AG won’t consider state charges against Kitzhaber

Too much time has passed as federal probe continues

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and his fiancee Cylvia Hayes in 2014 (KOIN 6 News, file)
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and his fiancee Cylvia Hayes in 2014 (KOIN 6 News, file)

PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — After vowing to review potential influence-peddling by former Gov. John Kitzhaber when federal authorities are finished investigating, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum now won’t look at potential state charges after all.

Rosenblum stepped aside from investigating Kitzhaber and his partner Cylvia Hayes in late February 2015, citing the ongoing joint IRS-FBI investigation into revelations about the two. Hayes, an unofficial advisor to Kitzhaber who’d been granted significant powers within his office, had accepted more than $200,000 from outside interest groups to influence energy and environmental policies.

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At the time, Rosenblum vowed to review the findings of the federal probe to see if state charges would be possible.

But now, too much time has passed and the federal probe is still open, meaning the state’s ability to pursue a case will soon be restricted by statutory time limits on charging a case, according to a Feb. 17 letter sent to the state’s top federal prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Billy Williams

“I am writing to let you know that the Oregon Department of Justice will not be pursuing any further inquiry into misconduct by former-Governor John Kitzhaber and Cylvia Hayes,” wrote Michael Slauson, chief counsel of the Oregon Department of Justice’s criminal justice division.

If Willliams decided not to press charges before last week, it would have resulted in the entire investigation being shipped to Rosenblum’s office for review. Now, as a result of the decision by Rosenblum’s office, that won’t happen.

“In February 2015, we agreed to defer our investigation at the request of your office and the FBI. At that time, our understanding was that the federal investigation would be concluded in sufficient time to allow our office to review the findings from the investigation and determine whether state charges were warranted,” Slauson wrote. “However, for various reasons we have discussed, the federal investigation has continued longer than initially expected and the state’s ability to pursue criminal charges will soon be foreclosed due to the statute of limitations.”

Click here to read ODOJ letter

It’s unclear what charges Slauson had in mind when he talked about the case hitting time limits on filing charges. Determining that limit can be a complicated exercise. While for some charges the time limit is two years, other provisions in the law allow the period to be extended on some charges.

The timing of the state’s letter may not be accidental, as there’s been recent speculation that the federal investigation may be wrapped up soon.

Last year a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court set the evidentiary bar higher on public corruption cases. Legal observers said the ruling may make charges against Kitzhaber and Hayes less likely.