Political Insider

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The 'scheduling problem' that led Nathan Deal's aides to contact ethics chief

The now-famous memo penned by former ethics head Holly LaBerge's offers an idea of what Gov. Nathan Deal's aides said to her ahead of a major hearing. But a lingering question is why  Chris Riley, the governor's chief of staff, and Ryan Teague, his executive counsel, reached out instead of a campaign attorney.

Deal told us in an interview that his staff needed to get details of an upcoming ethics hearing "so they could plan our schedule." It was logistical, he said, and non-threatening. His office sought to reinforce that message with a more detailed timeline of what led to the contact.

LaBerge said in the memo she received the texts on July 17, 2012 - days before the governor was headed to Switzerland for a trade mission. Why would Deal's aides have to plan his schedule if they already knew he was headed overseas?

Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said the texts were sent with that trip in mind. Said Robinson:

“The texts were sent on a Tuesday and the governor was leaving on the Sunday. If we had a settlement, Holly was insisting on a personal check from Gov. Deal that he would have to write. If we were going to do that, and he was overseas, we needed to figure that out. He also would have had to sign the order. That’s why we were under a time crunch. That's why we desperately needed the executive director to call our campaign attorneys back and work with them.”

As to why Riley, the governor's top aide, sent the text and not a lower-level aide associated with his campaign, Robinson added this:

“This scenario is exactly why there was contact. We had to know what was coming down because we would have had a scheduling problem.”


A tipster sent us this screen grab from Dale Russell's interview with LaBerge that indicates that the check the campaign sent to the ethics commission, for the $3,350 in technical violations, didn't need his hand-written signature. (We're not sure who signed the check, and the campaign didn't immediately see, but that signature looks different than his usual John Hancock, which we've included below.)

Update: Deal's flak, Brian Robinson, clarifies that the signature wasn't specifically required for the check, but for a consent agreement on the fees. The check, he said, could come up to 30 days later. The above check, he said, is a cashier's check from Deal's account with his wife Sandra.

Update Two: Now we are being told by Deal's office that the above check was torn up and never cashed.


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About the Author

Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.