Cooper staff called to testify on allegations of political interference
The chief of staff for Gov. Roy Cooper and his lead attorney are being called to testify before a legislative oversight committee next week over allegations that they attempted to intimidate the head of the North Carolina’s State Bureau of Investigation. The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, April 18.
In March, the director of the SBI, Bob Schurmeier, testified before the House Oversight and Reform Committee saying Cooper’s Chief of Staff, Kristi Jones, and General Counsel, Eric Fletcher, attempted to control the senior management of the SBI and threatened him with an extensive investigation at SBI expense if he did not resign. SBI General Counsel Angel Gray is also requested to testify after Schurmeier alleged that she was not serving in the intended capacity of her SBI job but instead was told by Cooper’s senior staff “not to forget she works for the governor.”
Chairs of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Rep. Jake Johnson, R-Polk, and Rep. Harry Warren, R-Rowan, sent the call to testify in letters to Jones, Fletcher, and Gray advising them that they had the right to bring an attorney to the hearing. The committee reserved the right to place them under oath before testifying.
Jones reportedly responded to Schurmeier’s allegations in a letter to the chairs of the committee confirming some parts of his testimony saying that Governor Cooper’s office had “serious concerns focused on such issues as a lack of racial diversity among sworn SBI agents, promotion decisions and practices and access to training, among others.”
“Political interference compromises the credibility of the state’s top law enforcement agency,” Rep. Johnson said in a press release announcing the hearing. “We look forward to hearing from the governor’s staff and others to bring light to the allegations of overreach.”
Shortly after the hearing with Schurmeier, N.C. House leaders unveiled their proposed $29.7 billion state budget. Among the policy measure in the House’s proposal is to make the State Bureau of Investigation an independent department outside of the Department of Public Safety or the Department of Justice. The House budget also transfers the State Crime Lab from under the DOJ to the SBI. Lawmakers argue that the independence would insulate the law enforcement agency from political pressures like those described by Schurmeier, who was already scheduled to leave the agency in June.
“It is important to hear from all parties when allegations of this nature are made,” said Warren. “Independence is integral to the work of the SBI, and the committee has a responsibility to examine testimony from all sides. On this, we have bipartisan agreement.”