ATLANTA (AP) — A memo by the head of the state ethics commission in which she claims an attorney for Gov. Nathan Deal threatened her agency during its investigation of complaints against the governor demonstrates a “pattern of intimidation and interference on the part of the governor’s office,” Democrat Jason Carter said Tuesday.
Carter, a state senator running against Deal in the November election, also renewed his call for a state investigation and appealed to Attorney General Sam Olens to appoint an independent investigator.
“We still don’t have answers to what it was that was so bad that they went to these great lengths to hide,” Carter told reporters. “We have no one who is willing to apparently investigate the governor’s office and what is clear misconduct at a minimum and probably illegal conduct on the part of his staff.”
Olens has said he doesn’t have the authority to hire someone independent of his office and also does not want to interfere with two other investigations involving the commission. Carter said he disagrees with Olens’ decision, adding he was concerned the memo was not released earlier during civil lawsuits against the commission.
Holly LaBerge, the commission’s executive secretary, wrote in the memo obtained Monday from the Attorney General’s Office that Deal’s chief counsel, Ryan Teague, in a 2012 phone call told her it wasn’t in their or the agency’s best interest for the cases to proceed to a hearing and said efforts to restore the agency’s rule-making authority might not happen if the complaints weren’t resolved.
“I responded by expressing my surprise that the threat of rule making being withheld was being used to make the complaints go away,” LaBerge wrote in the memo, which was given to the Attorney General’s Office in mid-2013.
Deal’s personal attorney, Randy Evans, has said the memo proves the contentious nature of negotiations with commission staff and refutes any allegation LaBerge gave the governor a pass. He noted the case went to a hearing before the commission, which dismissed the most serious complaints. Deal paid $3,350 in administrative fees to settle the rest.
Deal’s spokesman Brian Robinson has said the memo supports the governor’s contention the commission didn’t grant him any favors.
The ethics complaints and allegations the governor’s office meddled in commission business have been at the center of a handful of lawsuits filed in recent years by former commission employees who say they faced retaliation.
One former employee claimed LaBerge boasted the governor “owes her” for making the complaints go away. Deal has denied knowing LaBerge and has said he doesn’t owe her anything. He has also denied any involvement in commission business.
LaBerge, in an interview with Fox 5, appeared to support those claims, saying: “If I’m a puppet put there to make his legal problems go away, why would his legal counsel have to call me up and threaten me?”
Meanwhile, it remains unclear whether federal investigators remain interested in the commission and its handling of the Deal complaints. Late last year, federal prosecutors issued subpoenas for commission documents related to the complaints but have continued to decline to comment.
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