Sam Olens on the hot seat over Holly LaBerge memo

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Looks like fallout from an ethics probe that, years later, has yet to touch bottom will be the theme of the day.

Late Tuesday, Attorney General Sam Olens issued this lengthy explanation of why a memo written by Holly LaBerge in July 2012, alleging a threat from Gov. Nathan Deal’s lawyer to hamstring the state ethics commission, never made it into the hands of attorneys for employees who say they were sacked for investigating the governor’s 2010 campaign.

“Our civil lawyers determined it was not responsive to the discovery request in the civil litigation.”

In other words, the whistleblowers’ attorneys didn’t ask the right question that might have prompted the memo’s release. However, Olens said he did advise LaBerge to turn it over when the feds asked for relevant documents.

Not everyone is buying into the attorney general's distinction. “If you gave it to the FBI, why wouldn’t you give it to the [Stacey] Kalberman case?” wondered Martha Zoller, the former GOP congressional candidate, this morning on WGAU (1340AM) in Athens.

Olens has a Democratic opponent this year – the lightly funded Greg Hecht, an attorney and former state senator. From his press release:

“Time and again Sam Olens has refused to act like the state’s chief law enforcement officer and investigate possible law breaking at the highest levels of state government. I want to be an attorney general who investigates and prosecutes corruption, not defend it and help cover it up by not investigating and withholding evidence.”

Then there was this stinging parallel from Lee Parks, attorney for Holly LaBerge – the state ethics commission’s current top staffer. From an interview with the AJC’s Nick Fouriezos and Lori Geary of Channel 2 Action News:

"If the president’s chief of staff reached out to a federal agency and said, ‘You need to stop investigating my president or we will shut you down,' that would probably be news.

"If that came out before President Obama’s re-election, he probably wouldn’t have been re-elected."

Fouriezos also followed Jason Carter, Deal’s general election opponent, to Calhoun this weekend, and spotted a line or two in the Democrat’s stump speech that will probably be honed to reflect this week’s happenings.

As he has done in the past, Carter made specific mention of former Dalton mayor David Pennington, one of two GOP primary challengers to Deal -- and the one who emphasized the ethics scandal:

“All of our Republican friends in northwest Georgia – don’t be afraid to go talk to them about what we’re doing, because they agree with us. My friend, who is the mayor of Dalton, who ran as a tea party candidate, when I called him the day after the [May 20] election, he said to me, ‘You know what I see when I travel this state? We are getting too poor to have a business climate that works.”


Seven days out from the end of the Republican race for U.S. Senate, Jack Kingston has landed the endorsement of tea partyer, former Republican presidential candidate, and U.S. House colleague Michele Bachmann:


And yet U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston declined to comment this week when the Washington Post asked him about the brewing movement among GOP lawmakers to impeach President Barack Obama.

But in a radio interview on the Aaron McCready Show two week ago, Kingston was a bit more circumspect. Here's the transcript:

Kingston: Not a day goes by when people don’t talk to us about impeachment. I don’t know what rises to that level yet, but I know that there’s a mounting frustration that a lot of people are getting to and I think Congress is going to start looking at it very seriously.

McCready: Well, if this lawsuit, and I said this in the first half of the show. I’m concerned about this lawsuit because, and first of all, I agree that the president needs to be held accountable. But with this lawsuit, by the time there’s any resolution in it, he’ll be out of office, so is this maybe the first step to issue articles of impeachment?

Kingston: You know, it could go in that direction if there was a big discussion. I mean, I think it’s possible, it keeps getting worse and worse. It could go in that direction.


Coming to a mailbox near you: The David Perdue-aligned CWA PAC is sending out $94,000 worth of mailers attacking Rep. Jack Kingston ahead of Tuesday’s Senate runoff. When you get yours, please do think of your humble Insiders and send a digital copy our way.


The U.S. House on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a bill to send $11 billion to the highway trust fund so it does not run out of money next month. Conservative groups opposed the bill for relying on budget gimmicks and extending a program some believe should not exist at all.

All of Georgia's Democrats voted for the bill, as well as the Republicans who live in Atlanta's trafficky sprawl: Tom Price of Roswell, Phil Gingrey of Marietta and Rob Woodall of Lawrenceville. Rep. Tom Graves of Ranger also was in favor, after getting an amendment into the bill saying that Congress should completely reform transportation funding next  year. (Graves has written a bill to do just that.)

