The state’s delay in releasing a 2012 memo appearing to show an attorney and staffer for Deal tried to interfere in an ethics complaint investigation against the governor “proves once and for all that the governor’s office was involved in the coverup,” Carter said.
The memo, an account of text messages and a phone call between Holly LaBerge, the executive director of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, and Deal chief of staff Chris Riley and chief counsel Ryan Teague, wasn’t released to attorneys during two whistleblower lawsuits settled by the state. The lawsuits were filed by former commission employees.
“They fired the two women that were investigating it, and then they bullied their handpicked replacement to make sure it stayed secret,” Carter said.
“So I’m concerned, as all taxpayers would be, that the taxpayers are going to be left with the bill for the wrongful termination of the first two women, and then they’re going to be left with the bill for the taxpayer-paid employees in the governor’s office who were interfering in the investigation on behalf of the campaign, probably illegally, and then the taxpayers that still are left with no answers,” he said.
In a correspondence with the commission obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, LaBerge attorney Lee Parks said she was making the memo public now to save her job and reputation and expose waste government waste associated with the settlements. Parks said LaBerge had already provided the memo to the commission and Attorney General Sam Olens.
Carter, an Atlanta state senator and the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, has called for the establishment of an independent ethics commission with a budget that can’t be cut by the legislature or governor. On Wednesday, he called for a new probe into the ethics complaints against Deal, which targeted his use of campaign donations to pay legal bills and for travel on private aircraft owned by a company in which he had a partial ownership interest.
Olens issued a statement Tuesday that he hadn’t released the memo because it wasn’t “responsive to the discovery request” filed in the whistleblower lawsuits, but that nothing was improper.
Deal attorney Randy Evans said the memo proved the contentious nature of negotiations between the ethics commission and the governor and showed the commission or LaBerge gave Deal no free pass. The commission dismissed the more serious complaints against the governor and Deal paid $3,350 to settle the rest.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.