Under the Dome

Top NC House Republicans say they’ve heard nothing about a possible FBI probe

A Charlotte TV station reports that the FBI is investigating House Speaker Tim Moore, but House leaders say they’ve heard nothing about a possible probe.
A Charlotte TV station reports that the FBI is investigating House Speaker Tim Moore, but House leaders say they’ve heard nothing about a possible probe. cseward@newsobserver.com

Several leading Republican state legislators are questioning a Charlotte news report that said FBI agents plan to investigate House Speaker Tim Moore and other leaders.

Citing “multiple sources” it didn’t name, Charlotte TV station WBTV reported last week that “at least one House Republican has been contacted by the FBI to schedule a meeting next week to discuss accusations made against senior House leadership, including Speaker Tim Moore.”

The liberal group Progress NC Action highlighted the WBTV report in a news release Monday, but GOP House leaders say the TV story is the first they’ve heard of any FBI inquiry.

Moore said no one has contacted him about any investigations. “I think it’s just a political fight, and people are just saying stuff,” he said Monday.

House Rules Chairman David Lewis also said he hasn’t heard anything. “I certainly have no knowledge that there’s any merit in the story or not,” he said. “I just had lunch with about four different members (of the Republican House caucus), and the topic didn’t come up.”

House Majority Leader Mike Hager and Rep. Charles Jeter, the Republican conference chairman, also said they haven’t heard about any GOP legislators getting a call from the FBI.

The story prompted a gleeful response from some Democrats. “Good thing the prison population is down – more room for these guys!” the Person County Democratic Party tweeted.

While WBTV didn’t detail the accusations that it says the FBI is interested in, it noted recent news stories about campaign finance issues involving Lewis and Moore.

Moore’s campaign reported spending thousands of dollars in credit card expenses – but failed to follow state law that requires itemized details of what those expenses were. His campaign later filed updated reports with itemized expenses, and he said Monday that a State Board of Elections audit of the issue is now closed.

“The word I’ve got is that everything is fine with my campaign finances,” he said.

Lewis, meanwhile, faces criticism that he took legislative action last year to protect the state contract of a friend and campaign donor. That action is the subject of an ethics complaint from fellow Republican Rep. George Cleveland.

Both Moore and Lewis faced sharp public criticism recently from Rep. Justin Burr, an Albemarle Republican. Moore then called Burr “ineffective and irrelevant.”

Asked Monday whether the rift between leadership and some House Republicans might be behind the FBI report, Lewis said, “I’m sure that’s what it is.”

Burr did not return calls seeking comment.

In recent months, House leaders have been unusually vocal in criticizing Nick Ochsner, the WBTV reporter behind the FBI story. Jeter told House Republicans in November not to talk to Ochsner because he “may have an ax to grind” after expressing interest in applying for a job in Moore’s office. Ochsner says he never actually applied for the job.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter