If former Florida Department of Law Enforcement chief Gerald Bailey is telling the truth, that the governor’s minions tried to pressure him to falsely pin a possible crime on an Orange County clerk, then it is incumbent on the Legislature and the Cabinet to get to the bottom of this shocking allegation — no hemming and hawing, no partisan spin, no backing down from where the murky path leads.
Mr. Bailey has lobbed serious allegations at Gov. Scott, his administration and his campaign team, the first of which caught Mr. Scott in a lie. When Mr. Bailey left his position last month, the governor said that he had resigned. In truth, Mr. Bailey was unceremoniously fired, which Mr. Scott was forced to acknowledge last week.
Members of the Cabinet, responsible for hiring and firing the FDLE director, say that they had no idea that Mr. Bailey hadn’t resigned. Still, they appeared complacent until CFO Jeff Atwater broke with the governor on Tuesday, calling for the search for Mr. Bailey’s replacement to be reopened. The governor’s appointee, Rick Swearingen, had already been rubber-stamped by the Cabinet.
Mr. Bailey says that Mr. Scott’s staffers asked him time and again to cross the line and contribute to the governor’s re-election, participate in a discussion on the governor’s agenda, use state cars to ferry campaign workers and delete dubious emails. The former FDLE chief says that he refused. Soon after Election Day, a Scott staffer informed Mr. Bailey that he was out of a job. Swift — and troubling — retribution, it appears.
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But Mr. Bailey’s latest allegations are highly alarming. As reported by the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau, Mr. Bailey contends that the governor’s former chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, pressured him to claim that Colleen Reilly, the acting clerk of court in Orange County, was the target of an FDLE criminal inquiry after two prison inmates used forged papers from the clerk’s office to plot an escape from the Franklin Correctional Institution.
Mr. Bailey said, however, that there was no such inquiry under way. According to his allegations, Mr. Bailey was being asked to lie. According to Dan Gelber, a former Democratic state senator and federal prosecutor, this should trigger investigations at both the state and federal levels. Writing for the online opinion site, ContextFlorida, Mr. Gelber says that: “It’s a federal crime to conspire to falsely deprive someone of their liberty under color of law. It’s also a state crime to make false statements in criminal investigations, misuse an official position and act falsely under color of authority.”
This means that the Cabinet — remember, it is not the governor’s Cabinet, but a group of independently elected officials, including State Attorney General Pam Bondi — should conduct its own review of what happened. They voted to accept what the governor said was Mr. Bailey’s resignation. If he indeed kept them in the dark, they should be furious that he subverted the integrity of how they conduct the people’s business. It’s likely these elected officials have been too deferential to the governor, and not independent enough.
It’s imperative, too, that the Legislature conduct hearings — obviously FDLE cannot. Mr. Bailey must be called to give his account. Floridians should be sure that, as an ousted official, he is not seeking his own form of retribution.
Last, the U.S. Department of Justice should step in, quickly. If the political has turned into the criminal, it’s time for a criminal investigation. No elected official is above the law.