Federal Prosecutors Won't Charge Former Oregon Governor, Fiancee

Jun 16, 2017
Originally published on June 17, 2017 3:04 pm

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Oregon announced Friday it won't bring criminal charges against former Gov. John Kitzhaber and his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, for alleged misuse of their positions.

Department of Justice spokesman Kevin Sonoff said in a statement that the investigation has "concluded and no federal criminal charges will be sought."

The DOJ did not immediately offer any more information about its investigation.

“It means they didn’t break federal law," said Paul Gronke, a political science professor at Reed College. "There was influence peddling, and it led to the governor's resignation and in some respects, they both have receded from public view."

Kitzhaber resigned in 2015 amid mounting pressure from fellow Democrats.

At the time, the governor and Hayes had been accused of using government resources to promote more than $200,000 in business dealings with Hayes' private consulting company.

Both Kitzhaber and Hayes have consistently denied any wrongdoing.

"I'm feeling both very happy and fully vindicated," Kitzhaber said Friday, during an interview with OPB's "All Things Considered."

Earlier this year, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum announced the state would not be pursuing any charges against the couple.

>>> Related: Read the Department of Justice's Statement

Despite their role in the resignation, none of Oregon's top Democrats issued statements Friday on the DOJ clearing Kitzhaber.

Through a spokesman, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declined to comment.

In 2015, Brown was among the chorus of Democrats who questioned the Kitzhaber's leadership amid the growing ethics scandal.

Shortly before Kitzhaber stepped down, Brown said she had a "bizarre" meeting with him. She said she was ready to take office in the event he resigned and publicly described Kitzhaber's behavior at the time as "strange."

House Speaker Tina Kotek also called for Kitzhaber to resign in 2015. Her staff said Friday she was unavailable to comment.

Senate President Peter Courtney issued a brief statement Friday on the investigation's final chapter.

“I’m glad to see this long investigation come to a close. Now, Governor Kitzhaber and his family can put this trying time behind them,” he said.

In a March interview with OPB’s Think Out Loud, Courtney said he has a long history with Kitzhaber as a lawmaker. He described the resignation as a “very bad time” in his life.

“I always questioned my role in it because I had to play a predominant role,” Courtney said. “I always wonder if I should have just stayed away from the whole thing.”

Republicans were eager to comment on news of Kitzhaber's legal vindication.

"It was the Brown-Kotek-Union axis of evil, not Republicans, who threw Kitzhaber into the lake of fire," Jonathan Lockwood, a spokesman for Oregon Senate Republicans, said in a statement.

"Kate Brown better watch out because Kitzhaber could want the rest of his term back," he added.

Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson — a Republican who ran against Kitzhaber in 2014 for the governor's office — criticized the outcome of the investigation.

"It is unfortunate that the recent US Supreme Court decision regarding influence peddling by former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife has set the bar so high that it is now nearly impossible to bring federal charges in political corruption cases," Richardson wrote.

Kitzhaber returned to public life in 2016, about a year after his resignation. The physician said he wanted to return because of the ongoing debate over health care and the Medicaid expansion in Oregon.

"I think one of the reasons I was elected four times as Oregon's governor is because of the strong stance I have taken on a number of issues—including health care," Kitzhaber wrote on his Facebook page March 12. "I remain particularly passionate about this issue because health is the first rung on the ladder of opportunity."

Hayes could not immediately be reached for comment on the DOJ's conclusion.

Though he was cleared of criminal wrongdoing, Gronke said Kitzhaber did not escape unharmed from the political saga.

“I still think the governor’s legacy is going to be tarnished by this," Gronke said. "Someone with as much experience as him should have realized the optics of this were very bad, even if you weren’t breaking the law.”

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