When Alabama Governor Robert Bentley’s affair with his senior political adviser, Rebekah Mason, broke into the spotlight in 2016, Bentley thought he could keep his post. After all, most of Alabama’s religious right was willing to overlook the fact that Bentley was cheating on his wife of 50 years, Dianne Bentley, because he dotted the right i’s and crossed the right t’s on social issues. He only resigned after it emerged that the evidence that he’d broken numerous state laws to cover his tracks was simply too overwhelming for him to stay on. Well, it turns out that much of that evidence was gleaned by the former first lady herself.
Dianne’s spidey senses were first triggered in September 2013, when she noticed that her husband was engaging in text exchanges with Mason at rather odd hours about non-official business. According to a report submitted by the special counsel to the Alabama House impeachment committee, she and her staff began noticing some rather suspicious behavior between the governor and Mason. It seemed Bentley and Mason reacted awkwardly whenever anyone walked in on them. Additionally, Robert had become noticeably less affectionate toward Dianne. When you’ve spent half a century with someone, it’s easy to tell.
The first real smoking gun came in February 2014, when Dianne noticed her husband and Mason blowing up each other’s phones at a dinner in Washington. In one text, Bentley told Mason, “I can’t keep my eyes off you.” This came a month after Dianne confronted her husband about Mason, and he denied anything inappropriate was happening.
From then on, Dianne began what can best be described as a classic slow-motion strangulation–and Bentley inadvertently supplied his own rope. He’d given Dianne his state-issued iPad, but apparently forgot that the text messages from his state-issued iPhone synced to that iPad. She was thus able to read a number of the more lurid texts between her husband and Mason.
She was also able to preserve a major slip-up by Robert. He thought he texted Rebekah an “I love you” message with a red rose emoji–but mistakenly sent it to Dianne. When he realized that Dianne was reading his texts, Bentley started using prepaid “burner” phones to text with Mason.
Dianne’s best work came in March 2014. While they were vacationing at their beach house, Dianne told Robert she was going for a walk–but not before she activated her iPhone’s recorder feature, turned it on, and slipped it into her purse on the sofa. Within a minute of Dianne walking out, Bentley was on the phone with Mason. What ensued was the now-infamous recording of Bentley making some, shall we say, lurid comments to a woman young enough to be his daughter. In case you missed it, listen here.
For all intents and purposes, Bentley’s marriage and governorship were over. Soon afterward, Bentley was forced to admit the affair to his own children, and Dianne essentially moved out of the governor’s mansion. Although she was ultimately persuaded to attend Bentley’s inauguration for a second term, they divorced only a month after the inauguration.
As we now know, Bentley tripped all over himself to keep a lid on the affair. On a number of occasions, he asked state employees to track down copies of the recordings–a misuse of state funds. He also fired or threatened to fire a number of state employees who expressed concern about Bentley’s inappropriate use of state money.
What Bentley didn’t know, however, is that his wife had kept records of the text exchanges with Mason. Soon after the House launched an impeachment investigation, she gave 40 pages of text messages to the state house judiciary committee.
Last Friday afternoon, Bentley vowed he would not resign. However, with the release of those texts just hours later, his political support evaporated. A week earlier, the state ethics commission recommended that Bentley be prosecuted for ethics and campaign finance violations. It was now clear that if he stayed in office, he faced certain impeachment and removal. It was equally clear that his wife would be the star witness–and a very credible one–at a trial that could have cost him his medical license. From the looks of it, Bentley’s attorney told him that under the circumstances, staying on would have been suicidal.
In hindsight, it’s obvious that Bentley picked the wrong woman on whom to cheat. Dianne has a degree in bacteriology from Alabama, and worked in medical labs to help put Robert through medical school. Bentley may have thought he married a pushover. But as Dianne’s work in taking down her husband proves, he actually got a steel magnolia.
Dianne has mostly stayed out of the limelight since the divorce, which is perfectly understandable. Hopefully when she’s emotionally ready to do so, she’ll speak out. Women need to know that they can stand up for themselves when their husbands act like pigs.
(featured image courtesy Dianne Bentley’s former blog)