Gov. John Kitzhaber has asked Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to conduct a “full and independent factual review” of issues surrounding his office’s handling of Cylvia Hayes’ contracts.
The governor had refused calls over the past few months to initiate an outside review but changed course with an announcement Monday morning. An attorney general’s investigation of a sitting governor appears to be unprecedented in Oregon.
Rosenblum responded quickly Monday, saying her office had already opened an investigation. The AG’s spokeswoman said later Monday that the investigation was opened Friday.
State law allows the governor to ask the attorney general to investigate or prosecute a potential violation of law.
The governor did not use the word “investigate,” but asked Rosenblum to review “any and all questions or allegations as you see fit.” Questions remain whether Kitzhaber’s letter grants Rosenblum the power to act as a prosecutor on the case.
When asked to clarify that point, the governor’s spokeswoman, Amy Wojcicki, only repeated wording from Kitzhaber’s letter.
Rosenblum, a Democrat like the governor, has also changed direction on the controversy over the last week.
She told Willamette Week last Wednesday that she was reluctant to comment on the case since she represented the governor’s office.
But late the next day, Rosenblum issued a statement via email to The Oregonian/OregonLive:
“Recent allegations relating to Governor Kitzhaber and Ms. Hayes are very serious — and troubling,” she wrote. “My office is considering all of our legal options to ensure that we are best serving the state.”
The attorney general does represent the state’s executive branch, but the governor also has a staff attorney. Kitzhaber has also personally retained two lawyers from the high-powered Portland firm Ball Janik. The firm announced Monday that Hayes will now be represented by Whitney Boise, a prominent Portland criminal defense attorney.
In his letter to Rosenblum, Kitzhaber maintained that his office “acted appropriately when we intentionally sought to ensure a clear separation between Cylvia Hayes’ volunteer work as First Lady and her own paid professional work.” The letter was dated Monday, Feb. 9.
The governor wrote that he continues to believe that the statutory process established to address such issues through the Oregon Government Ethics Commission is appropriate. However, he wrote, members of the Oregon media continue to “rush to judgment.”
The governor wrote that the attorney general would have his and Hayes’ full cooperation, as well as any materials Rosenblum’s office deems necessary to complete the review.
“I deeply regret that this situation has become a distraction from the important work of our state,” he wrote, “and look forward to your review and its conclusions.”