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Georgia's Deal caught up in ethics controversy

Even among troubled Republican governors, Gov. Nathan Deal's ethics issues risk doing real damage to his career.
Gov. Nathan Deal speaks at a news conference in the Capitol on Tuesday, July 5, 2011 in Atlanta.
Gov. Nathan Deal speaks at a news conference in the Capitol on Tuesday, July 5, 2011 in Atlanta.
It's been an unusually difficult year for Republican governors. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, for example, is caught up in several ongoing scandals. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's office has drawn the FBI's interest. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker may have been involved in a "criminal scheme" to bypass state election laws. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) is involved in a legal controversy of his own, while former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) is currently facing corruption charges.
This is hardly the stuff of RGA dream scenarios.
Regardless, it appears Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) is ready to join the club.

The head of the state ethics commission said she was threatened and pressured by Gov. Nathan Deal's office in 2012 to "make the complaints" against the governor "go away," according to a memo obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. While on vacation in July 2012, state ethics commission director Holly LaBerge says she received a call from Ryan Teague, Deal's chief counsel, and texts from chief of staff Chris Riley, according to the memo released by Attorney General Sam Olens' office in response to an Open Records Act request. LaBerge claims Teague said, "It was not in the agency's best interest for these cases to go to a hearing ... nor was it in their best political interest either."

Well then.
Allegations about Deal's ethical transgressions have been simmering for a long while and mostly involve questions stemming from the governor's 2010 campaign. The issues, including alleged misuse of campaign funds for legal expenses, certainly matter, but they never seemed like the kind of controversy that put Deal's career in real jeopardy.
But the story never really went away and it wasn't long before locals started wondering whether the alleged cover-up was worse than the alleged crime. Last year, the FBI even reportedly took an interest in the allegations. If there's evidence the governor's team applied not-so-subtle pressure on the state ethics commission, that raises the stakes yet again on the seriousness of the story.
Ed Kilgore, a Georgia native, explained yesterday that that "relatively minor campaign finance law violations" are now getting a closer look, with many wondering whether there was "something toxic in the records" that needed to be hidden, or whether "Team Deal is prone to Nixonian bully-boy tactics that are troubling in themselves."

The ethics commission went through multiple lawsuits in 2012 over claims by employees (including a former director) that they were being pressured, harassed and even fired for failing to "quietly" resolve the complaints against Deal. Now the current director, previously assumed to be Deal's catspaw in the brouhaha, has herself released a 2012 memo alleging highly inappropriate pressure and threats from the governor's office to make the ethics problems "go away," apparently fearing a second "purge" of the agency. She's seeking "whistleblower" protection and beginning to sing for the media.

Even among troubled Republican governors, Deal's issues risk doing real damage to his career.