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  1. Opinion

Editorial: U.S. attorney should ask more questions about governor, FDLE

Finally someone with the power to subpoena witnesses has taken an interest in Gov. Rick Scott’s political interference at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Finally someone with the power to subpoena witnesses has taken an interest in Gov. Rick Scott’s political interference at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Published Mar. 18, 2015

It's about time. Finally someone with the power to subpoena witnesses has taken an interest in Gov. Rick Scott's political interference at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. U.S. Attorney Pamela Marsh's staff has interviewed former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey, and that should be the beginning of an investigation into the governor's manipulation of the state's top law enforcement agency rather than the end.

Bailey, who was abruptly ousted by Scott in December, confirmed this week to Steve Bousquet of the Times/Herald capital bureau that he met with members of Marsh's staff for more than an hour earlier this month. He declined further comment, but there are several questions that would be appropriate for the U.S. attorney to explore.

Among them:

• Did Scott's aides direct Bailey to name an Orange County court clerk as the target of a criminal investigation when she wasn't, and did they object when Bailey refused? If that happened, what was the governor's direct role? Bailey recounted that episode to Bousquet in January, and Scott has denied the allegation.

• Did Scott ask Bailey to "bring in for a landing" another investigation by a law enforcement agency in another state involving someone Scott wanted to appoint to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission? Bailey also described that incident to Bousquet in January, and the governor has denied that it happened.

• How far did Scott's re-election campaign go in exploiting the FDLE for political purposes? Bailey said the governor's campaign wanted help in writing a campaign platform and asked FDLE agents to drive a campaign worker in a state car. The FDLE refused the requests; Scott's office acknowledged it was a mistake to seek campaign help; and the campaign wrote a check to the state to cover transportation expenses.

The U.S. attorney would not be expected to explore whether Scott violated state law and the Florida Constitution by forcing Bailey out. Bailey has said he was told by the governor's general counsel it was being done with the "concurrence" of Cabinet members — Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. The FDLE commissioner reports to the governor and Cabinet, and reaching an agreement to remove Bailey even if accomplished through aides would have violated open meetings requirements. After Bondi and Leon State Attorney Willie Meggs refused to investigate, open government advocates and news organizations including the Tampa Bay Times filed a lawsuit against the governor and Cabinet.

All of these issues should have been investigated by the attorney general. Or the statewide prosecutor. Or the state attorney. Or a special prosecutor appointed by the governor. Or the Florida Legislature, which in other eras had no reluctance about calling governors and their top aides to explain themselves in public. They all have looked the other way, and the governor and Cabinet members have hired a small army of lawyers for the civil lawsuit.

That leaves the U.S. attorney, who at least had the gumption to ask Bailey some questions. That should lead to more questions about whether the governor and his top staffers were inartful in exercising the power of the state's highest office or something worse.