By BRUCE SCHREINER, Associated Press
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The Kentucky attorney general’s office says it’s not currently investigating the governor’s office, but says Gov. Andy Beshear misinterpreted a recent request for information — the latest twist of a growing political dispute.
Beshear said this week it was “news to us” that Attorney General Daniel Cameron does not have an active investigation on his desk. The Democratic governor argues that the Republican attorney general broke ethics rules by investigating his administration and later filing documents to run against him for governor.
The back and forth set an early tone for what is already a politically charged clash between the two rivals. A victory for either in next year’s election would further elevate their credentials as rising political stars on the national stage. Cameron is among several Republicans already in the gubernatorial race, with more GOP candidates expected to announce offers. Beshear is seeking a second term next year.
The dispute erupted in public a day after Cameron launched his gubernatorial campaign last week. The Kentucky Democratic Party filed a lawsuit alleging Cameron violated ethics laws, seeking an investigation by the state’s Executive Branch Ethics Commission.
Democratic state chairman Colmon Elridge said the investigation represented a “clear conflict of interest” between Cameron’s public duties and his political interests.
That same day, Beshear told reporters that the latest request for information from the attorney general’s office came the same day Cameron announced his intention to run for governor. He called it an “intentional and willful” violation on Cameron’s part.
But the attorney general’s office says the disclosure was a request for open records. He sought information related to a lawsuit filed by the governor challenging two laws enacted by the state’s Republican-led legislature, Cameron’s office said. Cameron’s office defends laws in court. One of the measures challenged by the governor would prohibit anyone except the attorney general from using state funds to challenge the constitutionality of a law. It was a direct response to several of Beshear’s trials as governor.
“The request was for records detailing the total amount the governor’s office spent on outside counsel — a fact relevant and material to the governor’s civil litigation,” Cameron spokeswoman Elizabeth Kuhn said. , this week in a press release.
Beshear questioned the use of an open records request to obtain the information.
“The right way to get trial-related documents is through the court process,” the governor said in an interview. “We have a process called discovery, which is how you request documents.”
He acknowledged that the request probably wouldn’t violate ethics rules if it wasn’t part of an investigation.
“None of this changes the fact that this attorney general has refused to abide by the rules that all previous attorneys general have followed,” the governor said. “It’s based on 20 years of very clear ethical opinions that say you can’t investigate a sitting governor and then run against them.”
The two offices exchanged pointed letters outlining their positions in the dispute.
A letter from Deputy Attorney General Victor Maddox and a separate statement from the AG’s office confirmed the existence of at least one prior investigation involving Beshear’s administration. Maddox’s May 17 letter said the matter was “subsequently closed.”
In an updated statement this week, Kuhn said, “Our office does not have an active investigation into the governor’s office.” She did not comment on the outcome of other investigations. She also didn’t say whether her statement applied to Beshear’s administration as a whole.
The governor said last week he believed the investigation was ongoing.
Beshear said a topic of investigation was the contract to remove a statue of Jefferson Davis from the Kentucky Capitol in 2020. The state finance cabinet handled the details to remove the statue of the Confederate president, a he said, adding that it was done “completely under the law.”
Other targets of investigation were venue selection and payments for providing child care to essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Democratic Party’s ethics complaint. Another topic concerned the unemployment insurance system, he added.
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