Wednesday was a tumultuous day for Republican gubernatorial opponents Nathan Deal and Karen Handel.
Nathan Deal’s campaign said Deal is not the target or subject of a federal investigation, following the revelation that Revenue Commissioner Bart Graham had received a subpoena to produce documents about a 2009 meeting with Deal about his auto salvage business.
Meanwhile, a political blogger filed an ethics complaint against Handel, alleging she illegally paid her gubernatorial campaign staff from her old secretary of state campaign fund. Handel’s lawyer, Robert Highsmith, said Wednesday the expenditures of $13,200 were legal and has asked the state Ethics Commission to dismiss the complaint.
Deal’s Athens Highway business, Gainesville Salvage Disposal, which he operated with business partner Ken Cronan, served until last fall as a site for state employees to inspect rebuilt vehicles twice a month — a contract it had with the state since shortly after the business opened in 1990.
Deal’s contract with the state came under fire last year after media reports surfaced that he intervened when Graham tried to privatize the state salvage inspection program.
Graham oversees the program, and he said at the time that privatization would make the program more competitive.
Deal raised questions about the program’s safety, if privatized, and scheduled three meetings with Graham. Deal’s congressional chief of staff, Chris Riley, arranged the meetings through Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle using his congressional e-mail account.
On Wednesday, The Atlanta Journal -Constitution obtained a copy of the federal subpoena issued to Graham, who was asked to appear before the grand jury on June 8. Graham declined to comment Wednesday, and it was not clear if he appeared before the grand jury on that date.
Deal’s campaign spokesman Brian Robinson said no one in the campaign was involved in any federal investigation.
“Neither Nathan, nor anyone who worked for him, nor Ken Cronan, is under federal subpoena,” Robinson said. “After we found out about this, we talked to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and they have assured us that Nathan nor anyone else is the target or the subject of a federal investigation. The timing of this is suspicious, but Nathan is not the subject or the target of a federal investigation. All of this has been put behind us.”
It is unclear what the U.S. Attorney’s Office is investigating.
The 2009 meeting between Deal and Graham became the focus of a congressional ethics probe. In March, before the probe was concluded, Deal announced he was leaving Congress to run for governor. The nonpartisan Office of Congressional Ethics later said Deal may have violated House ethics rules by using his position to lobby state officials on behalf of his auto salvage business. They recommended the House Committee on Standards investigate. Deal stepped down before the panel decided whether to take up the matter.
Deal faces Handel in an Aug. 10 runoff for the Republican party’s nomination for governor.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.