RALEIGH — The N.C. General Assembly’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline Subcommittee met on Nov. 8 to wrap up interviews with members of Gov. Roy Cooper’s staff while signaling more hearings may be necessary.
In a letter dated Oct. 21, the ACP co-chairs requested testimony from the governor and three high-level members of his staff.
Cooper’s senior adviser, Ken Eudy, and deputy chief of staff Julia White were both in attendance at the meeting, however the governor and his chief legal counsel, William McKinney, were both absent. Those absences could result in subpoenas being issued to compel testimony before the committee.
The testimony by Eudy and White lasted about an hour and did not reveal any new information. Eudy said the Cooper administration’s desire to announce the mitigation fund and a deal on solar energy at the same time as the pipeline permit was intended to console environmentalists who they believed would be upset that the pipeline permits were being allowed.
In 2018, there was some speculation about the powers of a legislative committee to issue subpoenas after a press release from the chairmen of the House Rules Committee and the Senate Rules Committee stated they had “statutory authority to compel testimony and obtain public and private records when necessary and when they are not voluntarily given.”
State statute grants legislative committees the ability to compel testimony “relevant to any bill, resolution or other matter properly before the committee.” Witnesses can be examined under oath, and failure to appear will be held in contempt.
A subpoena can only be issued by the chairman of a committee, but authorization from General Assembly leadership and a majority vote by the committee involved is required.
Until this recent meeting, the governor’s office had been unwilling to allow investigators from Eagle Intel Services to question staff. Cooper’s office relented after a back-and-forth exchange of letters with the ACP subcommittee co-chairs.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown (R-Onslow) and Rep. Dean Arp (R-Union) sent a letter on Oct. 11 to Cooper informing him the independently conducted interviews were almost complete. The letter stated that Cooper’s remaining staff had three options: speak directly with the investigators, testify before the ACP subcommittee voluntarily or be subpoenaed to testify.
Kristi Jones, Cooper’s chief of staff, sent a response which told the ACP co-chairs to “inform your hired Republican investigators that members of the Office of the Governor decline interviews.”
The General Assembly has used a subpoena in the recent past regarding the cabinet nominees who refused to show up for the confirmation process by the Senate that was instituted in 2017.
Cooper challenged the legal powers of the Senate to confirm cabinet members and began swearing in cabinet members before a three-judge panel issued a temporary restraining order until the case could be heard.
The three-judge panel, and later the North Carolina Court of Appeals, both ruled in favor of the General Assembly, and the Senate later issued a subpoena to Larry Hall to attend his confirmation hearing for Secretary of Military and Veterans Affairs. Hall complied with the subpoena and confirmation hearings for cabinet members proceeded.
Whether or not more subpoenas will come out of the General Assembly may be answered this week as the ACP Subcommittee and its parent Government Operations Committee are both slated to meet on Nov. 20, and it is anticipated that the Eagle Intel findings will be presented.