The close relationship between Gov. Robert Bentley and his future political adviser, Rebekah Mason, began with Mason telling her Sunday school teacher, during an elevator ride, that he had “no chance” to be elected governor.
That relationship eventually became romantic, shattered Bentley’s 50-year marriage and pushed him into a showdown with the state House of Representatives over impeachment.
“If Gov. Bentley meant to hide his affair from his wife, he did not do it well,” said the impeachment report released Friday from Jack Sharman, special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee that is investigating Bentley.
Though the affair did not become public until March 2016, Bentley’s former wife, Dianne, “began to have concerns about Mason” as early as September 2013. It was two years later before Dianne filed for divorce.
While her family lived in Tuscaloosa and the affair was in its early stages, Mason spent her nights in Montgomery in the pool house at the governor’s mansion. Bentley and Mason also had frequent conversations via text message during weekends about “unnecessary emergencies or simply about football games.”
Dianne’s chief of staff, Heather Hannah, first sensed a Bentley/Mason relationship in October 2013.
The report said that over the next few months, Bentley’s staff began to notice the relationship “was becoming much closer.”
“Around the same time, Ms. Bentley had begun to record in her journal the absence of affection from her husband,” the report said. “She noted there was no physical affection, no suggestions of intimacy, and that he had not so much as said ‘I love you’ in quite some time.”
Bentley’s wife first confronted her husband with concerns about his relationship with Mason in January 2014, which the governor denied, the report said.
The next month, though, the Bentleys were at dinner in Washington D.C. with Mason and others in Bentley’s contingent.
“Throughout the dinner, Ms. Bentley was able to read text messages being exchanged between Governor Bentley and Mason, who was seated directly across from the Bentleys,” the report said. “Those text exchanges included Governor Bentley stating, ‘I can’t take my eyes off of you.'”
This was still two years before the affair became public.
“Then there were more glaring indicators (of the romance),” the report said, “many of which came from Bentley-Mason text exchanges: for example, in the spring 2014, Governor Bentley mistakenly sent to Ms. Bentley a text message that stated, ‘I love you Rebekah’ and was accompanied by a red-rose emoji.”
Other members of the Bentley family became aware of the romance because the governor gave his state-issued iPad to his wife – unaware that text messages from his state-issued iPhone would also show up on the iPad.
Though the report gave no time frame, it told of Bentley aide Linda Adams encountering a tearful Dianne in the capitol. Ms. Bentley told Adams that she had taken a picture of what the capitol staff had dubbed the “love bench” where Bentley and Mason would sit together in the courtyard garden.
“Ms. Bentley confided in Adams ‘how she was praying that God would prick his heart to change his mind to get him back to his senses,'” the report said.
The marriage grew so strained that Bentley’s wife actively began to collect evidence of the affair. The report said Ms. Bentley worked with Hannah, her chief of staff, to make a recording “that she could use to ‘catch’ her husband and Mason in the affair.”
Ms. Bentley came up with the idea of using the recorder on her cell phone to capture audio between her husband and Mason. Ms. Bentley asked Hannah to show her how to do it, the report said.
“Ms. Bentley captured the first of two recordings by turning on the phone’s recording device, placing it in her purse on the sofa, and then announcing to her husband that she was taking a long walk on the beach,” the report said.
“Promptly upon her departure–within approximately 59 seconds–Governor Bentley was on the phone with Mason.”
The first recording included Bentley engaging “in the now-infamous monologue about how much he enjoys feeling Mason’s breasts and their need to lock the door to his office when engaging in certain activities,” the report said. That recording later ignited the public scandal.
His wife made a second recording. Hannah downloaded the recordings to a laptop computer, burned them onto a disc, made a copy for herself “for her own protection” and gave the original to Ms. Bentley.
Ms. Bentley then played the recording for her son, Paul, and his wife, Melissa.
Proof of the relationship, though, came not as a surprise to Paul and Melissa, the report said.
“They had first learned of the romantic nature of the Bentley-Mason relationship after Melissa observed Ms. Bentley become emotionally distraught during a shopping trip,” the report said. “The cause of that emotion was Ms. Bentley’s interception of one of the red-rose text messages intended for Mason that were common in the Bentley-Mason exchanges.”