AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Alabama’s governor is stepping down. The resignation comes amid allegations Republican Robert Bentley misused his office to cover up an alleged affair with a top political aide. NPR’s Debbie Elliott is at the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery where the governor made his statement. And Debbie, what did he have to say?
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Well, he said that he has not always made the right choices, but he felt like he had had a privilege and a calling from God to be governor of Alabama. But then he said the time had come for him to resign. Here’s what he said in apologizing to the people of Alabama.
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ROBERT BENTLEY: There’ve been times that I have let you and our people down, and I’m sorry for that.
ELLIOTT: So he said he could no longer allow his family to be subjected to the consequences of his past actions. Now, this resignation comes as part of a plea agreement. The governor has agreed to plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges of misusing campaign funds and resigned in exchange for not being criminally prosecuted on ethics charges. Now the new governor is Kay Ivey. She was the lieutenant governor and has been sworn in.
CORNISH: So how exactly did all of this surface? How did he get into trouble?
ELLIOTT: You know, about a year ago, some tape recordings were released that we now know his wife had arranged to record. And you could hear the governor speaking on the phone with someone in a sexually explicit way. And that person was allegedly his top senior political adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason.
And so the conversation began as to what was going on here, and the governor denied any sort of physical affair but admitted to inappropriate remarks. And impeachment articles were filed in the Alabama House shortly thereafter, but it’s taken this long to sort of get all of the information out into the open.
CORNISH: Right, for a while, he was saying that he didn’t plan to resign. Any sense of why this happened today?
ELLIOTT: Well, a few things. The impeachment hearings in the Alabama House Judiciary Committee started in earnest today, and their special counsel had released a very detailed report last Friday that just had some embarrassing information in it. And beyond the embarrassing information, there were some serious allegations that the governor used his office and his power of office, including law enforcement and his own person bodyguard, to both further the alleged affair and to then cover it up and try to intimidate people in the administration to keep quiet. So those were some serious questions.
There were also a lot of questions about money. Caldwell Mason had worked for the governor during his first administration but during the second term worked not on the state payroll but was paid with campaign money and from funds from a separate organization, an advocacy organization that the governor had set up. And there are lots of squishy questions there.
CORNISH: In the meantime, what’s been the reaction to all of this?
ELLIOTT: You know, I think state lawmakers say they are ready to put this behind them, and certainly the people of Alabama have had enough of scandal. You know, Governor Bentley is the third top elected official to be removed from office in the last year.
The Supreme Court justice here Roy Moore was removed from the bench for failing to abide by the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling. And then last year, the Alabama House speaker was convicted in a corruption case. So certainly Alabamians have watched as their political leaders have seemed to think they were somehow above the law, and this is one more example of someone losing their position because of that.
CORNISH: That’s NPR’s Debbie Elliott in Montgomery, Ala. Debbie, thank you.
ELLIOTT: You’re welcome, Audie.
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