ATLANTA — Attorney General Sam Olens on Friday declined a request by state Sen. Jason Carter to appoint an independent investigator to review the handling of ethics complaints against Gov. Nathan Deal, noting in a letter that his office has “no interest in being used for political purposes.”
The back-and-forth stems from a series of ethics complaints filed against Deal, a Republican up for re-election this year, concerning his 2010 campaign finance reports and personal financial disclosures. Those complaints have been at the center of three lawsuits filed in recent years against the state ethics commission by former employees who claim retaliation for work on the Deal investigation.
Carter, a Democrat challenging Deal in November, had made the request to Olens in a letter earlier this week, arguing there was “ample evidence that this investigation was never completed and instead was the subject of serious tampering.”
Olens, a Republican also up for re-election this year, wrote in a response to Carter that he did not have the authority to appoint an independent investigator and would not want to interfere with at least two related investigations. He referenced an ongoing probe of the commission by the state auditor as well as federal grand jury subpoenas issued late last year to five former and current commission employees.
The state has the power to hire outside lawyers known as special assistant attorney generals, but Olens argued they would still report to him and not be considered independent.
Carter’s campaign spokesman Bryan Thomas said Carter was disappointed with Olens’ decision.
“It is crystal clear that the attorney general has the power to conduct an independent investigation, particularly when he is supposed to act independently from the governor’s office,” Thomas said.
The commission earlier this month announced plans to settle with three former employees after a civil jury in April sided with the commission’s former executive secretary who claimed her salary was cut and her deputy’s position eliminated as the two were preparing to issue subpoenas in the Deal case.
Those subpoenas were never issued. Commissioners have said they received the information needed to resolve the complaints without subpoenas. In the end, Deal agreed to pay $3,350 in administrative fees to settle the complaints and was cleared by the commission of major violations.
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 Deal complaints but officials with the U.S. Attorney’s Office have continued to decline to comment.
Deal’s spokeswoman Jen Talaber has said Carter was “playing politics” with his request. Deal has denied any wrongdoing, saying he was not involved in commission business and his ethics case was resolved after an exhaustive investigation.