|Robert "Luv Guv" Bentley and Rebekah Caldwell Mason|
How is Bentley planning to get around that provision in his plea agreement? The answer to that is not clear (although Zeigler has ideas), but the language in the deal Bentley struck with prosecutors is more broad than most Alabamians probably remember. Here is how al.com reported the key terms in an article dated April 10, 2017:
Bentley, as part of the deal, was expected to:
* Resign immediately and leave public life.
* Plead guilty to two campaign violations: converting campaign contributions for personal gain and failing to report campaign contributions.
* Serve one year of probation.
*Perform 100 hours of unpaid community service as a physician.
*Repay the $8,912 his campaign spent on the legal fees of former aide Rebekah Mason, whose involvement with Bentley led to the charges against him.
*Forfeit all the money in his campaign account, which is currently $36,912. The money will go into state coffers.
In response, the state attorney general's office will not pursue other felonies against Bentley, including those referred for prosecution last week by the Alabama Ethics Commission.
Bentley might already have violated the first provision -- the one about leaving public life -- by attending the National Governors Association meeting last weekend in Washington, D.C. From a report at al.com:
Bentley tweeted out a photo showing him at the meeting with his “governor colleagues, former and current.”
“Looking forward to working with them and (the National Governors Association) as states tackle tough issues facing our country in trade, (criminal justice) reform, healthcare and jobs,” he tweeted.
Those attending the meeting heard from President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Cabinet secretaries and representatives from foreign countries.
Sounds like Bentley already has returned to public life, doesn't it? Is the Alabama Attorney General's Office supposed to enforce the "Luv Guv's" plea agreement? If so, are Steve Marshall and Co. asleep at the switch?
Al.com reported last August that Bentley was considering a return to politics, perhaps in a U.S. Senate run against Democrat Doug Jones. Reporter Leada Gore even noted the roadblock in Bentley's way:
Former Governor Robert Bentley, who resigned in 2017 as part of plea deal related to ethics and campaign finance violations, isn't ruling out a return to public life.
In an interview with political site Yellowhammer, Bentley was asked if would consider returning to public office, possibly in the U.S. Senate race against Democrat Doug Jones in 2020.
"I love serving the people of this state. Serving as governor was the greatest honor of my life. I have a heart for our people and I believe we are all called to serve one another in some capacity. I found public service was a way to do that. I believe what is missing in public service today is loving the people that you serve and wanting to help those who need help, especially those who are less fortunate and really have nothing. If God shows me a new avenue where I can do that, I'll do it."
The deal that led to Bentley's exit might make that impossible, however.
In his plea with the Alabama Attorney General's Office, Bentley agreed to "not seek or serve in any public office."
Does Bentley plan to ignore the terms of his plea agreement? Well, he is shameless enough to have traveled to D.C. with a cozy companion, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, with whom he has shared all kinds of intimacies -- involving her boobs, nether regions,and perhaps "other parts." From Jim Zeigler's Facebook post yesterday -- under the headline "Bentley takes Rebecca Mason to Washington as he lines up support for U.S. Senate run." (Zeigler, by the way, also is considered a possible U.S. Senate candidate in 2020.):
She was Gov. Robert Bentley's senior policy adviser and believed to be the 'acting governor' in decision making. Now, she is the manager of Dr. Bentley's dermatological clinic in Tuscaloosa.
But last weekend, Mrs. Rebecca Mason was the ex-governor's escort to Washington. As an ex-governor, Bentley was invited to a national governor's conference. And the two of them went.
Many of the nation's governors were in Washington for the conference and breakfast with President Donald Trump. Bentley used the conference to go and line up national support for an expected run for the U.S. Senate next year.
The issue of Bentley's seedy behavior while serving as governor likely hits close to home for Zeigler, in part because he filed the initial ethics complaint that led to Bentley's exit.
Zeigler also provides a possible explanation for how Bentley might skate around the terms of his plea agreement:
Bentley resigned as governor in 2017 and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor violations. He signed a plea agreement that stated he would not run for pubic office again. In January Bentley obtained clearance from the prosecutor to run for a federal office even though his plea agreement stated he would not run for office. The U.S. Senate is a federal office.
State Auditor JIm Zeigler, who had filed the initial ethics complaint that led to Bentley's departure, said: "It is unbelievable that Bentley is doing this. Bentley was a problem for Alabama as governor, and he would be a continuing problem as U.S. Senator. While I do not believe Bentley can be elected, there are still some Alabama voters who think Bentley was a good governor that got a raw deal.. I was there, and neither of those things are true. He was not a good governor, and he got off easy."
Bentley served no jail time.
Zeigler has formed an exploratory committee eyeing his own possible run in 2020 for the seat now held by Democrat Sen. Doug Jones. The deadline to file candidacy is this November and the primary is March 3, 2020.