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Impeachment investigation of Gov. Bentley resumes after push by committee members

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- The Alabama House Judiciary Committee’s decided Wednesday to resume its investigation of whether Gov. Robert Bentley should be impeached. That decision came a day after it deadlocked on a motion that would have left the investigation suspended.

Before the vote Tuesday vote, the committee was advised by its legislative counsel to proceed carefully, so as not to interfere in any ongoing criminal investigation involving the governor.

The committee suspended its investigation in November, at the request of then-Attorney General Luther Strange. Strange said his office was completing related work. He gave no timetable for the completion of the AG’s office investigation.

But a series of political maneuvers raised questions about impeachment and the state of any investigation into the governor’s office.

Although his office was handling an investigation related to impeachment, Strange was appointed by Bentley to the U.S. Senate last month to succeed now-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Bentley picked Marshall County DA Steve Marshall to succeed Strange as attorney general. Marshall said he’d recuse himself if the state’s investigation involved Bentley.

A few days later, he announced his recusal and Eleanor Brooks was named as special attorney general to oversee and continue the probe of the governor’s office.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Alabama Rep. Paul Beckman, R-Prattville, and other members faulted what they see as a too-slow pace for the investigation. They also expressed skepticism that the committee’s work would interfere with a criminal probe.

Beckman spoke out during the hearing, wondering why the committee hadn’t approved a bill that would enforce subpoena power that could be used in its investigation.

“We’ve done nothing,” Beckman said during the meeting. “So the question the public is asking us, ‘Are we really serious about this, or if the fix is in?’”

Judiciary Committee Chairman Mike Jones disputed that suggestion, noting he’d introduced a bill calling for legislative subpoena power during the Alabama Legislature’s special session last summer. The measure didn’t move during the session, Jones said.

The Tuesday vote was on a motion to continue the suspension of the impeachment investigation in 30 day intervals, pending the outcome of the AG’s office investigation. That resulted in a tie vote, 6-6.

Following the meeting Jones was asked what the vote meant. He told gathered reporters, “Well, the status is we’re pretty much where we were before this meeting started.”

But Beckman said committee members felt that wasn’t good enough. He said the full committee hadn’t voted to suspend the probe. He said it came out of an agreement between Jones and the AG’s office.

On Wednesday, Alabama Rep. Chris England, D-Tusacaloosa, introduced another motion to the committee. His motion called on the committee’s special counsel for the impeachment investigation, Jack Sharman, to resume the investigation. And, Sharman was directed to coordinate to the extent possible, with any related investigations.

That measure passed unanimously.

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