MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley’s attorney on Tuesday said a committee investigating the governor’s possible impeachment has no authority to subpoena material from the administration, but the office this week turned over 10,000 pages of material to try to answer committee members’ questions.
The governor’s office sent a dual message of cooperation and resistance in its response to a subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee. The committee sought a large volume of documents from Bentley including financial records, travel records and text messages and government payments to an aide the governor was accused of having an affair with before his divorce.
The governor’s office on Monday filed a motion with the committee seeking to quash the subpoena, calling it both unauthorized and an overly broad “fishing expedition.” Ross Garber, an attorney representing the governor, said the Alabama Legislature, unlike Congress, does not have the power to issue subpoenas and that legislative attempts to bestow that authority have failed.
“The committee does not have the authority to issue and enforce a subpoena,” Garber said. “That the chairman of the committee and the special counsel issued the subpoenas anyway is outrageous.”
The House Judiciary Committee is investigating if there are grounds to impeach Bentley after Bentley’s fired law enforcement secretary accused the governor of having an affair with his political adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, and of interfering in law enforcement business. Bentley, who is now divorced, admitted to inappropriate behavior and apologized to his family, but denied a sexual affair and the other allegations.
Bentley’s attorney wrote in the objection that the subpoena is overly broad because it seeks material not in the governor’s possession or irrelevant to the probe. The governor’s office raised issues with many of the document requests, including one for all communication between Bentley and Mason, and between Bentley and Mason’s husband, regardless of date or topic.
“There is simply no basis for this unlimited inquiry into matters that are not conceivably related to any legitimate investigation by the Committee,” Garber wrote. “Moreover, a search for every single document or pieces of electronic data relating to the topics listed above — which would entail, among other things, a search of over a million emails — would cost the Alabama taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, all to permit Special Counsel — a private citizen — to conduct a … fishing expedition into matters that do not bear on the claims made in the Articles of Impeachment.”
Garber said the administration gave the committee 10,000 pages of material on Monday and offered to work with the special counsel on any other document requests. The governor’s office turned over 1,500 pages of material last month.
“Now the ball is in the committee’s court and the question is: Will they thoughtfully evaluate the process and procedure and facts or will they continue a taxpayer-funded politically motivated fishing expedition?” Garber said.
Whether the committee can compel testimony and the production of documents has been a question since the probe began. Special counsel Jack Sharman told committee members last month that he thought there was a “path” for such action. He said it would likely require the committee to first hold a person in contempt and then seek a court order requiring the person to comply.
Sharman did not respond to a telephone message left for him Tuesday.
The governor’s office asked for oral arguments before the committee in its motion to quash the subpoena.
The House Judiciary Committee will make a recommendation to the full House of Representatives on whether impeachment is warranted.