Two Cabinet members on Thursday called for an outside investigation to learn the truth behind Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s forced ouster of the state’s top law enforcement official and claims of political interference by Scott’s office.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, both Republicans like Scott, said a third party could independently investigate allegations made by former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey.
Bailey told the Herald/Times he was pressured by Scott’s office or his campaign to doctor details of a criminal investigation, use state cars to ferry campaign workers, help write Scott’s campaign platform on law enforcement and intervene in a federal investigation of a possible Scott appointee.
“From what I’ve seen and read reported about the allegations that Mr. Bailey raised, I think they’re very serious and they should be looked into,” Atwater said. “I don’t know the appropriate jurisdictions, but someone should look into those, and everyone should be able to see all this. It should be all very transparent and exposed — all the questions answered.”
Putnam suggested that FDLE’s chief inspector general, Lourdes Howell-Thomas, could handle the case. He said he had “complete faith” in the impartiality of an agency where Bailey worked for three decades and led for eight years. Bailey says he was forced out Dec. 16 when Scott’s general counsel, Pete Antonacci, told him to “retire or resign.”
“There should be some follow-up to those allegations and whether they were incidents of illegal activity versus sloppy campaign-official type of interactions that occurred,” Putnam said.
As Atwater and Putnam separately spoke to reporters at an Enterprise Florida board meeting, Scott left earlier than anticipated through a back exit, with no questions asked or answered. Hours later, Scott’s press office issued two pages of questions and answers that called most of Bailey’s charges inaccurate or untrue.
One agency that has no interest in investigating Bailey’s claims is the Tallahassee-area state attorney’s office, headed by veteran prosecutor Willie Meggs, who plans to retire when his current term expires next year.
“The Cabinet members are big boys and girls,” Meggs said. “They all have investigators. Go investigate. If they don’t, shut up. It’s that simple.”
Meggs said that if Bailey believes someone violated the law, he should file a complaint with Meggs’ office.
He said one of his first questions would be why Bailey made the allegations recently and not when he observed the incidents taking place.
“I would be extremely disappointed if he came in to tell me about a crime he knew about when he was commissioner,” Meggs said.
He didn’t think that would happen, he added.
“I was told this morning that he’s moved on with his life,” Meggs said. “I heard he won’t be filing a report, that he just wants to move forward.”
Bailey told the Herald/Times that Scott’s former chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, ordered him to falsely name the Orange County court clerk as a target of a criminal probe of a prison escape but he refused.
Bailey said Scott’s office gave FDLE a $90,000 check from the Republican Party of Florida to cover costs of driving Scott campaign workers in state vehicles, a check FDLE refused to cash, and that Scott’s campaign asked Bailey to help write its platform on law enforcement issues.
The check, listed on the GOP’s campaign database, was later sent to the state general fund.
Bailey also said Scott personally asked him if he could “bring in for a landing” a federal criminal probe of a Scott supporter who was being considered for an appointment to a state board and who was the subject of two FDLE background checks at the request of Scott’s office.
The only allegation by Bailey that Scott’s office said was true is that Scott’s campaign tried to enlist Bailey, a high-level appointee expected to steer clear of partisan politics, to help write the campaign’s law enforcement platform. The request was made by Scott’s campaign to Bailey’s state email account, and he refused.
“FDLE did the right thing by ignoring a campaign staffer’s inappropriate request for assistance,” the Q&A said.
Scott’s office again denied that the campaign sent political communications to Bailey on his state email account.
But FDLE, responding to a Herald/Times public records request, provided scores of campaign and Republican Party emails sent to Bailey and former assistant commissioner Mark Zadra on their state email accounts between August and October of last year.
One email sent to Bailey and signed by Melissa Sellers, Scott’s campaign manager and now chief of staff, followed the “Fangate” episode at an Oct. 15 TV debate when Scott protested Democratic candidate Charlie Crist’s use of a portable fan. Another email sent to Bailey’s state account criticized Crist for accepting campaign donations from a strip club owner, and a third, from former state GOP executive director Juston Johnson, highlighted Scott’s TV ads.
Bailey received an email invitation and parking pass from the Republican Party to Scott’s inaugural celebration, held three weeks after he was forced to resign.
Scott’s office said anyone who received campaign emails had to have “opted in” by providing an email address. Bailey said he didn’t.
Scott and all three Cabinet members appear to agree on one point: that the Bailey controversy needs to be discussed fully at the next Cabinet meeting. But the site of the meeting is now a topic of debate.
The meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 5, at the state fairgrounds in Tampa in conjunction with the opening of the Florida State Fair, an annual Cabinet tradition.
Putnam called on Scott to move the meeting back to the state Capitol in Tallahassee to avoid the distractions of the fair — including an annual trip down the giant slide — but Scott has not responded to the request.
Last year’s Cabinet meeting at the fairgrounds was short on substance, and Putnam said “a more normal location and platform” is appropriate to discuss Bailey’s ouster and Cabinet members’ suggested changes in how future appointments are made.
Herald/Times staff writers Mary Ellen Klas and Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report.