Gov. John Kitzhaber this morning changed his position on whether a state-level investigation of allegations of corruption in his office was necessary.
Kitzhaber called upon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to begin an investigation immediately.
Rosenblum has been under increasing pressure to launch an investigation on her own. State law requires the attorney general to investigate reports of possible public corruption, but Rosenblum has failed to act. (Disclosure: Rosenblum is married to WW Publisher and co-owner Richard Meeker.)
Kitzhaber's request today may not be what it appears.
Since July, WW has been filing requests under Oregon's public records law for emails and other documents related to the private consulting contracts that first lady Cylvia Hayes obtained while representing the state and serving as a policy adviser to Kitzhaber. The governor's office stonewalled those requests for months and has continued to block production of records to WW and other media since October, when WW first reported on Hayes' contracts.
Kitzhaber's letter to Rosenblum today will allow his office to further delay producing public records. That's because exemptions in the public records law allow public bodies—such as the governor's office—to withhold records that may be involved in litigation, a criminal investigation or a personnel investigation until those proceedings are finished.
In other words, what may look like Kitzhaber seeking an investigation could in fact be his attempt to prevent the public from finding out what really happened in his office.
Here's the text of Kitzhaber's letter:
Dear Attorney General Rosenblum: As you know, I believe our office acted appropriately when we intentionally sought to ensure a clear separation between Cylvia Hayes' volunteer work as First Lady and her own paid professional work. We recognized the unique challenge involved with an independent professional woman assuming the largely undefined role of First Lady. However, the medias focus on questions and allegations concerning the work done by her and the contracts she obtained during my last term has progressively intensified.
No one wants these questions answered more than we do and we are both fully cooperating with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission. Nonetheless, it is increasingly clear that the statutory process established to review questions of this nature, to determine the facts and to arrive at conclusions concerning whether laws have been violated has in no way stemmed the rush to judgment currently underway in the Oregon media. Therefore, I am requesting that your office use its authority to undertake a full and independent factual review of any and all questions or allegations as you see fit. You will have my full
cooperation. The First Lady and I will make available to you any materials you deem necessary
to complete your work, as will my office. I deeply regret that this situation has become a distraction from the important work of our state and look forward to your review and its conclusions. Sincerely, John A. Kitzhaber, M.D.
Updated at 1:00 pm with Rosenblum's letter to Kitzhaber: