ATLANTA - Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter called for a full investigation into allegations made by State Ethics Commission Director Holly LaBerge claming the governor's
office pressured her to make the ethics complaints against Gov. Nathan Deal's 2010 campaign go away.
"It's clear now that there is a pattern of intimidation and interference on the part of the
governor's office in this investigation into his 2010 campaign," said Carter, a state senator from Decatur. "It's clear there was a cover up."
Channel 2 Action News and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported Monday LaBerge's claims that Deal's Chief of Staff Chris Riley and legal counsel Ryan Teague put pressure on her just days before the Ethics Commission was scheduled to hear the complants.
Attorney Lee Parks told Channel 2’s Lori Geary LaBerge is requesting whistle-blower protections because she's coming forward to report potential criminal conduct.
Parks said “the state chose to protect the governor and not use their best defense,” referring to whistle-blower cases from former ethics commission employees.
He called a memo that Channel 2 first showed Monday “the smoking gun” that could have allowed the state to win against those former employees.
“The taxpayers paid out a whopping amount of money for cases that probably could have been won,” Parks said.
Those whistleblowers in essence claimed LaBerge was appointed to cut a “sweetheart deal” in cases involving Governor Deal's 2010 campaign.
Parks said the memo shows the exact opposite.
It was written by Holly LaBerge, which shows texts messages from Gov. Deal's Chief of Staff Chris Riley and Chief Counsel Ryan Teague questioning her about the complaints just days before they were to be heard before the full commission.
At the time of those texts, both Riley and Teague were on the state payroll, not the campaign payroll.
LaBerge said Teague threatened her during a phone call, saying that if Deal's ethics cases went to a full hearing that would not be in the agency's best interest and it could jeopardize the agency's powers.
Teague made an offer that there would be a $1,500 settlement and no admission of any violations. She responded she was surprised the threat of her agency's powers would be threatened in order to make the complaints go away.
“It finally puts to rest the accusations of the whistleblowers, which had been proven false, that Holly LaBerge, because she was appointed by Governor Deal, was cutting backroom deals with his staff to make sure these all went away for a song. She was doing just the opposite. The best defense of the litigation was the worst case for the governor,” Parks said.
Parks said he was amazed to find out the memo that LaBerge gave to the attorney general's office had never seen the light of day during the discovery phases of the whistleblower lawsuits.
Attorneys for two other ethics employees who settled their whistleblower cases with the state are now demanding answers from Attorney General Sam Olens after the release of the memo.