Opinion

Now we see why the SBI should never have been moved

This 2007 photo shows then-Mayor Pat McCrory, left, and Graeme Keith at the Good Fellows Club holiday lunch, which raises money for families in need. Keith and McCrory have been friends for years.
This 2007 photo shows then-Mayor Pat McCrory, left, and Graeme Keith at the Good Fellows Club holiday lunch, which raises money for families in need. Keith and McCrory have been friends for years. 2007 OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

Our counterparts at the (Raleigh) News & Observer offer a slightly different lens today with which to view the FBI’s investigation into Gov. Pat McCrory helping a friend and contributor extend his N.C. prison maintenance contracts.

In an editorial, the N&O notes that as part of the state’s 2014-15 budget, the State Bureau of Investigation was moved from under the Attorney General to the Department of Public Safety, which is under the governor’s control.

The N&O also notes that it’s the FBI, not the SBI, that’s conducting the investigation into McCrory brokering a meeting between Charlotte developer Graeme Keith and state public safety officials.

Why?

Says the N&O: “Likely it’s because a whistleblower or a district attorney did not want the possibility of political favoritism affecting contracts to be investigated by ‘an agency that is maybe governed by the very people who are being investigated.’ ”

That quote within a quote comes from N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, who told the N&O in 2014 that moving the SBI could inhibit investigations involving the governor or any executive branch department.

We said the same in a 2014 editorial. As it turns out, that might have been exactly what happened with whomever blew the whistle on the McCrory-Graeme-DPS meeting.

Of course, supporters of the SBI’s move can make a similar argument about politics and investigations, no? If the SBI had remained under the Attorney General, might Cooper be tempted to launch investigations that would make his 2016 gubernatorial opponent look bad?

For that matter, might any AG be tempted to further his political career with a timely SBI investigation or two?

The problem with those arguments: The SBI operated independently under the AG’s office for 70-plus years before its move. And in the case of the McCrory-Graeme-DPS meeting, Cooper quickly would’ve handed the probe off to the FBI to avoid the sure backlash of investigating his 2016 opponent.

But a bigger question remains: Would you rather risk the remote possibility of a politically motivated investigation – which can be aired and justified in the public square – or an investigation that never happens because someone doesn’t trust in the SBI’s independence?

In this McCrory case, the whistleblower(s) decided to go to the FBI instead of the agency that’s now under the governor. It’s not hard to imagine that same thing deterring others from even reaching for the whistle.

Peter St. Onge

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