New texts cast doubts on accusations of threats from Governor's office

Updated:

Loading
ATLANTA —

A series of texts between the Governor's Office and the ethics commission director do not appear to reveal she felt threatened.
 

Holly LaBerge claimed she was pressured to make ethics complaints against Gov. Nathan Deal go away.
 
Channel 2's Richard Elliot got the texts through an open records request.
 
The texts seem to show LaBerge joking with the governor's chief of staff and thanking him for writing her a recommendation. Elliot tried to speak with LaBerge outside her office last week, but she declined.
 
LaBerge’s attorney Lee Parks said she felt threatened by a series of July 17, 2012, texts and phone calls from Deal's chief of staff, Chris Riley, and his legal counsel Ryan Teague.
 
Parks said they pressured LaBerge to make the pending ethics complaints against Deal go away by threatening the commission's rule-making authority.
 
“You take away their rule making authority, you take away their independence. You take away all the things that you need to be effective,” Parks said.
 
In response to an open records request, LaBerge also provided the texts sent from later that same July day, which don't appear to reveal that she felt threatened at all.
 
In fact, they seem to show LaBerge joking with Riley about some misaddressed mail.
 
“So I received a piece of mail from the Governor's Office addressed to agency heads and it had my predecessor's name on it.  Is this a subliminal message that the Governor's Office wants her back?” the text read.
 
Riley later texted back, “You can't leave. You have common sense and that office you are in is like a huge vacuum, it sucks all the common sense out of people.”
 
He ended it with a smiley face emoticon.
 
Later, LaBerge texted, “Thank you for the kind words.”
 
A year later, their texts seem to show they remained on friendly terms.
 
Riley texted that his Leadership Georgia recommendation letter for LaBerge seemed to be successful.
 
“I just got a text from the review panel for Leadership Georgia.  You are in play. This is a good thing,” Riley texted.
 
Again, her response showed no hint that she felt at all threatened.
 
“Thank you. That's the best news I’ve had all week,” LaBerge responded.
 
Elliot spoke with LaBerge’s attorneys by phone Monday. They said LaBerge had to maintain friendly contact with the governor's office as part of her job.