ICYMI: McCrory FBI Investigation shows flaws in putting SBI under McCrory control
- Last year, Gov. McCrory supported moving the State Bureau of Investigation from the Attorney General’s office to the Executive Branch
- At the time, critics said it was a conflict of interest to have the SBI report to the very people they would potentially have to investigate
- The governor’s current pay-to-play scandal has quickly proved the problem with eliminating checks on Executive Power
- The FBI is forced to investigate Governor McCrory because the governor removed the state’s ability to police itself
By The Editorial Board
Raleigh News & Observer
It didn’t take long for fears about moving the State Bureau of Investigation from under the attorney general to the Department of Public Safety in the executive branch to be realized.
When the move surfaced as part of the state Senate’s 2014-15 budget, Attorney General Roy Cooper, district attorneys and sheriffs said it would inhibit investigations involving a governor or any department in the executive branch.
“When a U.S. attorney or a prosecutor calls on the SBI, they want an independent agency that can help them find the truth,” Cooper said in a May 2014 interview with The News & Observer. “They do not want an agency that is maybe governed by the very people who are being investigated.”
A year after the move, that is exactly what is happening.
Questions are being raised about Gov. Pat McCrory’s role in extending prison maintenance contracts for his friend and contributor, Graeme Keith Sr. Department of Public Safety Secretary Frank Perry objected to the extensions, saying the private contracts at three prisons did not save money and posed a security risk. He ultimately approved the extensions in compliance with a “marching order” from the governor’s office.
The objections of Perry and other DPS staff are documented in a memo and several text messages. It appears that someone took those concerns to the Federal Bureau of Investigations. The FBI has interviewed several people involved in the matter.
Why the FBI instead of the SBI? Likely it’s because a whistleblower or a district attorney did not want the possibility of political favoritism affecting contracts to be investigated by “an agency that is maybe governed by the very people who are being investigated.”
In this case, Perry could be a witness and McCrory could be a target. How can the public have confidence that an SBI head appointed by the governor will aggressively pursue a case involving the executive branch?
Republican legislators said the move would increase efficiency and create synergy between law enforcement groups working within the same department. But the real driving force was a desire to undercut the power of Cooper, a Democrat, who is running for governor.
That political end was achieved, but the public was ill-served. The SBI had functioned effectively and independently under the attorney general since 1939. Despite Cooper’s party affiliation, the SBI pursued cases against top Democrats.
Republican lawmakers said the SBI would be insulated in its new location because its director is appointed by the governor for eight years and can’t be fired by him. That thin assurance hardly compensates for the SBI’s lost appearance of independence.