A theory posed by Tom Crawford of the Georgia Report:
Gov. Nathan Deal has taken a page from the political playbook of Sonny Perdue by appointing the spouse of the top federal prosecutor for North Georgia to a seat on a state commission.
Deal’s office last week disclosed that the governor has reappointed J. Comer Yates, the husband of U.S. Attorney Sally Q. Yates, to a seat on the Georgia Commission on Hearing Impaired and Deaf Persons.
Because of that gubernatorial appointment of her spouse, Sally Yates, who has extensive experience prosecuting political corruption cases, will be required by Justice Department rules to recuse herself from any future investigations that her office may undertake involving Deal’s activities.
Deal has put himself in a similar position regarding potential federal investigations as his predecessor as governor, Perdue.
In August 2006, as Perdue was in the middle of his reelection campaign, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a series of articles that detailed Perdue’s real estate investments in Houston County and in Florida.
The biggest media bombshell was exploded by the AJC on Aug. 19, 2006, when it published an article by James Salzer that recounted how Perdue signed legislation in 2005 granting himself a $100,000 tax break on a property sale. The tax break for Perdue had been surreptitiously added as a committee amendment to a routine tax bill that was subsequently adopted by the General Assembly.
The media disclosures prompted calls by Democrats for federal investigations of Perdue’s real estate dealings and the midnight tax break, but no indictments were ever returned against Perdue and no ethics investigations were launched. Perdue was easily reelected to a second term as governor.
About six weeks after the Salzer article detailing Perdue’s secret tax break appeared in the AJC, Perdue appointed Atlanta lawyer Catherine M. O’Neil to a seat on the state’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. The O’Neil appointment was announced by the governor’s office on Sept. 28, 2006.
O’Neil, then as now, is the wife of David Nahmias, who was the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia in 2006. Nahmias’ office would have been responsible for carrying out federal investigations, if any had occurred, into Perdue’s real estate dealings.
When Nahmias stepped down as U.S. Attorney in 2009, he was promptly appointed to the Georgia Supreme Court by Perdue. Nahmias then ran for a full term on the Supreme Court in 2010.
During that 2010 campaign for a full term on the court, this reporter asked Nahmias in an interview whether he or his office had ever looked into Perdue’s real estate dealings back in 2006.
Nahmias’ answer: “The reality is, when this land deal came up, the governor had appointed my wife to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. Under DOJ policy, I was recused formally. All I know about anything that was done was in the media. We’re very careful not to say whether we’re investigating. I don’t even know if there was an investigation. I was walled off. I think it went to Sally Yates as the first assistant.”
Brian Robinson, a spokesman for Deal, said it was silly to suggest some ulterior motive in this case.
“Comer Yates was part of a group reappointment. The entire board was reappointed at once, at the recommendation of the executive director,” Robinson said. The spokesman said the governor’s office was unaware of internal U.S. Department of Justice policies on conflicts of interest.
“We did 33 appointments just last week. These are non-paying positions. Our investigations don’t go into what their spouses do,” he said. “It would have looked more odd to take him off.”
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider