Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) resigned from office Monday and pleaded guilty to two counts of violating campaign finance rules.
“I can no longer allow my family, my dear friends, my dedicated staff and cabinet to be subjected to consequences that my past actions have brought upon them,” he said at a Monday afternoon press conference.
“Though I have committed myself to working to improve the lives of the people of our state, there have been times that I have let you and our people down, and I’m sorry for that.”
Bentley’s resignation comes as the state’s House of Representatives begins hearings on his impeachment following allegations he abused his position as the state’s chief executive to cover up an affair with his former aide, Rebekah Caldwell Mason.
A plea deal worked out Monday required Bentley to resign, serve one year of probation, perform 100 hours of community service as a doctor and forfeit the more than $36,000 in his campaign account. It also required him to repay nearly $9,000 his campaign spent on Mason’s legal fees.
Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey (R) was sworn in to office shortly after Bentley’s resignation. Ivey, 72, will be the state’s second-ever female governor following Democrat Lurleen Wallace, who served a 15-month term between 1967 and 1968.
“Today is both a dark day in Alabama, but yet also, it’s one of opportunity,” Ivey said after being sworn in.
“The Ivey admininstration will be open, it will be transparent and it will be honest,” she continued.
Members of Alabama’s GOP have been calling for Bentley to step down in the year since news broke of a salacious phone call caught on tape between the governor, 74, and Mason, 45. During the recorded conversation, Bentley ― dubbed the “luv gov” by political commentators and bloggers ― is heard professing his love for Mason and describes putting his hands on her breasts.
“Baby, let me know what I am going to do when I start locking the door,” Bentley told Mason. “If we are going to do what we did the other day, we are going to have to start locking the door.”
The governor’s ex-wife, Dianne Bentley, who filed for divorce in 2015 after 50 years of marriage, recorded the phone call in 2014 to determine if her then-husband was having an affair. Text messages Bentley sent Mason on his state-issued iPhone also appeared on a synced, state-issued iPad he gave to his wife.
Mason immediately resigned after the recording surfaced. While Bentley admitted to making the sexually charged comments, he rebutted claims that he had been involved in a physical relationship with Mason.
Details pointing to a physical affair emerged in a damning report released Friday by Alabama’s state House Judiciary Committee. The report included accounts from the governor’s ex-wife and staff, who described suspicious text messages and encounters between Bentley and Mason.
“Mason bragged that Governor Bentley had called and told her that he had opened his hotel room door to hotel staff while clad in boxers, believing Mason was on the other side,” the report noted.
Bentley’s security chief described Mason leaving the governor’s office with “tousled hair and making adjustments to her wardrobe.”
Read the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment investigation report below:
The report also found that Mason wielded significant control over state budget priorities. In one instance, she proposed closing 31 driver’s license offices in majority black counties ― a decision that was eventually reversed after the NAACP sued the state and the U.S. Department of Transportation led an investigation.
The state’s Ethics Commission announced Wednesday that it found “probable cause” to believe Bentley misused state resources to cover up the affair and accused him of spending campaign cash to pay for Mason’s legal fees.
The Judiciary Committee also alleged Bentley intimidated staffers and law enforcement to keep quiet about his questionable relationship with Mason.
“[Bentley], in a process characterized by increasing obsession and paranoia, subjected career law enforcement officers to tasks intended to protect his reputation,” the committee wrote in their report.
The committee suggested four felony charges, including violating at least one state ethics law and three campaign laws.
The Alabama Supreme Court approved impeachment proceedings Saturday. By Sunday, Alabama’s Republican Party passed a resolution calling for Bentley to immediately step down as governor.
“The overwhelming majority of elected officials are good, hard working people who love their communities, state and nation,” the party’s steering committee said in a statement. “However, when situations arise that are in direct conflict with the betterment of our people, we will speak up regardless of political party.”
Bentley previously denied any legal wrongdoing, tweeting last week that accusations he misused state funds were simply a “political attack.”
“I have done nothing illegal,” Bentley told reporters Friday. “If the people want to know if I misused state resources, the answer is simply no. I have not.”
This was a breaking story and has been updated throughout.