North Carolina’s Democratic Governor Roy Cooper is under fire for blocking attempts by independent investigators to question employees regarding a multi-million dollar fund tied to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
According to a report by the Associated Press published in the Miami Herald:
“Cooper’s administration told panel leaders last week it won’t let career environmental regulators contacted by the firm this month speak with the investigators.”
The workers have no legal protections from inappropriate questions that are extensions of an “extraordinarily open-ended political fishing expedition,” wrote Kristi Jones, Cooper’s chief of staff.
The committee’s co-chairmen fired off a letter to Cooper, blasting the governor for blocking the investigation.
“For nearly a year, you complained that this oversight investigation was too political,” wrote Senator Harry Brown (R-D6) and Representative Dean Arp (R-D69).
“To remove any appearance of political motivations, we hired independent investigators to get to the truth,” the co-chairs wrote. “Senator Floyd McKissick even participated in the interview and he agreed that Eagle Intel Services LLC was the best options.”
“But now you are complaining that the oversight investigation is too independent,” Senator Brown and Representative Arp wrote.
The letter also blasted Cooper for ‘impugning’ the character of the investigators.
“We are deeply disappointed that you chose to impugn the character of career federal law enforcement officials as cover in your effort to shield the public from the truth of your administration’s dealings,” wrote Senator Brown and Representative Arp.
The crux of the ongoing controversy involves a hefty $58.7 million dollar fund negotiated by the Cooper administration which appeared to be tied to granting the necessary permit for the pipeline.
The payment information in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) expressly states the funds would be deposited into the bank of Cooper’s choice, giving the Governor total control of the money.
The MOU and the required approved regulatory permit from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality were announced separately, but on the same day.
State Representative Pricey Harrison (D-D61) was quoted as saying that the money was “a condition of getting the permit granted.
Cooper’s staff originally called the nearly $58 million fund a “voluntary contribution” and a spokesman for the Cooper administration characterized the money as “negotiations” and a “mitigation fund.”
Calls of this fund being pay-to-play scenario or a slush fund came swiftly and a legislative oversight committee was set up specifically to look into the deal.
For the better part of 2018, the pipeline committee asked for information and documents from Governor Cooper. During that time, the legislature took action and in essence reappropriated the funds to support local school districts in the path of the proposed pipeline.
It wasn’t until the Friday before Christmas that any documentation was released by the Governor’s office. The documents released appeared to be composed of multiple records request from media outlets and the request from lawmakers.
A recent report by WBTV’s investigative reporter Nick Ochsner found that certain text messages included in the documents released by the Coope administration seem to show the governor delaying signing the fund MOU in order leverage a state’s solar industry deal.
Buried in the 19,000+ pages of documents dumped by @NC_Governor's office days before Christmas about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline or records that show Cooper held off signing the pipeline MOU until Duke Energy reached a deal to buy more solar power #ncpol https://t.co/wQ5lD4uH4Z
— Nick Ochsner (@NickOchsnerWBTV) January 14, 2019
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