April 10 (UPI) — After mounting pressure, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley resigned late Monday afternoon amid impeachment hearings and possible prosecution linked to a sexual affair with a senior political adviser.
Bentley announced his decision to leave office as part of a deal to resign, plead guilty to two misdemeanors and vow never to hold public office again.
The agreement also requires Bentley to repay the state nearly $9,000 in misused funds, serve a year of probation, perform 100 hours of community service as a physician and forfeit the more than $36,000 in his campaign fund.
“Thank you, Alabama. From the bottom of my heart. God Bless our Great State,” he wrote on Twitter.
In exchange for the pleas, state prosecutors will not pursue felony charges against Bentley, who will be replaced in office by Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey.
Bentley pleaded guilty to two campaign violations — converting campaign contributions for personal gain and failing to report campaign contributions — and was booked briefly into jail around 4 p.m., before being released on $600 bond.
Last week, the Alabama Ethics Commission found reason to believe Bentley, 74, committed four crimes, all felonies, stemming from the scandal.
Earlier Monday, Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey sent a letter to Ellen Brooks, the special prosecutor appointed by Attorney General Steve Marshall to investigate Bentley, referring the ethics commission findings to the AG’s office.
The governor’s announcement came amid growing calls for him to step down as well as impeachment proceedings. State lawmakers began to hear evidence Monday that could have led to his forced removal from office.
“I’ve always believed the honor of serving as your governor is a calling that God placed on my life,” Bentley said Monday. “Though I have sometimes failed, I have always tried to live up to the high expectations that people place on the person who holds this esteemed office. There have been times that I have let you and our people down, and I’m sorry for that.
“I can no longer allow my family, my dear friends, my dedicated staff and Cabinet to be subjected to the consequences that my past actions have brought on them.”
House Speaker Mac McCutcheon and Senate President Pro Tem Del Mars have repeatedly demanded their fellow Republican resign. Sunday, the state Republican Party’s executive committee also asked Bentley to leave office.
“Impeachment is the people’s check against political excess,” Jack Sharman, a special counsel to the Judiciary Committee in the Alabama House of Representatives, told lawmakers in Montgomery at the hearing Monday morning.
In a 131-page report released Friday, Sharman said Bentley had “encouraged an atmosphere of intimidation” and demanded that state officials help him cover up an “inappropriate relationship.”
In October, the Judiciary Committee demanded Bentley and several of his senior officials testify under oath for their impeachment investigation.
Bentley tried to block Monday’s hearing and a Montgomery County court backed him, but the Alabama Supreme Court ruled Saturday that the proceedings could begin.
In March 2016, Bentley acknowledgment improper communications with his senior political adviser. In 2015, his former wife recorded several sexually suggestive phone conversations between the governor and adviser Rebekah Mason. The married couple of 50 years divorced and the calls were made public.
According to the report, Bentley threatened staffers, fired the state’s top law enforcement official and used official vehicles to ferry Mason around the state.
Bentley, a state representative and dermatologist, was elected governor in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.