Alabama's embattled governor may have broken ethics, campaign finance laws, panel finds

The Republican leader of the Alabama Senate says Gov. Robert Bentley should consider resigning, saying he is putting the state "under a cloud".

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley's political troubles mounted Thursday as lawmakers vowed to move forward with impeachment hearings and one influential Republican urged him to step down.

The Alabama Ethics Commission announced Wednesday that it had "found probable cause to believe" Bentley violated campaign finance and ethics laws.

The Alabama Ethics Commission, after an all-day meeting, voted to refer the matter to the district attorney's office for possible prosecution. Bentley a year ago apologized in a press conference after recordings surfaced of him making sexually charged remarks to a female aide before his divorce.

If charged with breaking Alabama's ethics or campaign finance laws, Bentley could face up to 20 years in prison per violation, the commission said.

The Alabama Ethics Commission agenda Wednesday included an executive session "to discuss matters relating to the character and reputation of certain public officials or employees".

Bentley, who has served as the governor since 2011, has maintained that he did not do anything illegal. His lawyer, Bill Athanas, said the ethics commission's probable cause finding was disappointing and promised a vigorous defense.

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The Ethics Commission is not the only body pursuing possible charges against Bentley.

"Based on the forecast and prediction of the National Weather Service Offices for Alabama, individuals should prepare for the potential of multiple rounds of severe weather tomorrow", Alabama Emergency Management Agency Director, Art Faulkner said.

At the time, Bentley said in his own press conference that he made a "mistake" and apologized for "inappropriate comments" to Mason, but denied having a physical relationship with his former aide.

The Ethics Commission action came 12 months after the emergence of the scandal in which Bentley could be heard in a 2014 recording telling a woman, "I worry about loving you so much", and talking about touching her breasts.

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to begin testimony during hearings concerning impeachment articles next week.

"We disagree strongly with the result, but I think it is important to keep in mind that it is a finding of probable cause, not finding of a violation", Athanas told the Associated Press. The state auditor also claimed that Bentley forced him to sit in the balcony of the Old House Chamber during the 2016 State of the State address and that he "never met" Bentley in person, a claim that was disproven in photographs shared by the governor's office.

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