No charges against Kitzhaber, Hayes
SALEM — Federal authorities announced Friday they will not seek criminal charges against former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber or his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, after a two-year investigation into allegations they used their positions for profit.
A statement by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Oregon indicated federal officials would not comment further on reasons for the decision.
"Today, the U.S. attorney concluded the investigation that began shortly after I was elected to a fourth term as Oregon's governor, coming to the same conclusion I started with over two years ago: there was nothing nothing to pursue," Kitzhaber wrote on his Facebook page Friday. "As I have said from the beginning, I did not resign because I was guilty of any wrongdoing but rather because the media frenzy around these questions kept me from being the effective leader I wanted and needed to be."
On Facebook, Hayes posted a statement that she was "relieved, but not surprised that after a detailed and thorough investigation, federal prosecutors concluded there was no reason to file any charges for criminal wrongdoing."
Kitzhaber and Hayes had been under investigation for more than two years after Willamette Week reported the First Lady may have used her position to win several consulting contracts.
State law prohibits public officials such as the First Lady from using their position or public resources for private benefit.
Willamette Week reported that Hayes gave input on shaping policies while accepting payments from private advocacy groups that wanted to influence those policies. She also used her title of First Lady when she appeared as a paid consultant, the alt-weekly newspaper reported.
Then the EO Media Group/Pamplin Media Group reported that the sums Hayes received were far greater than previously disclosed, including $118,000 from a fellowship set up by an advocacy group seeking to change state policy. In all, she received more than $200,000 from outside sources.
The scandal eventually prompted Kitzhaber's resignation in February 2015.
Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, who challenged Kitzhaber in 2014, responded Friday that the U.S. Attorney's decision "does not change the fact that the governor and Cylvia Hayes accepted money from those desiring to purchase influence."
"It is unfortunate that the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding influence peddling by former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife has set the bar so high that it is now nearly impossible to bring federal charges in political corruption cases," Richardson wrote in a statement. "It is clear that Oregon and the nation still have a long way to go to restore trust in government."
Former Republican Gov. Robert McDonnell and his wife accepted more than $175,000 in gifts from a Virginia businessman with political interests. They were found guilty of federal corruption charges and sentenced to prison, but won their appeal to the Supreme Court, which found in September that prosecutors' definition of "official act" was too broad.
Tung Yin, a Lewis & Clark Law School professor who teaches criminal law, has tracked the case closely. He called the outcome "not surprising."
Under the Supreme Court's ruling in the McDonnell corruption decision last year, "what it would take is pretty close to evidence of a direct quid pro quo," Yin said, adding that in the Kitzhaber case, "You didn't have any of that as far as we know."
Oregon Department of Justice officials announced in mid-February of this year that they had halted their investigation of the allegations because the federal investigation had taken longer than anticipated, and the statute of limitations was expiring.
"Our understanding was that the federal investigation would be concluded in sufficient time to allow our office to review findings from the investigation and determine whether state charges were warranted," Michael Slauson, chief counsel for the Oregon Department of Justice, wrote in a letter to Billy Williams, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon.
The Oregon Ethics Commission had initiated an investigation into misconduct by Kitzhaber and Hayes, but that investigation was stayed during the state and federal probes, said commission Chairman Dan Golden.
Ronald Bersin, executive director of the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, was unavailable for comment Friday afternoon.
Well-wishers posted Facebook messages on the former governor's public page Friday.
"Congratulations, John and Cylvia! The decision took far too long but happily this unfortunate chapter is finally closed. Best wishes for both of you in the future," wrote Chris Dearth, a former Kitzhaber staffer.
Both Hayes and Kitzhaber began to reemerge publicly over the past year.
The former governor spoke mostly on health care topics — a post March 12 touted his invitations to speak at "health care summits" across the West Coast. He was also critical of efforts in Congress to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
Kitzhaber in the post on his Facebook page, thanks his supporters for standing by him through the ordeal. He said he would continue to "help Oregon deal with the challenges we face in a way that moves us beyond the current division and polarization and brings us back together as a community."
Hayes recently updated her website, which is focused on public speaking, writing, and a coaching business tailored toward "resiliency."
In all, the state paid more than $170,000 in legal bills for 14 state employees who were considered potential witnesses in the federal probe.
A spokesman for Gov. Kate Brown, who succeeded Kitzhaber when he resigned in 2015, declined to comment Friday.