Reps. Paul Broun of Athens, Doug Collins of Gainesville, Austin Scott of Tifton and Lynn Westmoreland of Coweta County voted no, while Jack Kingston of Savannah did not show. It is Senate campaign crunch time, after all.


Liberal magazine Mother Jones pokes a few holes in the warning that U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey offered up last week about disease-carrying border children. But here's the kicker: Gingrey, the magazine pointed out, is against mandatory vaccinations in the U.S.

Gingrey has long-standing ties to the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a far-right medical group that opposes all mandatory vaccines. The organization touts access to Gingrey as one of its membership perks. (The AAPS has, incidentally, taken the lead in pushing the idea that migrant children are disease carriers.) In 2007, he wrote an amendment that would allow parents to block their children from receiving HPV vaccines, which are designed to combat cervical cancer.

The Gingrey camp said he is not against vaccines, just against making them mandatory for public school enrollment. Here's what Gingrey had to say on the floor about that 2007 amendment:

"There are many reasons parents and students might object to mandatory HPV vaccination, from age-appropriateness to concerns over vaccine safety.  Whatever the reason, it is a discussion for parents and physicians, not legislators and bureaucrats.

"Excluding children from school for refusal to be vaccinated for a disease spread only by sexual intercourse is a serious, precedent-setting action that trespasses on the right of parents to make medical decisions for their children, as well as on the rights of the children to attend school."


On Tuesday, the Congressional Budget Office offered up yet another stark warning about a $17 trillion federal debt:

Between 2009 and 2012, the federal government recorded the largest budget deficits relative to the size of the economy since 1946, causing its debt to soar. The total amount of federal debt held by the public is now equivalent to about 74 percent of the economy’s annual output, or gross domestic product (GDP)—a higher percentage than at any point in U.S. history except a brief period around World War II and almost twice the percentage at the end of 2008.

If current laws remained generally unchanged in the future, federal debt held by the public would decline slightly relative to GDP over the next few years, CBO projects. After that, however, growing budget deficits would push debt back to and above its current high level. Twenty-five years from now, in 2039, federal debt held by the public would exceed 100 percent of GDP, CBO projects. Moreover, debt would be on an upward path relative to the size of the economy, a trend that could not be sustained indefinitely.

And yet U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss and his bipartisan push for a series of spending and tax loophole cuts to address the debt has proven to be the electrified third rail in the current Republican contest to replace him.

From Chambliss on Tuesday:

"Every day, we are confronted with yet another domestic or national security threat: illegal immigrants, mistreated veterans, cyber attacks and terrorist plots. What we must remember- and what this report shows- is if we don’t get our $17 trillion dollar debt under control, then we will not have the ability to fix crises like these in the future.

"[U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.)] and I laid out a solution with our Gang of Six plan – so did Bowles-Simpson and Domenici-Rivlin. The answer is there. We just need Washington to stop playing politics with our country’s future and act.”


Augusta businessman Rick Allen does not have the cash of Rep. John Barrow, D-Augusta, but he has started replenishing his campaign coffers after winning a five-way primary without a runoff.

Allen raised $323,591 in May and June, leaving himself with $225,567 on hand at the start of the month. He spent $278,635 in that span, most of it to get through the primary.

Allen also loaned his campaign $75,000 and converted another $90,000 of previous loans to a self-contribution. Campaign spokesman Dan McLagan points out that Allen is ahead of Lee Anderson's fundraising pace at this point in the 2012 cycle -- but Anderson still had to contend with an August runoff that completely depleted his bank account.

Barrow raised $465,814 from April through June, spent $108,587 and had $1,871,413 on hand. He's ahead of his 2012 pace, too -- by a half million dollars.


It's safe to say Gov. Nathan Deal hasn't ruled out legislation to legalize medical marijuana next year. He just wants to tread very carefully.

He told us last week he won't support any legislation that interferes with a pair of clinical trials that could soon be underway in Georgia. That stance infuriated some parents of children with debilitating seizures who hoped for more immediate relief and led to a quiet behind-the-scenes push from supporters.

On Tuesday, he made clear that he was not ruling out legislation that would decriminalize possession of cannabis oil - the heart of a proposal that state Rep. Allen Peake and other supporters are pushing.

Said Deal:

"If we can do something that is helpful legislatively that does not cause interference with that process, then certainly I'd be willing to entertain it. And certainly I know Representative Peake is working in good faith."

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.