The investigation into alleged campaign finance violations by Georgia’s Republican Gov. Nathan Deal has deepened into a criminal probe as the outlines of a broad cover-up emerged this week.
Some Georgia Democrats believe that the politician known in the state as “Teflon Deal” for his ability to elude punishment for ethics violations may finally be getting his due.
“We’re past an ethics complaint,” said Bryan Long of Better Georgia to Raw Story. “This is not an ethics investigation. When the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office issue subpoenas, this is a criminal investigation.”
In 2011, shortly after he took office, Gov. Deal was hit with charges that he had personally enriched himself on campaign funds. In 2010, Deal and his family allegedly helped themselves to at least $322,000 in campaign donations, paying generous stipends to companies that they own or have an interest in.
In June, word reached the governor that subpoenas were being prepared by a five-member ethics panel — appointed by the governor himself — charged with investigating the shady deals. Gov. Deal promptly fired one member of the ethics office staff and gutted the salary of another.
He then appointed his own head to the investigation and now claims in interviews that he has been cleared of any wrongdoing.
A grand jury empaneled in Atlanta may disagree with that assessment.
“He keeps saying all of this has been cleared,” Long said. “No one has ever looked at this other than people who he has appointed himself. He’s never been cleared of any of these charges.”
Last week, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that at least five current and former members of Georgia’s state ethics committee have been issued subpoenas by the FBI as part of the grand jury investigation. The grand jury will re-convene in January to look at documents which purportedly show the role Deal’s office played in squelching any and all attempts to investigate the governor’s allegedly crooked financial dealings.
Deal’s attorney Randy Evans told the Journal-Constitution that no one in the governor’s office has received a subpoena or even a phone call on the probe. These new subpoenas, he insisted, don’t “involve anything to do with the governor.”
Long pointed out that investigations of cover-ups typically “work from the outside in” and that “the next round of subpoenas could be aimed at the governor’s office.”
“But maybe,” he said sarcastically, “they’re just a bunch of liars working on the state ethics committee and Gov. Deal will be cleared.”
“Let’s remember that we’re talking about computer records,” he continued. “If the FBI is able to turn up any documentation of a crime, there will be an indictment. It’s not a ‘he said-she said’ argument. There was money that changed hands, there were records that were kept. There are emails back and forth.”
“There’s clearly a pattern,” said Long. “There were charges of corruption against him when he was in Congress, there were charges of corruption in his last campaign. There have been constant charges of corruption literally since the day after he was elected.”
DuBose Porter, chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia said in a statement via email, “The same behavior that forced Nathan Deal to resign from Congress has now shown up in the way he conducts his administration as Governor. The issue of federal subpoenas is troubling. Every Georgian should pay close attention so that history does not repeat itself in the ethics commission.”
Nathan Deal resigned from Congress on March 21, 2010 after being accused of using his office to personally enrich himself through a series of business deals.
Democrats in the state hope to successfully challenge Deal in 2014. State Sen. Jason Carter announced earlier this month that he intends to run in the Democratic primary race for the governorship. Carter is the grandson of former Pres. Jimmy Carter.
[Image courtesy of the Office of Governor Nathan Deal]