After two years in the deep freeze, the Oregon Department of Justice is now officially standing down in the influence-peddling investigation of former Gov. John Kitzhaber and Cylvia Hayes.
Michael Slauson, head of the department's criminal justice section, notified federal prosecutors last week that the state was officially ending its involvement "and will not be pursuing any further inquiry into the misconduct" by the former first couple.
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum opened an investigation into the Kitzhaber-Hayes matter on Feb. 6, 2015, just days before Kitzhaber resigned. She agreed to suspend it 21 days later at the request of federal investigators, who took the lead in the case.
Two years have since expired and U.S. Department of Justice prosecutors have yet to decide whether they have evidence to support any charges. State investigators handed over 4 million pages of documents to their federal counterparts. Aside from that, they've been sidelined ever since.
The state initially hoped it would have time to file charges of its own if it deemed them warranted after the feds concluded their case. State prosecutors figure they're out of time. Slauson wrote that the state's statute of limitations deadline on filing charges is fast approaching.
A protracted legal fight over evidence has delayed the federal investigation. Kitzhaber went to court to try to protect certain emails he said were personal and private, pushing the case all the way the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Kitzhaber, who has slowly re-emerged into public life in the last six months, insists he did no wrong.
The case boils down whether prosecutors can prove Kitzhaber or Hayes used their public positions to gain consulting contracts for Hayes. Proving that sort of quid pro quo is a challenge for any prosecutor, said Steve Ungar, a criminal defense lawyer practicing in Portland.
With significantly more resources, it's common for federal investigators and prosecutors to take the biggest, most complex cases. This certainly qualifies
Rosenblum said as much in a written statement. "As it turns out, had we taken this on ourselves, my office would have had to hire at least a small army of additional investigators and lawyers to conduct a thorough investigation."
-- Jeff Manning
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