Multnomah County commissioners say the start of an Oregon Department of Justice criminal investigation of County Chair Jeff Cogen means they will no longer talk to the media about evidence of his improper use of his office regarding his nearly two-year affair with a county employee.
The Oregon Department of Justice on Wednesday asked Multnomah County to stop responding to public-records requests regarding Cogen and county employee Sonia Manhas, claiming to do so may interfere with state Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum's criminal investigation into whether or not Cogen abused his public office.
The DOJ began interviewing commissioners this week—and commissioners say investigators asked them not to talk to the press.
"The DOJ investigation has really shut down my ability to talk to you about this," says Commissioner Judy Shiprack. "Right now, the DOJ investigation is the only game in town."
Commissioner Deborah Kafoury confirmed that while she's not legally barred from commenting on Cogen, investigators asked her not to comment to media.
"They said it's better for the investigation if we don't," Kafoury says. "It could infringe on their ability to conduct an investigation."
Commissioner Loretta Smith says she also will cease discussing Cogen's use of county resources during his affair with Sonia Manhas. But she did say Cogen's doubling the funding for Manhas' office was not an unusual move.
"I really don't want to answer because it's a DOJ investigation," Smith says. "But it's a very simple answer. It was not irregular."
Commissioner Diane McKeel's office said she also declined comment.
UPDATE, 4:45 pm: Oregon DOJ spokesman Jeff Manning confirms an investigator suggested commissioners cease public comment.
"There has been no formal request for radio silence with talking to the press," Manning says. "But the investigator did say, 'I can't tell you what to do when it comes to dealing with the press, but any sort of discussion can impede the investigation.'"