RALEIGH – For three years evidence has been bubbling up that Governor Roy Cooper and his senior staff organized a scheme to leverage personal approval of a massive trans-state pipeline project along the I-95 corridor of eastern North Carolina in exchange for a $58 million slush fund for political benefit and sweetheart deals for crony solar donors. For most of that time Democrats and their allies have demurred, while Cooper and his staff became uncooperative, but earlier this week that changed.
With the advent of the private investigative report sponsored by a legislative oversight committee in the General Assembly, the implications of improper and possibly illegal behavior by Cooper has become too much for even his typical allies on left-leaning editorial boards of North Carolina’s metro-newspapers. In a foreboding turn for the governor, The News & Observer/Charlotte Observer joint editorial boards are now calling for an official government investigation into Governor Cooper’s administration over the slush fund scheme. Credit the boards for refusing to pretend the emperor has clothes after this latest exposure.
From the News & Observer:
“[…] The report, based on research and interviews conducted by the firm Eagle Intel Services LLC, did not find the proverbial smoking gun, but it did find smoke — enough of it that an official investigation is needed to assess the legality of how the fund was established.
The need to investigate further was the report’s main conclusion: “[T]he information suggests that criminal violations may have occurred. An investigative agency with the authority to compel cooperation and the production of documents could potentially obtain additional information to identify violations of criminal statutes.” […]
There are indications that the governor’s staff pressed Duke Energy and other pipeline developers to put $57.8 million into a mitigation fund that the governor could use to his political benefit. There are also indications that the governor’s top policy adviser, Ken Eudy, may not have been forthright when he told a legislative committee that he did not ask Duke Energy to say that its agreement to pay into the fund was voluntary. […]
The report also describes how Cooper may have held up the permit to pressure Duke Energy to settle the so-called Nameplate Dispute — a complaint from solar power generators that Duke Energy wasn’t providing the level of access to its power lines required by state law. […]
In part, the situation reflects at least two missteps by Cooper and his administration. The first was the vague wording of how the mitigation fund would function. That left its purpose open to the Republicans’ darkest interpretation. Second, Cooper’s decision not to cooperate with the Republicans’ private investigators fed the impression that the fund deal could not bear scrutiny.
North Carolinians have a need and right to hear a conclusion from government investigators who, unlike the GOP’s private sleuths, can use subpoena power to compel testimony and access records.”
That’s pretty strong coming from a cohort usually willing to sympathetically defend Democrats. This call for an official investigation from the left-leaning editorial boards joins new calls Thursday from Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest for the FBI Public Corruption unit to investigate the governor for the multiple lies apparent from the investigation.
If Cooper was hoping to skate through this scandal to reelection by attacking Republicans as power hungry partisans making something of nothing, then the critical mass of damning evidence and spreading suspicion is officially blowing those hopes to smithereens. Just one year removed from the election and now people across party lines want him investigated for corruption, maybe by the FBI. That doesn’t sound like a good scenario for reelection.
More importantly, the expanding calls for official investigations may actually get North Carolinians the answers and accountability they deserve.