ATLANTA -- Jason Carter called for an investigation of Gov. Nathan Deal’s office at a news conference Tuesday.
Carter, the Democratic nominee hoping to unseat Deal, said the governor’s top two aides intimidated Holly LaBerge, head of the ethics commission, attempting to derail her inquiry into Deal’s 2010 campaign. Deal’s re-election campaign denies any wrongdoing, claiming Carter’s argument is simply an “election-year attack.”
The state auditor’s office is investigating the firing of Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission workers including LaBerge’s predecessor, over the ex-employees’ allegations that they were fired to thwart their examination into the 2010 campaign. The auditor’s case should extend to the governor’s office, Carter said, as a July 2013 memo from LaBerge – released publicly Monday – suggests the involvement of Deal’s chief of staff, Chris Riley, and government attorney, Ryan Teague.
“The state auditor’s office is not investigating the governor,” Carter said. “The state auditor’s office is, No. 1, appointed by the governor. No. 2, it’s (conducting) a very limited investigation that’s limited to a performance audit of the folks at the ethics commission. It is clear that this problem goes far beyond the ethics commission at this point.”
A statement from Deal’s personal attorney, Randy Evans, said claims by “Carter’s allies” aren’t supported by facts and the auditor’s inquiry is properly limited to the ethics commission.
Carter, however, said he hopes Attorney General Sam Olens will investigate Deal and his aides or appoint someone to do it.
Even after LaBerge wrote the memo accusing Deal’s aides of intimidation, it was not mentioned during the negotiations in lawsuits the former commission employees filed over their dismissal. Her attorney said Olens’ office told LaBerge not to bring up the memo during these settlements, but the attorney general’s office denies these claims.
Carter said he did not know the exact involvement of the attorney general, but Senate Democrats are calling to bring Olens into the mix, claiming LaBerge’s actions “raise the possibility that the AG’s office engaged in criminal witness tampering,” according to a press release.
“The appearances of a cover-up are at play,” said Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta and whip of the Senate Democratic Caucus. “Even if Olens didn’t break the law by declining to investigate, it is still unacceptable that he was covering for Deal. While Olens’ office denies that they received the (memo) until late last year, this very much raises a ‘what did you know, and when did you know it’ situation.”
Evans, however, said this memo didn’t prove that Olens was covering for Deal. Rather, he said it proved the ethics commission staff “aggressively pursued allegations” against Deal’s campaign. Deal also told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution he stands by the aides that LaBerge accused of intimidation and questioned why LaBerge’s memo just came out.
“This was a document that was prepared by the staff of the agency, of which we had no knowledge, either,” he told the AJC. “That’s a good question: Why didn’t it come out until now? Why were we all in the dark? I think it further proves they are an independent agency, and my office had no operational knowledge.”