MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Former Gov. Robert Bentley provided new details of his view of the scandal that helped topple his administration, according to a deposition filed this week in circuit court.
Bentley resigned last year as he faced an ethics investigation and impeachment proceedings in the wake of an alleged affair with a top aide, Rebekah Caldwell Mason. Bentley answered questions about the relationship and other matters in the June 23 deposition in a civil lawsuit brought by his former Law Enforcement Secretary Spencer Collier. Collier contends he was wrongfully fired by Bentley.
Here are some of the highlights of the deposition filed Monday in circuit court.
AN ‘AFFECTIONATE FRIENDSHIP’
Responding to questions about his relationship with Mason, Bentley called it an “affectionate friendship” but said the relationship did not involve sex and he did not consider it an affair. Bentley said it did “involve touching and kissing, and I would hold her hand the times that I was with her.”
“So we didn’t have what a lot of people think we had. Now did I really care about her? Did I really love her? I did, and she did me, and we still do. It’s a very close affectionate friendship so that’s how I describe it,” Bentley testified.
He testified however that his relationship with Mason was a reason for his divorce.
Mason works as the office manager for his dermatology practice, he testified.
WON’T CONFIRM MASON ON TAPES
Bentley’s relationship with Mason was exposed after the release of recordings made by the governor’s then wife, Dianne Bentley.
In the recordings, Bentley is heard talking on the phone. He was speaking affectionately to a woman he calls “Rebekah” and talking about touching her breasts, although her side of the conversation is not heard. Under questioning, Bentley did not say he was speaking to Mason but acknowledged it was “likely” her.
“I’m not denying that it was her. I’m just saying, there’s no concrete evidence that it was her but most likely it was but I don’t think you can prove that with the tapes,” Bentley testified.
Bentley said his wife was able to view his text messages to Mason on an iPad because he did not know his state cellphone was synced to the iPad.
PRESSURED TO INTERVENE IN CORRUPTION CASE
Bentley testified that he was getting pressured by some prominent individuals to intervene in the Alabama attorney general’s office’s investigation of then-House Speaker Mike Hubbard.
“A lot of people were pressuring me to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the attorney general’s office,” Bentley testified. Bentley said they wanted state prosecutor Matt Hart off the case.
He said businessman and GOP political donor Jimmy Rane and Rob Riley, the son of former Gov. Bob Riley, were among those that approached his office. So too did three legislators and Hubbard’s attorney, he said.
Rane said Wednesday that he did call Bentley’s office, but was not asking Bentley to take any specific action. Rane, who has known Hubbard for decades, said he was asking for assurances, “that this is a fair and real investigation and not based on a political agenda.”
Riley did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Hubbard was later convicted on multiple ethics charges in a case largely led by Hart.
DONORS TO NONPROFIT
Bentley said he raised money for a nonprofit organization, called the Alabama Council for Excellent Government, which was created to promote his agenda.
He said donors to the group included Franklin Haney, a Tennessee businessman who purchased the unfinished Bellefonte Nuclear Plant in north Alabama. He did not disclose other donors or say how much Haney gave.
Collier’s attorney is trying to force the disclosure of other donors to the group, court filings show.
Tax forms filed with the IRS show that the organization raised $90,600 in 2015 and $32,500 in 2016. Bentley resigned in April 2017.
BLAMES DOWNFALL ON SPECIAL INTERESTS
The former governor said “special interests” wanted rid of him in Montgomery, but he would not name them.
“I’m not going to name them, but there are special interests in Montgomery that never liked me, and they used much of this — they used Spencer, they used my family, they used a lot of people to get rid of me.”