AUGUSTA — Maine’s attorney general and a Kennebec County district attorney won’t pursue a criminal investigation into Gov. Paul LePage’s actions that led a private school in Fairfield to withdraw its job offer to Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves.

Attorney General Janet Mills and Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney announced their decision Tuesday in a letter to three state lawmakers who had requested a criminal inquiry into whether the governor abused his authority. The decision isn’t surprising given that either Mills or Maloney could have initiated an investigation at any time since the controversy involving the governor’s threat to pull funding from Good Will-Hinckley surfaced in June.

Their determination that there isn’t enough evidence to support a criminal charge weakens any effort to impeach the governor. Historically, most governors who have been impeached faced a criminal charge, according to the Council of State Governments. Nationally, there have been 17 such impeachment proceedings and eight convictions, but no Maine governor has ever been convicted in an impeachment trial.

Independent Rep. Jeffery Evangelos of Friendship and Democratic Reps. Ben Chipman of Portland and Charlotte Warren of Hallowell have said they are considering bringing articles of impeachment in the House of Representatives. In early December, the trio asked Mills and Maloney to investigate whether LePage’s actions constituted an abuse of power, a criminal offense.

Mills concluded that it didn’t.

“My office has carefully reviewed all available information and all relevant provisions of the criminal code, including ‘official oppression,’ and concludes that there is there is no basis at this time for us to pursue a criminal investigation,” she said.

Under the criminal code, Mills wrote, “Conduct cannot be judged solely by its result. Even though conduct may be viewed as offensive or inappropriate, it will not rise to the level of criminal wrongdoing if it does not satisfy the specific elements that constitute a criminal offense.”

TRIO’S IMPEACHMENT EFFORT TO CONTINUE

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Evangelos, reached by phone Tuesday, said that despite Mills’ announcement, the impeachment effort will continue with a bill that is set to be introduced in January.

“This just makes our impeachment effort more inevitable,” Evangelos said. “Some legislators have said ‘Enough.’ (LePage) has crossed a line.”

Evangelos said that he, Chipman, Warren and Rep. Pinny Beebe-Center, D-Rockland, have retained Augusta attorney Walter McKee to research the legal basis for impeachment, and have concluded that they have a strong case. Evangelos believes there’s a group of 20 to 40 legislators who would strongly support impeachment, and that as the effort moves forward that number could grow.

However, the four legislators seeking impeachment likely would face difficult prospects, even though Democrats control the House. Democratic leadership has not committed to supporting impeachment.

Even if the House votes to impeach LePage, the trial would be held in the Republican-controlled Senate.

House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, said the governor’s actions were irresponsible, but he would not commit to supporting impeachment.

“From the get-go there was many of who felt this abuse of power – this trend of abuse of power – is unacceptable going forward,” he said. “Going forward, it’s really trying to figure out a way to condemn these actions and figure out a way of preventing them in the future.”

SPEAKER’S LAWSUIT PROCEEDS, MAY TAKE YEARS

Eves released a statement from David Webbert, an attorney who is representing him in a lawsuit against LePage.

“The decision of the attorney general comes as no surprise,” Webbert said. “The speaker will continue to focus on his federal civil rights lawsuit because it is the most effective way to hold Gov. LePage personally accountable for his reckless abuse of power and to set a legal precedent to protect Maine’s people from future such abuses by a governor.”

Republican House leader Kenneth Fredette of Newport said he was glad that Mills and Maloney responded quickly to the request for a criminal investigation, so lawmakers could put the issue behind them for the legislative session that begins in January.

The Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee investigated the controversy and concluded that LePage’s threat to pull $530,000 in state funding from Good Will-Hinckley led to the organization’s decision to terminate Eves’ contract as president of a charter school operated by Good Will-Hinckley, the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences.

The oversight committee and the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, the legislative watchdog agency overseen by the panel, were charged with fact-finding, but not with making a determination of wrongdoing.

Results from the office’s fact-finding inquiry are likely to figure in Eves’ lawsuit, which accuses LePage of violating his First Amendment rights and of oppression by intimidation. The court case is expected to last at least two years.