Political Insider

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On the timing of a Sam Olens charter flight

Attorney General Sam Olens was in Savannah for meetings in May 2011 when he took a charter flight back to Atlanta for a meeting with Gov. Nathan Deal.

That wouldn't be all that noteworthy if not for the timing of the May 4, 2011 trip. It took place a day after the then-head of the ethics commission, Stacey Kalberman, presented commissioners with draft subpoenas seeking records related to complaints into his 2010 complaints.

A document obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution lists the reason for the flight, which cost about $1,295, as a "mandatory meeting called by Gov. Deal."

Olens' staff, when asked about the trip, indicated they saw this inquiry coming.  They sent my colleague Aaron Gould Sheinin a document showing that the charter flight had been planned for at least a week, and was not a last-minute summons.

Olens spokeswoman Lauren Kane said it was a "meeting with the U.S. Department of Defense relating to anti-terrorism" - and nothing to do with the ethics case.

That flight, Kane said, is the only flight Olens has ever taken on a state plane in more than three years in the job. The one-way hop helped him stick to a series of long-scheduled meetings from Brunswick to Savannah that day, she said.

Said Kane:

"When the DoD called a couple of weeks in advance and needed to set the meeting for the afternoon of May 4, the only way Sam could attend the meeting while still keeping his commitments was to take a state plane from Brunswick.  That flight was one-way, and Sam took a regular Delta flight back to Savannah after the meeting.”

Olens, who faces Democrat Greg Hecht in his re-election bid, is facing scrutiny over his role in the ethics probe and has issued a lengthy explanation seeking to explain his decisions in the case, including why an explosive memo written by Kalberman's successor in 2012 was never sent to Kalberman and other whistleblowers suing the state.

Hecht, meanwhile, claims Olens is simply trying to "protect" the governor, a charge Olens has denied. Look for the Democrat to try to keep ethics at the center of his campaign.

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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.