August 3, 2012
The Attorney General announced his resignation several days ago stating he was resigning to "be with his family". Perhaps, in reality he was attempting to flee criminal charges to be filed against him? It will be interesting to know when the Attorney General and Governor Fitial learned that the criminal charges would be filed.
Buckingham was charged on Friday, his final day in office. However, in a KSPN interview, he clarified that he will technically be the AG for 30 more days. He is actually taking 30 days of leave to go to California on vacation, and after that time his resignation will be official. He was scheduled to leave the CNMI on Sunday to join his wife in San Francisco. According to the Saipan Tribune:
Superior Court's clerk of court Bernadita A. Sablan summoned Buckingham to appear in court on Monday at 9am.Any bets on whether he will appear or not?
“If you do not appear, an application may be made for the issuance of a warrant for your arrest,” Sablan said in a one-page penal summons.
The criminal charges are related to the 2010 election where AG Buckingham was found guilty of violating the Hatch Act and his involvement in the awarding of the ARRA contract to former Commerce Secretary Michael Ada. The Election-Gate posts can be read here. The ARRA posts can be read here.
Last year I filed a Hatch Act Complaint against AG Buckingham for illegally using his office to support candidate Joe Camacho who was running for the position of Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. I sent supporting documentation, which included the fact that the Office of the Attorney General received federal funding through grants.
In November 2011 I received a letter from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. The 3-page letter from Attorney Mariana Liverpool examines how the Office of Special Counsel determined whether or not AG Edward Buckingham violated the Hatch Act. It concludes that he indeed did violate the Hatch Act. Disappointingly, it also states that the matter will be closed without further action.
From the letter (emphasis added):
Based on the foregoing, the evidence suggests that Mr. Buckingham violated the Hatch Act by using the authority of his office to support a partisan political candidate. However, we are closing this matter without further action. We have advised Mr. Buckingham that should he again engage in Hatch Act prohibited activity while employed in a Hatch Act covered position, we would consider such activity to be a knowing and willful violation of the law that could result in his removal from his employment.I am certain that the AG knew he was violating the law when the scandal was exposed and he was initially questioned about the campaign activities by the press. Instead of backing down, he arrogantly went ahead with the event. I am not even an attorney and I knew that Buckingham had violated the Hatch Act. As the Attorney General of the CNMI he should know the law.
It is unfortunate that the Office of Special Counsel did not take action. Perhaps the federal attorneys assume that when the news is made public, the AG would resign or would be forced to resign. After all it is not acceptable that the Attorney General does not follow the law. Like the governor that he serves, he feels that he is above the law. This law-breaking AG is also selective in enforcing the law. He has ignored or dismissed violations committed by the governor and his allies, while going after those that may have exposed corruption or his own violations, such as the Public Auditor.
If the governor respected the law and the people of the CNMI, he would have fired AG Buckingham immediately. But, of course he did not take any action because he was involved also.
Not only did AG Buckingham violate the federal Hatch Act, but according to the Office of the Public Auditor he violated CNMI ethical and election laws.
The letter that I received from the Office of the Special Counsel, states that the AG heard from the Office of Special Counsel and was aware that they determined that he violated the Hatch Act. According to the letter, the attorney "advised Mr. Buckingham that should he again engage in Hatch Act prohibited activity while employed in a Hatch Act covered position, we would consider such activity to be a knowing and willful violation of the law that could result in his removal from his employment."
Yet, the Attorney General defiantly denied any wrong-doing, even when confronted with the report from the OPA, which likewise found that he violated the law. In fact when interviewed by the Saipan Tribune just yesterday AG Buckingham arrogantly claimed innocence. From the Saipan Tribune:
That's the governor's house. Now I could have canceled the dinner, okay? And someone said I should have done that. Fair enough, I respect that opinion. I made the decision out of respect to the governor, not to do that.Additionally, Buckingham defended the government's awarding the questionable $492,000 sole-source contract to Michael Ada's Integrated Professional Solutions.
I also was very clear that I never endorse anybody. I paid for everything personally and so people can have their opinions and I respect that. I also immediately afterward said, 'hey I will recuse myself from the election because I said there are some perceptions out there.' So I think I approached that one openly, fairly, honestly.
Buckingham also said that the Office of the Public Auditor has no power to file criminal charges. From the Saipan Tribune:
Media: What was the OAG's lawsuit against the public auditor's wife and the OAG's concerns about OPA's hiring of legal counsels?This is going to be interesting. . .
Buckingham: Sure. Now you have to go way back in history, three years ago. When I became AG, one of the things that I saw was the Office of the Public Auditor had requested twice of the Legislature, of the authority to conduct criminal prosecutions. The authority to conduct criminal prosecutions is the authority of the Office of the Attorney General. Public auditor said we wanted to have the opportunity to investigate and to prosecute. Now, has anybody seen Law and Order? In the beginning of it, they say, there are two different actors. The police investigate crimes, and the prosecutors prosecute, right? That's a good statement. The cops investigate, we prosecute. Now what the auditor was proposing is, we got to be a cop role, we want to investigate, and we want to be the prosecutors, too..Now the AG's Office does have the constitutional responsibility and statutory responsibility to prosecute. The Office of the Public Auditor did not and does not.
When I became the AG, I looked at this and what had happened was people who were hired and fired by the auditor were designated special assistant attorneys general. They didn't work for me. They were hired and fired by the auditor. But they were getting criminal cases and they were prosecuting. Now I looked at that and said, that means the auditor is prosecuting these cases. No. The Office of the Attorney General should prosecute the cases. So what I said to the auditor, in writing, was I am withdrawing this designation.