Legislators have spent more than $59,000 on private investigators probing Gov. Roy Cooper’s handling of Atlantic Coast Pipeline approvals, prompting the governor to criticize the price tag.
Since last December, the investigators for the firm Eagle Intel Services LLC have been investigating a $58 million mitigation agreement negotiated between the Cooper administration and the utility companies developing the natural gas pipeline through Eastern North Carolina.
The Democratic governor has said the mitigation fund — intended to fund economic development and environmental projects along the route — was negotiated separately from pipeline permitting, but Republican lawmakers question whether there was inappropriate “pay-to-play activity.”
Invoices released to the NC Insider through a public records request show that Eagle Intel has billed the legislature monthly since February.
At a rate of $100 per “investigative hour,” the firm had logged 545 hours of investigative work by the end of July, as well as additional hours of “administrative work” billed at a lower hourly rate. Investigators also billed the legislature for mileage reimbursements for 3,197 miles traveled as part of the probe. The total cost from December 2018 through July 31 was $59,614.26; while the investigation has continued, the Insider’s records request was filed Aug. 19 and does not include subsequent months’ invoices.
Cooper spokesman Ford Porter blasted the spending in a brief emailed statement Monday. “Legislative Republicans have been caught lying to the courts, the public and even their own members so it shouldn’t be surprising that they are now wasting taxpayer dollars on a fake investigation,” he said.
But Pat Ryan, a spokesman for Senate leader Phil Berger, indicated that legislative leaders think the cost is reasonable. “Three decorated federal officers, including one who was named FBI Special Agent of the Year in 2017, have conducted a thorough and independent investigation for about the cost of a single day of legislative session,” he said in an email.
As of last week, leaders of the oversight committee leading the investigation said that the firm has “nearly concluded their witness interviews,” but they noted in a letter to Cooper that neither the governor nor his staff have agreed to speak with the investigators. Cooper’s chief of staff, Kristi Jones, said that the governor’s staff is willing to answer questions from the oversight committee in a public hearing.
That’s expected to happen at a meeting in early November, but Ryan indicated that the investigators’ findings won’t be announced at that time.
“The committee plans to hear only from the governor’s office because the independent investigators informed the chairs that they have spoken with nearly everyone relevant to the inquiry except the governor’s office,” Ryan said.
“The purpose of the hearing will just be to ask the questions that would’ve been asked had the governor’s office not refused to meet with the investigators. It will likely be no more exciting than a standard deposition. Once the hearing is complete, the investigators will finalize their report.”
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