Vote on whether to impeach Alabama governor may come quickly

AP News
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Posted: Mar 28, 2017 4:37 PM
Vote on whether to impeach Alabama governor may come quickly

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama lawmakers would decide within weeks whether to impeach Republican Gov. Robert Bentley over a sex-tinged scandal, according to a tentative schedule laid out by the top lawyer in the probe.

Special counsel Jack Sharman in a memo to the governor's lawyers described a schedule that would decide Bentley's fate by early May. Sharman provided the memo to The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Sharman would present his findings April 7 to the House Judiciary Committee in a report that would also be publicly released. Three or four days of hearings would follow. The committee would make its recommendation on May 1, and the full House would vote May 9 on whether to impeach Bentley.

"The Constitution vests in the House the sole responsibility for impeachment proceedings," Sharman said in a statement Tuesday. "The committee takes that responsibility seriously and intends to have an orderly, careful proceeding."

While the 74-year-old governor has acknowledged making personal mistakes, he has maintained he did nothing illegal or to merit his removal from office. Bentley last year apologized in a press conference after recordings surfaced of him making sexually charged remarks to a female aide before his divorce.

The May vote — regardless whether it goes for or against Bentley — would bring a quick conclusion to the question of impeachment, which has dogged the governor since the scandal erupted last year. However, Bentley's lawyers objected to that rapid pace.

"Apparently the outside lawyer for the Judiciary Committee has decided that the only way to accomplish the first ever impeachment of an Alabama governor is to violate the law," Bentley lawyer Ross Garber said.

"I have confidence that responsible members of the Judiciary Committee will not allow their proceedings to be hijacked and turned into a kangaroo court."

One committee member praised the announcement, saying it was time to make a decision.

"It should be good news for everybody in Alabama that we are moving forward and going to put some closure to this thing," Republican Rep. Allen Farley of McCalla, said.

However, at least one committee member said it was "quite alarming" that Sharman announced a schedule and procedures that were not approved by the committee. Democratic Rep. Juandalyn Givan called it "absurd, outlandish, preposterous and absolutely Alabama madness."

"This is ridiculous, in other words," Givan said.

Sharman wrote that the committee asked him to convey a tentative schedule for planning purposes and noted in the memo that the schedule could be altered by a number of factors.

The scandal has tarnished the reputation of the governor, a mild-mannered dermatologist and former Baptist deacon who attracted voters to his longshot Republican primary campaign in 2010 with his nice-guy image and promises not to accept a gubernatorial salary.

Twenty-three House members last year signed vaguely worded impeachment articles against Bentley accusing him of corruption and neglect of duty. Under the Alabama Constitution, Bentley would automatically be removed from his duties if the House votes to impeach him.

The Alabama Ethics Commission is also expected to release its findings April 5 on whether its members think there is any probable cause to believe Bentley broke state ethics law in the relationship and its aftermath.

State Auditor Jim Zeigler, a frequent critic of Bentley's, filed an ethics complaint against Bentley accusing him of using state resources to pursue a relationship with the aide, Rebekah Caldwell Mason.

Bentley's attorneys say he did nothing wrong.