A top political aide to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley is resigning a week after he apologized for making inappropriate remarks to her but denied the pair were engaged in an affair.
Rebekah Caldwell Mason said in a statement Wednesday that she is resigning as Bentley’s senior policy analyst, the Montgomery Advertiser reports. The decision comes a week after Bentley’s contrite news conference in which he apologized to his family and Mason’s for his behavior.
Mason said she would no longer be paid from the governor's political campaign or the Alabama Council for Excellent Government, a private entity created to support Bentley's policies.
"My only plans are to focus my full attention on my precious children and my husband who I love dearly," the statement said. "They are the most important people in my life. Thank you for your prayers for our family.”
Mason had served as Bentley’s senior policy adviser since January. Mason, a former television news anchor in Bentley’s hometown of Tuscaloosa, signed on as spokeswoman for the little-known legislator’s longshot bid for governor in 2010. She worked as the governor’s communications adviser before leaving to work on his 2014 re-election.
The Alabama Ethics Commission appears to be preparing to investigate allegations surrounding Bentley and Mason.
The commission informed the state auditor it has assigned case numbers stemming from an auditor's report last week. That reported summarized allegations that the pair were having an affair and may have misused state resources or broken state laws, theMontgomery Advertiser reported. Bentley and Mason have denied the allegations.
The commission says it will assign a special agent in the "near future" to conduct an investigation into the complaints, the newspaper reported, quoting from a commission letter to the auditor.
Central to the allegations are recently released audio excerpts in which the governor engages in sexually charged talk with the staffer.
“I love you. I love to talk to you,” the governor says to Mason on the tapes. “Baby, let me tell you what we’re going to have to start doing, we’re going to have to start locking the door. If we are going to do what we did the other day, we are going to have to start locking the door.”
The tapes were recorded two years ago by Dianne Bentley, the governor's former wife, who divorced him last year. The conversation, in which only the governor's voice is heard, was reportedly captured on her cellphone, which she left behind in a room at the couples’ beach home, WKRG-TV reported.
The case has spurred calls for the governor's resignation by some state legislators.
"Much is required for Gov. Bentley to repair his relationship with the state," said an editorial Tuesday by Al.com, an Alabama media consortium. "If he remains unwilling to provide a full reckoning, then he should resign."
In a new twist in the case, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa confirmed that Bentley and Mason are no longer members of the church following the release of the audio tapes.
Senior Pastor Gil McKee told the Christian News Network that while "church discipline is a church family matter" he can confirm that both Bentley and Mason are no longer members of the church. "I continue to pray for each of them," he says.
McKee does not indicate the timing or circumstances of their departure. Bentley has served as Sunday school teacher and deacon at the church.
Perhaps the most damaging allegations came last week when former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Spencer Collier, a longtime Bentley ally, accused the governor and staffer of having an affair and charged that the governor used state resources to pursue it.
Collier went public one day after he was fired by Bentley following a report raising concerns of "possible misuse of state funds" at ALEA.
Collier, who strongly denies the allegation, said Bentley and Mason were "furious" with him after he submitted an affidavit in an unrelated case involving the Alabama house speaker, who faces felony ethics charges for allegedly using his public position to benefit his businesses and clients, the Advertiser reported.
The release of the tapes, in turn, prompted Bentley's contrite remarks at a news conference.
Bentley denied participating in a “physical, sexual relationship” but said he made a mistake in judgment and apologized to his family and the Masons.
“I made a mistake,” Bentley told reporters. “Two years ago I made a mistake. ...I have apologized many times to my family. I have apologized to the family of Mrs. Mason. I would now like to apologize to the people of Alabama. I ask them to forgive me.”
One reporter asked Bentley if he was in love with Mason, to which he replied, “I love many members of my staff, in fact, all the members of my staff. Do I love some more than others? Absolutely.”
Contributing: Brian Lyman, Montgomery Advertiser