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Thursday, December 12, 2013

What does the FBI subpoena of ethics commission staffers mean for Deal?

A federal grand jury has subpoenaed five current and former state ethics commission officials to find out more about the alleged tampering of a probe into Gov. Nathan Deal.

The subpoenas follow claims from past Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission staffers that current Executive Director Holly LaBerge meddled with an investigation into Deal's 2010 gubernatorial campaign. Back in September, an AJC investigation revealed that she allegedly removed documents related to the state probe and met with Deal's staffers during the process.

Now LaBerge and others will head before a federal grand jury. Reporters Greg Bluestein and Aaron Gould Sheinin report:

Commission attorney Elisabeth Murray-Obertein told the AJC on Wednesday that she and executive secretary Holly LaBerge were served in the commission office. John Hair, a former ethics IT staffer, also said Wednesday he received a subpoena.

"I think federal involvement is long overdue," Hair said. "I'm glad they're pursuing the investigation."

Another person with knowledge of the case who was not authorized to speak for the record told the AJC that former commission director Stacey Kalberman and her top deputy, Sherilyn Streicker, also received subpoenas for documents related to the commission's investigation of Gov. Nathan Deal's 2010 campaign for governor.

Deal lawyer Randy Evans has continued to deny the governor's involvement in any of the allegations. Neither the U.S. attorney's office or the FBI, he said, had contacted his office regarding the federal grand jury.

Nevertheless, the feds are in search of more documents from the probe into Deal's alleged campaign finance violations. Deal was cleared of major charges in a July 2012 settlement where he agreed to pay $3,350 in "administrative fees."

"If documents have been removed, altered or destroyed then there should be an investigation," Evans told the Associated Press. "That's what we've said from the beginning."

Deal's opponents wasted little time attempting to connect the governor to the federal investigation. Democratic Party of Georgia Chairman DuBose Porter last night called the issue "troubling" and likened the current allegations to ones that led to Deal's resignation from Congress in 2010.

"Every Georgian should pay close attention so that history does not repeat itself in the ethics commission," Porter said in a statement.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate and State Sen. Jason Carter, D-Decatur, hasn't weighed in on the matter yet. But Dalton Mayor David Pennington, one of two Republicans opposing Deal, went on the offensive in a statement: "Nathan Deal's ethics problems are continued distractions and embarrassments to Republicans and all Georgia citizens. Added to his reckless spending, tax increases, and failed economic policies - it is clear that Republicans must have a different candidate at the top of the ticket."

The deadline to hand over documents to the federal grand jury is Jan. 14. That could make the start of the 2014 legislative session, which starts the same week, a particularly busy - and interesting - one for Deal and company. As the 2014 gubernatorial campaign heats up, it's likely that the feds' probe will remain a focal point of his opponents' attacks. The question is, will it matter?

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