Republicans renewing calls for state auditor to take leave

OLYMPIA — Republican legislative leaders renewed calls Tuesday for Democratic Washington state Auditor Troy Kelley to take a leave of absence during a federal investigation that has led to his home being searched and his office turning over records.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler also said Kelley should be more transparent about events that led federal agencies to seek documents not only from his home and office, but also various records from other state agencies and the Legislature.

Kelley has not spoken publicly about the investigation, but he has issued two written statements. The latest on Monday said all his actions were “lawful and appropriate” and that he was puzzled by the interest of federal authorities in his financial activities at the business he owned before he was elected.

Schoesler encouraged Kelley to “come forward, show everything, be transparent, and get this over with.”

House Minority leader Dan Kristiansen said he was most concerned about the public perceptions about the head of an agency that is tasked with rooting out waste and fraud in government.

“You’ve got a state official who’s responsible for the accountability of not only individuals but state agencies,” he said. “Stepping aside for a little while might be appropriate.”

The state Republican Party last week called on Kelley to resign.

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee has said Kelley should be open with the public but has not called on him to resign or go on leave. Democratic leaders in the state House and Senate haven’t yet weighed in. Messages left Tuesday seeking comment were not immediately returned.

Inslee spokesman David Postman said he wouldn’t make a judgment on whether Kelley’s written statement went far enough on the openness sought by the governor.

“If the question is: Should that be satisfactory through the total duration of this investigation and anything that follows? No, of course not,” Postman said.

In a written statement, state Democratic Party spokesman Jamal Raad said the party shares the governor’s concerns over the investigation and agrees that Kelley should be open with all details he can share about the investigation.

Federal agents with the Department of Treasury searched Kelley’s house in Tacoma last week and served a grand jury subpoena on the auditor’s office seeking the personnel file, terms of employment and other records of a part-time employee at the agency who was a business associate of Kelley’s before he was elected.

Tax-fraud investigators with the Internal Revenue Service have sought information about other businesses owned by Kelley.

The FBI requested his expenses for the years he served as a state lawmaker, as well as personal-financial disclosure forms and the case file related to a campaign finance complaint against him.

Thomas Shapley, Kelley’s spokesman, suggested to reporters Monday that anyone speaking about the investigation without permission could run the risk of being charged with obstruction of justice.

However, federal rules related to the secrecy of grand jury proceedings only apply to government lawyers, grand jurors and court reporters — not potential targets or witnesses.

Federal courts sometimes impose protective orders barring suspects from releasing specific information related to an investigation, such as the identity of a vulnerable witness, said Mary Fan, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at the University of Washington Law School.

But any order barring the target of an investigation from talking generally about it before any charges are filed would be unusual, she said.

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