- Associated Press - Thursday, August 11, 2016

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - In a surreptitiously recorded phone call from last year, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley discourages a state lawmaker from asking for an investigation of his use of state property amid rumors of an affair with a top staffer.

Bentley and his attorney lashed out at the sudden release of the call Thursday, with Bentley saying it was an orchestrated distraction ahead of a next week’s special session on a proposed state lottery.

The governor’s lawyer also said the call’s release proves that the lawmaker who recorded the conversation shouldn’t serve on a committee investigating Bentley’s possible impeachment.

The embattled governor has struggled to shake off the lingering effects of scandal since he admitted in March to making inappropriate remarks to a senior political adviser, who has since resigned. He is facing an impeachment effort in the Legislature and calls for him to step down. Bentley has said he did nothing wrong and he will fight any effort to remove him from office.

The release of the recording comes as the governor’s lawyers seek a halt to a potentially wide-ranging impeachment investigation unless lawmakers can better define what they think he has done wrong.

In the August 2015 phone call, recorded several days after Dianne Bentley filed for divorce from the governor, he tells state Rep. Allen Farley that he blames casino gambling interests for churning the affair rumors, denies having an affair and discourages Farley’s plans to ask Attorney General Luther Strange to review whether he had misused the state jet and security personnel.

On the call, Farley says he wants to get the attorney general to “clear up” that no wrongdoing had occurred.

“Allen, I’ve explained things to you. I don’t think you need to get Luther involved with it, personally. There is nothing we are trying to hide,” Bentley says on the recording obtained by The Associated Press.

Bentley on Thursday confirmed the conversation and Farley acknowledged recording the governor without his knowledge. Farley said he released the recording after the governor called a special session on a proposed state lottery because of his remarks about gambling interests.

“This for me is putting every piece of the puzzle out there for people to see,” Farley said.

Bentley said he called Farley last year because he wanted to, “assure him we had not used state funds for any reason improperly.”

Farley eventually did send a letter to the attorney general asking him to investigate whether there had been any misuse of property.

The governor sharply criticized the release of the recording days before he calls lawmakers back to Montgomery to start a special session on a proposed state lottery.

“That needs to be seen for what it is. That is a smoke screen to try to keep us from getting a vote of the people on a lottery. …. They say, ‘Look over here. Look at what the governor said a year ago’ which is not anything bad,” Bentley said.

The governor’s administration seized on the recording’s release as they seek Farley’s recusal - along with two other lawmakers -from a House Judiciary Committee investigation on whether Bentley committed any impeachable offenses. Twenty-three lawmakers in April signed impeachment articles after Bentley’s former law enforcement secretary accused him of having an affair with a staffer and interfering with law enforcement business.

“It would be outrageous, and in my experience unprecedented, for a member of a legislative committee conducting an investigation to have surreptitiously recorded and then released a private telephone conversation with the subject of that inquiry. If this occurred, it clearly requires Rep. Farley’s recusal,” said Ross Garber, an attorney representing Bentley in the impeachment probe.

Farley said he has no plans to leave the committee.

“My job in the House Judiciary Committee is to make sure all the information is brought out on the table,” Farley said.

The governor’s office, in a separate motion, also asked the House Judiciary Committee to hit the pause button on impeachment proceedings until the full House of Representatives defines the area of the inquiry and what they think Bentley did wrong.

The loosely worded impeachment articles accuse the governor of corruption and neglect of duties but do not lay out specific allegations.

“The current impeachment resolution appears to sanction the deployment of governmental power to conduct a roving investigation that is unbounded by time or subject matter, and to then compel the governor to defend himself against amorphous allegations that almost certainly have no bearing on a lawful impeachment process. This the Alabama Constitution does not permit,” the governor’s lawyers wrote.

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