Alabama lawmakers began laying the legal groundwork Tuesday to impeach their governor over his alleged adulterous affair with his former top political adviser.
The deliberations of the Alabama House Ethics and Campaign Finance Committee got underway as the state's Attorney General's Office was simultaneously pursuing a criminal investigation of Gov. Robert Bentley.
So the focus of the early discussions was whether the lawmakers can continue their probe without stepping on the toes of the AG's office.
House Judiciary Chairman Mike Jones, who like Bentley is a Republican, stressed that while they intend to be "cautious" his committee is not "laying the ball down," Mike Cason of the Alabama Media Group, who is in the chamber, tweeted.
Bentley, 74, was not at the proceeding. He has denied sleeping with Rebekah Caldwell Mason, a married mom nearly three decades younger than him. He also denies punishing the police officer who blew the whistle on their alleged affair. And he denies doing anything illegal which would warrant impeachment.
But Bentley has admitted to making "inappropriate comments." And steamy excerpts of a purported telephone conversation between the governor and Mason have cast doubts on Bentley's claim.
Last month, Alabama's AG Steve Marshall recused himself from the investigation of Bentley and appointed former Montgomery County District Attorney Ellen Brooks to lead that probe.
A Democrat, Brooks is a longtime prosecutor who retired three years ago after a 40-year career. She is also the daughter of the late Idelle Brooks, a local TV personality who hosted several shows at WSFA, the NBC affiliate in Montgomery.
The state House got involved last year after 23 representatives — most of them Republicans, like Bentley — signed impeachment articles accusing the governor of corruption and neglect of duty.
The alleged adulterers were outed by the former head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, who said he was fired because he refused to cover up the affair.
Mason later resigned. But her husband, former TV weatherman Jonathan Mason, still works for Bentley as the $91,400-a-year head of a state agency called Serve Alabama. The three were all apparently chummy enough to attend President Donald Trump's inauguration together, local Alabama media reported.
Bentley is a father of four and grandfather of six from Tuscaloosa who sometimes teaches Sunday school. His ex-wife, Dianne Bentley, filed for divorce in August 2015, declaring that their marriage "has suffered an irretrievable breakdown."