By Colleen Jenkins and Letitia Stein
(Reuters) - Alabama Governor Robert Bentley could face possible criminal charges after the state's ethics commission found probable cause that he violated state ethics and campaign finance laws.
The findings by the Alabama Ethics Commission after a closed session on Wednesday will be reviewed by a local prosecutor to decide whether further action against the governor is warranted.
Bentley, a two-term Republican governor, faces escalating political fallout over his relationship with a former senior advisor. He has been dogged for the past year about questions concerning his potentially inappropriate use of state resources.
A committee in the state's House of Representatives has been conducting a separate investigation and is expected to issue a report on Friday, which could kick off impeachment proceedings.
Bentley denies any legal wrongdoing. His lawyer, Bill Athanas, said the ethics commission's probable cause finding was disappointing and promised a vigorous defense.
"We think there is not a basis that the governor violated any law," Athanas told reporters Wednesday night. "So the battle goes on."
After allegations of a scandal broke last year, Bentley apologized for making inappropriate remarks to married staffer Rebekah Mason, while denying allegations of a physical affair. Mason resigned as questions about the pair's relationship began to dominate Alabama politics.
Bentley's wife filed for divorce in August 2015 after 50 years of marriage, citing unspecified problems.
The ethics commission arrived at its conclusion after a year-long investigation that included the review of 33,000 documents and 45 witness interviews, the panel said in a statement.
If charged with breaking Alabama's ethics or campaign finance laws, Bentley could face up to 20 years in prison per violation, the commission said.
(Reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Fla. and Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, N.C.; Editing by Bernadette Baum)