|Celine Dion, in Las Vegas|
(From caesar's .com)
The story, by columnist John Archibald, raises all kinds of questions about possible misuse of state or campaign funds--and we do not have clear answers to many of those questions at the moment. But this much seems clear: The Vegas trip adds to the mountain of evidence that Bentley has been lying for months about the nature of his relationship with Mason.
What was the trip to Vegas like? Archibald explains:
On Nov. 17 of last year (Editor's note: remember that date), Gov. Robert Bentley boarded a state airplane for Las Vegas, along with his former political adviser Rebekah Caldwell Mason, communications director Jennifer Ardis, Deputy Chief of Staff Jon Barganier and his security detail.
They went to attend the Republican Governors Association Annual Conference.
Oh. And to catch a show. They didn't have to think twice before going to the Colosseum at Caesar's Palace for an elaborate concert by Celine Dion.
Bentley went backstage and made Dion an honorary Alabamian. He posed for pictures with her, which he showed around the office – along with backstage passes for which he was ungubernatorially proud. Mason and Ardis posed for pictures, too. The concert was "amazing," Ardis said.
Bentley's staff claims all was proper with the trip, and public funds were not used. Archibald does not seem to be buying it:
Bentley's staff argues that there is no foul. Ardis said Bentley himself paid for all the Celine Dion tickets, and the Republican Governors Association reimbursed the Bentley campaign for the cost of the conference and the flight. The campaign reimbursed the state, and no taxpayer money was used, she said.
She did provide a copy of a deposit to the state of Alabama in the amount of $11,641.35. It was dated March 25 of this year. It came almost 19 weeks after the trip. And it came 3 days after former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency chief Spencer Collier went public with claims that Bentley and Mason had been engaged in an affair, and that Bentley had been warned that using state or campaign assets to carry out an affair could be illegal.
Ardis said the Republican Governors Association wired Bentley's campaign the reimbursement. She said she does not know why there was a delay or when the payments will appear on campaign finance reports.
For now, the most important questions about the trip might be personal, rather than financial. That's because evidence at the time suggested Bentley and Mason were in a romantic relationship--at least from the governor's perspective. Writes Archibald:
But the concert – and the money – are just part of the issue. Some who have been close to the governor claim Bentley boasted prior to the trip of wanting to use Las Vegas to get some personal time with Mason.
Collier, when asked about the trip, confirmed that Bentley tried to alter his security plan to get a little breathing room, and said Bentley made a concerted effort to keep his security detail away from the events at Caesar's.
So, we have this: On or about November 17, 2015, Gov. Bentley made a special effort to have "personal time" with Rebekah Mason--far from home, in Las Vegas. Roughly one month later--on December 27, 2015--al.com published an interview in which reporter Chuck Dean wrote the following about Bentley:
Throughout the ordeal Bentley, reluctant to talk about the deeply personal issue, would only say it was a personal, family matter.
And he never addressed the unfounded rumors of an affair.
"The rumors were not true," said Bentley.
Bentley goes on to blame his problems, for the most part, on bloggers. Considering that I was the blogger who broke the story of the Mason affair on August 31, 2015, it seems safe to say much of his vitriol is directed at me. It's also likely much of it is directed at attorney Donald Watkins, who has written extensively about the sex scandal at his Facebook page:
The governor then seemed to let out months of pent up frustrations.
"There were people on blogs and people in the press who crossed the line. They truly crossed the line. People on talk radio crossed the line," said Bentley.
Bentley said it's hard as a public official to address the kind of rumors that were being spread and he said he felt to directly address them would only serve in some cases to give them credibility.
Bentley said the rumors hurt many people.
"There were many people – my own family and there were a lot of other families – many people, people that I love, that I care about, they went through some difficult times because people were able to say whatever they wanted to say. They were just ridiculous. I don't know how anyone could ever believe them."
By "crossing the line," Bentley apparently means that certain bloggers (Watkins and me) had reported accurately about the governor's sordid activities. Then we learned that Bentley, channeling his inner Richard Nixon, reportedly ordered the use of state and federal criminal databases in an effort to dig up dirt on Watkins and me.
How despicable is Bentley's behavior? Well, we know that on November 17 of last year, he was trying to rearrange his security detail so he could get "personal time" with Rebekah Caldwell Mason--in Las Vegas. Roughly five weeks later, the governor was telling the press "the rumors were untrue," and blaming others for the story getting out.
We now know the "rumors" were more than rumors. The posts that Watkins and I published were right on target--a classic example of citizen journalism serving the public good, unearthing a story that the mainstream press, at the time, seemingly did not want to touch.
We also know the Bentley/Mason coupling apparently went well beyond the borders of Alabama--with no expenses being spared in the process.