AUGUSTA — The committee investigating allegations that Gov. Paul LePage overstepped his authority when he threatened to pull state funding for a private school that had offered a job to Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves learned Monday that its request to interview two members of LePage’s staff has been denied.

On Sept. 15, the Government Oversight Committee requested interviews with three administration officials: Aaron Chadbourne, one of LePage’s senior policy advisers; Cynthia Montgomery, the governor’s chief legal counsel; and acting Department of Education Commissioner Tom Desjardin.

In a letter sent to the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, the watchdog agency directed by the committee, Montgomery wrote that she and Chadbourne would not attend the meeting but would respond to written questions. Montgomery cited the civil lawsuit that Eves has brought against LePage for allegedly infringing on his First Amendment rights. In her letter, Montgomery also highlighted portions of the OPEGA report that reinforce the governor’s reasoning for intervening in Eves’ hiring. She also argued that the governor’s intervention would not have an adverse impact on Good Will-Hinckley.

“I highlight these facts to show that Mr. Chadbourne’s and my absence from the October 15th GOC meeting will likely have a minimal impact on the GOC’s ability to wrap up its inquiry,” she wrote.

It’s unclear if the administration’s response will satisfy the committee. The panel, which is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, has the power to subpoena witnesses. However, it must first vote to formally launch an investigation. Rep. Chuck Kruger, D-Thomaston, co-chairman of the oversight committee, said in a statement that the civil lawsuit isn’t an excuse not to answer questions.

“We understand that the governor faces a lawsuit as a private citizen, but what’s at stake here is much bigger than that: the integrity of our political system,” Kruger said. “Gov. LePage promised Maine its most transparent administration in history, but he keeps standing in the way of this investigation, preventing his taxpayer-funded staff from cooperating, as though the people of our state don’t deserve answers to the questions about the abuse of public office and taxpayer dollars.”

Kruger’s comment is a reference to the LePage administration’s original contention that the governor cannot be investigated.

Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, a member of the committee, said the administration’s response is “unacceptable.”

“The GOC, in a totally bipartisan effort, unanimously requested the investigation by OPEGA,” he said. “Now, in order to complete that investigation, it is imperative that we talk with those who actually know what happened. The public deserves nothing less.”

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, the co-chairman of the committee, said that Montgomery and Chadbourne are under no legal obligation to attend the meeting. However, he said, since neither is a party in the civil lawsuit, “it is disappointing that they are unwilling to help us get all the facts out into the light for everyone to see.”

“Transparency ought to be everyone’s goal,” Katz said.

Montgomery’s response does not appear to apply to Desjardin, who does not work in the governor’s office. Unlike LePage’s senior staff, Desjardin participated in OPEGA’s initial interviews.

He acknowledged in those interviews that he ordered Education Department finance staff to withhold funds for Good Will-Hinckley, the private school that withdrew its job offer to Eves, after LePage expressed opposition to hiring Eves during a June 9 “venting session” with senior staff and Cabinet members.

LePage has said he opposed Eves’ hiring because Good Will-Hinckley operates a charter school, the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, and Eves has a record of legislative opposition to charter schools.

Desjardin’s participation in the Oct. 15 meeting with the oversight committee is also in question, because he is believed to be recovering from a broken back.

The committee has also requested that Jack Moore, chairman of the Good Will-Hinckley board of directors, attend the Oct. 15 meeting.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

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