By Kim Chandler & Anthony Izaguirre
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley simultaneously sued to block potential impeachment proceedings and apologized to voters Friday, assuring them he has done nothing illegal and vowing to stay in office in the face of a sex-tinged scandal.
The governor’s defiance comes at the end of particularly difficult week. Calls for Bentley’s resignation have grown, and he learned he could face criminal prosecution after the Alabama Ethics Commission found probable cause that he broke ethics and campaign law.
“Let me say to the people of this state how sorry I am,” Bentley said on the marble steps of the Capitol. He did not take questions. Moments before he addressed the media, his office filed the lawsuit against the House Judiciary Committee, which was expected on Friday to release a special counsel’s report in the ongoing impeachment investigation.
In the lawsuit, Bentley called the impeachment process “fundamentally unfair” and asked a court to block the release of the potentially embarrassing report.
Bentley, 74, has been engulfed in scandal since recordings surfaced in 2016 of him making suggestive remarks to a female aide before he and his wife of 50 years got divorced. The mild-mannered dermatologist and former Baptist deacon has acknowledged making personal mistakes but maintained he did nothing illegal or to merit his removal from office.
Bentley continued to deny any wrongdoing and criticized unnamed people for “taking pleasure in shaming” him and his family.
“The people of this state have never asked to be told of or shown the intimate, embarrassing details of my personal life and my personal struggles,” Bentley said.
With an impeachment hearing set for Monday, Bentley’s legal adviser David Byrne told a judge Friday that the rapidly moving process hasn’t given the governor time to respond.
“It has taken on an immediacy that we believe leaves due process in the dust,” Byrne said. He also said the impeachment articles accusing Bentley of corruption and neglect of duty are “extremely vague.”
Efforts to impeach Bentley have gathered steam for months, and the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold its first hearing on the matter Monday. Committee Chairman Mike Jones said Thursday that lawmakers should prepare for a long week.
Earlier this week, the state Ethics Commission found probable cause that the Republican governor broke state ethics and campaign finance laws. The commission referred the case to a prosecutor, who will decide whether to seek criminal charges.
Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh called on his fellow Republican to seriously considering stepping down.
“I don’t think it does us any good to have the House go through these impeachment proceedings,” Marsh said Thursday.
The top lawyer in the impeachment investigation said last month that he would release a report of his findings to the House Judiciary Committee and the public on Friday.
“What I’m hearing is the report is going to be extremely embarrassing for us as a state,” said Rep. Ed Henry, the lawmaker who spearheaded the impeachment articles.
Ross Garber, the lawyer representing Bentley in the impeachment investigation, has urged lawmakers to be cautious. Garber said that since 1929 only two governors have been removed by impeachment and both were under criminal indictment.