The vitriol-filled feud between Republican Governor Matt Bevin and Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear escalated yet again this week, with the two politicians exchanging more charges and countercharges related to an investigator in Beshear’s office.
The latest salvo followed disclosures by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting on Wednesday about Medicaid fraud investigator David Reed Wilbers, who was already under scrutiny by his superiors for allegedly lying in one criminal case. The KyCIR story said Wilbers had been accused of making false statements to grand juries in two additional cases. (Read “Attorney General’s Investigator Allegedly Lied In Several Cases“)
In response to the story, Bevin issued a statement to KyCIR asking why Beshear was allowing Wilbers “to knowingly lie under oath — not just once but at least three times — and choosing to do nothing about it.”
The statement added: “What are they hiding? They say they want transparency in government, so why the coverup in this instance?”
Bevin did not explain why, in light of the investigation, he thought the attorney general was guilty of inaction, or what he thought Beshear was covering up.
The governor’s statement also failed to note that the two other cases identified by KyCIR occurred during the tenure of Jack Conway, Beshear’s predecessor as attorney general.
Those cases apparently resulted in no discipline against Wilbers.
Bevin’s statement further asserted that “the victims of Wilbers’ lies” included “the innocent man who was wrongfully sent to prison.” The only male defendant in the three cases spent one weekend in jail.
Bevin also asked in his statement why Beshear is “intentionally employing and protecting so many liars and lawbreakers.” But the governor didn’t identify any, or describe their alleged lawlessness.
Asked to respond, Beshear’s office asserted that Bevin’s remarks were “misleading” and ignored requirements designed to protect employees from arbitrary, political actions.
“The office must follow all merit system laws and procedures,” said the statement from Crystal Staley, Beshear’s deputy communications director. “The office is still actively investigating the situation pursuant to the merit rules and requirements.”
Since taking office earlier this year, Bevin and Beshear have locked horns over issues including funding for state universities (Bevin tried to cut it, Beshear said he couldn’t) and appointments to board and commissions (Beshear contested some that Bevin tried to make).
On September 27, Bevin sent Beshear a text message urging the attorney general to “get your house in order.” The message added: “Your office is becoming an increasing embarrassment to the Commonwealth.”
That was a reference to a news report about accusations by defense attorneys that Wilbers lied to a grand jury in a Boyle County case. Following those allegations, the case was dismissed. After the matter was reported by The Advocate-Messenger newspaper in Danville, Beshear placed Wilbers on paid leave while an investigation ensued.
Beshear replied to Bevin’s text message last week by asserting that “instead of working with our office, the governor chose to spend his time sending an attacking text to the attorney general instead of governing the Commonwealth. This action is beneath the office of the governor and Kentuckians deserve better.”
Then the back-and-forth subsided briefly before resuming this week. And with more than three years left in Bevin’s and Beshear’s terms in office, it’s likely their strained relationship won’t be repaired anytime soon.
Here is the full statement from Bevin’s office:
“Why is Attorney General Andy Beshear allowing an investigator in his office, Reed Wilbers, to knowingly lie under oath — not just once but at least three times — and choosing to do nothing about it? When I sent him a text asking him to address this, he instead ran to a couple of his politically motivated friends in the press and tried to create a smoke screen about how this was simply a personal assault on him. How arrogant and manipulative. Only the resulting public media scrutiny by journalists of integrity forced him to even acknowledge this corruption in his office. Even then, however, the result of the “action” he took is a 60-day paid suspension for Wilbers. This is outrageous. It is also an insult to the people of Kentucky that AG Beshear’s Assistant Deputy Attorney General, Mitchel Denham, who oversees the investigators, has refused to comment.
“What are they hiding? They say they want transparency in government, so why the cover up in this instance? The public deserves the truth, especially the victims of Wilbers’ lies, including the innocent man who was wrongfully sent to prison. Why is the Attorney General’s office intentionally employing and protecting so many liars and lawbreakers? It is becoming an increasing embarrassment to Kentucky.”
Here is the full statement from Beshear’s office:
“The statement from Gov. Bevin is misleading and ignoring merit system laws. This situation involves a merit employee and in order to fully address the circumstances, the office must follow all merit system laws and procedures.
“When we became aware of questions being raised in the Boyle County case, the office took steps to relieve the employee of all lead investigative duties. We worked with defense counsel in the case to reach the best resolution for the Commonwealth. The defendant in the case admitted to probable cause and has paid back the money. In return, the charges were dismissed. The office is still actively investigating the situation pursuant to the merit rules and requirements.”
Reporter R.G. Dunlop can be reached at email@example.com or (502) 814.6533.