Alabama governor defiant as sex scandal trouble mounts

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley speaks during a news conference on Friday, April 7, 2017, outside the Alabama Capitol building in Montgomery, Ala. Bentley vowed again he won't resign even as his political troubles mounted and lawmakers said they would move forward with impeachment hearings because of a sex scandal. (Albert Cesare /The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley simultaneously filed suit to block potential impeachment proceedings and apologized to voters Friday

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley made a last-ditch attempt to stop proceedings that could lead to his impeachment and calls for his resignation grew Friday, with the House speaker warning that continuing a sex-tinged scandal would drag the state through "a long, painful and embarrassing journey whose ending is likely known."

A defiant Bentley hastily called a news conference on the steps of the Capitol and refused to resign at the end of particularly difficult week. Aside from fellow Republicans telling him to quit, Bentley learned he could face criminal prosecution when the Alabama Ethics Commission found probable cause that he broke ethics and campaign law.

Bentley said he has been humiliated and apologized for his mistakes. But, he said, he has done nothing illegal.

"If the people want to know if I misused state resources, the answer is simply no. I have not," Bentley said in a statement on marble steps of the Capitol. He did not take questions.

Moments before Bentley addressed the media, his office filed a lawsuit against the House Judiciary Committee seeking to block proceedings that include the release of a special counsel's potentially embarrassing report in the ongoing impeachment investigation.

A judge said during a hearing that he wasn't inclined to block the release, and then later recused himself. Another judge was assigned the case and holding a hearing Friday afternoon.

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.

The controversy erupted when the former head of state law enforcement, Spencer Collier, a day after being fired by Bentley, publicly accused Bentley of having an affair with his longtime political adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason. Collier said Mason wielded so much power that she was considered the "de facto governor."

In his statement, Bentley 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.

In the lawsuit, Bentley called the impeachment process "fundamentally unfair." Bentley's legal adviser David Byrne has said the rapidly moving process hasn't given the governor time to respond. He also said the impeachment articles accusing Bentley of corruption and neglect of duty are "extremely vague."

The special counsel to the Judiciary Committee, Jack Sharman, has said the committee hadn't violated any due process rights and court doesn't have right to interfere with the Legislature's hearing process.

Legislative lawyer Othni Lathram, also representing the Judiciary Committee, said some lawmakers wanted to vote on impeachment immediately, and hearings were meant to provide Bentley with due process. He said the report is about 100 pages long with 3,000 pages of exhibits.

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 and House Speaker Mac Cutcheon, leaders in the Republican-controlled Legislature, have both called on the governor to step aside.

"It's the only way to avoid taking the state on a long, painful and embarrassing journey whose ending is likely already known to us all," McCutcheon said Friday.

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.

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Associated Press writer Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama, contributed to this report.

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