines, but rather, half the committee voted to hold off because it wanted to see what the state attorney general's office was investigating.
Wednesday: The Alabama Ethics Commission said it's possible Bentley broke state laws. The commission didn't provide many details, only to say he may have made an illegal loan to his campaign to cover legal fees for Mason. Through an attorney, Bentley denied any wrongdoing. “The battle goes on,” his attorney told the Associated Press.
Friday: A district court blocked impeachment proceedings against Bentley in the state House, agreeing with the governor's legal staff that the proceedings were unfair and did not give the governor enough time to respond to the accusations.
Friday: The House Judiciary Committee's attorney released a 3,000-page report on the affair that claimed Bentley created an atmosphere of intimidation to keep his affair secret:
"Gov. Bentley directed law enforcement to advance his personal interests and, in a process characterized by increasing obsession and paranoia, subjected career law enforcement officers to tasks intended to protect his reputation."
The report also alleges Bentley sent heart-eyed emojis to Caldwell (texts that were linked up to his now ex-wife's iPad) and made threats to the first lady's staff to keep the affair secret. The report also detailed what allegedly went on behind closed doors when Mason, according to the report, left the office "with her hair tousled and her clothing in disarray."
Saturday: The state Supreme Court overturned the district court's block on impeachment proceedings, allowing the impeachment process to go ahead.
Monday morning: The House Judiciary Committee began impeachment hearings with the expectation it would go to the full House in a week or two. If Bentley had been impeached by the House, he'd have to step down while the state Senate considered the impeachment.
Monday afternoon: Bentley shows up at the Montgomery County Jail and poses for a mug shot, where he pleads guilty to two misdemeanor charges related to the alleged affair. The state attorney general's office announces a plea deal: The office will drop the felony charges. Bentley will serve 100 hours of community service in his capacity as a licensed physician, give some $37,000 in his campaign account to the state and likely avoid jail time.
Monday evening: Bentley headed over to the Alabama State Capitol and announced his resignation. "I love the people of this state with all my heart," he said. Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey (R) was sworn in immediately after.