MONTGOMERY, Ala. — An impeachment investigation against Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley will continue after the committee on Wednesday rejected the governor’s request to halt proceedings until lawmakers clarify what they think he did wrong.
House Judiciary Chairman Mike Jones wrote that the committee’s role is to investigate and then make a recommendation to the House over whether impeachment is warranted. Jones wrote the governor is incorrect in his assertion that he is entitled to specific charges at this point in the process.
“In short, we are currently in the investigation phase of this process,” Jones wrote in the eight-page notice denying the request to halt the probe. The committee also denied the governor’s request seeking the recusal of committee members who signed the articles of impeachment against Bentley.
The decision is the latest back-and-forth in the slow-moving impeachment probe in the wake of a sex-tinged scandal involving the governor and a former top aide. The documents released Wednesday indicate the committee’s special counsel earlier this month requested travel, pay, email and other records from Bentley’s office, but it is unclear if Bentley’s office will provide the materials. The governor’s attorney called the request an “unfocused fishing expedition.”
Twenty-three lawmakers signed impeachment articles after Bentley’s fired law enforcement secretary Spencer Collier accused him of having an affair with a staffer, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, before his divorce and of interfering with law enforcement business. Bentley admitted to making personal mistakes but denied a sexual affair and the other accusations.
The loosely worded impeachment articles accuse the governor of corruption and neglect of duties but do not lay out specific allegations. The governor’s office earlier this month asked the committee to suspend impeachment proceedings until the full House of Representatives defines the area of the inquiry.
A lawyer for Bentley’s office said Wednesday that the full committee should meet and discuss the requests.
“An impeachment is a serious matter of Constitutional implication. It voids an election. It nullifies the votes of citizens,” Bentley attorney Ross H. Garber wrote in an email.
Jones, in denying the request also released an Aug. 25 letter from Jack Sharman, the committee’s special counsel, to the governor’s lawyers.
“The underlying main concerns that have driven these legislative inquiries are well-publicized and are not unascertainable as to not allow the governor to prepare or to fully respond to the committee’s demands for information,” Sharman wrote. Sharman’s letter included a list of documents requested from the governor’s office.
The committee sought documents regarding travel on state aircraft, telephone records, a nonprofit group that worked on Bentley’s political agenda, reimbursement and pay records, and email and text messages Mason and the governor sent each other. Bentley was also asked to produce tax and financial records. The committee also requested Bentley’s financial records and numerous law enforcement records from the governor, including those regarding Collier’s termination.
Jones wrote that the governor’s attorneys had indicated they were waiting to respond to the document request until the committee ruled on their motions.
The committee’s ability to require compliance to its request is in question since the committee doesn’t have subpoena enforcement power.
Garber said they were reviewing the request to “voluntarily” provide the documents.
“It is, however, an incredibly broad, unfocused fishing expedition seeking information that cannot possibly relate to impeachment. For example, a governor may be impeached only for actions in his current term, but the requests go back years. And he wants information about matters that fall well short of the high constitutional standard for impeachment,” Garber wrote.
Only two governors have been removed from office in modern times — Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich — and both had been charged beforehand with criminal offenses, Garber said.
There is no date for the next committee meeting.