Is Cooper Violating State Law By Prohibiting State Employees’ Cooperation with Investigators of Pipeline Scandal?

RALEIGH – The administration of Gov. Roy Cooper may talk a good game when it comes to cooperating with legislative investigations into the Atlantic Coast Pipeline corruption scandal, but when it comes to ‘walking the walk’ their actions tell a different story.

Cooper has not only instructed his Secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Michael Regan to skip out on legislative hearings on the matter, he also forbade employees of DEQ from cooperating with special investigators the legislature hired to get to the bottom of the apparent corruption.

In statement, Cooper’s chief of staff made a lot of excuses for not letting the employees talk to investigators, including a ridiculous assertion that they were worried the employees would be subjected to illegal interrogation practices.

Despite their unreasonable objections, the fact that the Cooper administration is intimating employees into staying mum raises some legal questions of its own.

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From the Carolina Journal’s Don Carrington:

“[…] Raleigh attorney Michael C. Byrne, who has extensive experience representing state workers in employment matters, said Cooper’s refusal raises questions.

“I am unaware of any legal prohibition against investigators legally appointed by the General Assembly interviewing state employees about matters of public concern. I am likewise unaware of any legal authority permitting the executive branch to refuse to allow such legally appointed investigators to interview state employees about such matters,” said Byrne.

Byrne cited N.C. General Statute 126-84, commonly known as the Whistleblower Act.

Last week, Cooper’s chief of staff, Kristi Jones, asked legislative leaders to schedule a public committee hearing on the pipeline permitting process. She also called the probe a “political circus” and suggested investigators should be paid by the Republican Party rather than taxpayers.

The lawmakers said a hearing may be appropriate, but only after their investigation is complete. Legislators also found Cooper’s refusal to let employees cooperate with the investigation a troubling attempt to interfere with the General Assembly’s oversight of the executive branch. […]”

Does Gov. Cooper think his administration is above the accountability required by the N.C. Constitution? Is he breaking the law?

Find out more about the ongoing Cooper’s pipeline corruption scandal from the Carolina Journal here.

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