The top aide to Attorney General Tom Horne has selected two attorneys who have donated to Horne to investigate whether Horne and others in the office have been conducting his reelection campaign on state time with state resources.
Eric Bistrow chose John Kaites, himself a former Republican candidate for attorney general, and David Derickson, a former judge, to head the internal probe to see whether Horne himself or any others named in a complaint by a former employee broke three specific laws. The inquiry also extends to Sarah Beattie, the former worker who filed the complaint against Horne in the first place.
That complaint already has resulted in the Citizens Clean Elections Commission launching its own probe into Beattie's allegations that she and others, including Horne, were conducting campaign activities within the Attorney General's Office on West Washington Street during normal business hours.
Officials at the Secretary of State's Office are reviewing the same allegations to see if they want their own probe.
Campaign finance records show Kaites helped host a fundraiser for Horne last year, and Derickson contributed $300 to Horne shortly after he first took office in 2010.
But Tom Ryan, Beattie's attorney, said the problem is deeper than that.
He said that the attorneys at their law firm, Ridenour, Hienton & Lewis, contributed a total of $6,000 to Horne. And that, he said, suggests the internal inquiry will be little more than a pre-determined whitewash.
“This is going to be nothing more than a Chris Christie-style 'Bridgegate' investigation,” Ryan said, referring to the internal inquiry by the New Jersey governor which cleared him of any responsibility in closing off lanes to the George Washington Bridge to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, adjacent to the bridge, who did not support his last campaign.
But Horne press aide Stephanie Grisham defended the decision to investigate and the choice of the two lead attorneys.
“Bistrow did it,” she said, insisting that Bistrow, who was in private practice with Horne prior to his election in 2010, “doesn't know who contributed to Tom.”
And she disputed Ryan's contention that the political support of Horne will taint the inquiry.
“I think just because someone contributed a few hundred dollars to a campaign or hosted something doesn't mean they're going to abandon their ethics or their professional standards.”
The authorization to Kaites and Derickson gives them permission to spend up to $50,000 without further approval.
Kaites and Derickson, in their own letter to Ryan, said they intend to hire an investigator and a specialist in information technology. That latter person could prove crucial in determining, through computer records and other metadata, exactly when and where certain campaign documents were produced.
Beattie has said she and others worked on various campaign materials during office hours.
Ryan said he and his client are not going to cooperate with the internal probe, and not only because he questions whether the outcome is predetermined.
He also pointed out that Horne, in responding to Beattie's complaint to the Clean Elections Commission and the Secretary of State's Office, called his client a liar, a thief, a former drug user and said she could not be trusted. Now, Ryan said, the two attorneys, on behalf of Horne's office, want her help.
“We will politely tell them to pound sand,” he said.
The authorization letter to the two lawyers specifically directs them to determine whether Horne or other staffers violated two specific sections of state law that deal with use of public funds for campaigning and volunteering for a campaign with the expectation of getting paid. It also tells the lawyers to review whether there were violations of another law which limits the political activities of state employees.
Grisham an internal probe is necessary even though there are other outside investigations of activities by Horne and staffers.
She said the Attorney General's Office always conducts an investigation when there are allegations of wrongdoing by a staffer. Grisham said the only difference here is that the subjects are top officials at the agency, which is why the outside inquiry.