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Perdue says feds investigating her campaign

RALEIGH — Gov. Beverly Perdue said Friday that federal authorities are now investigating her 2008 campaign for governor, the third election-related probe to involve North Carolina’s chief executive since she took office less than two years ago.

Perdue said in a statement issued through a campaign spokesman that she is proud of her record.

“As a citizen, a candidate for public office and an elected official of this state, I have tried my best to abide by all applicable laws, and my administration has been one of the most open in history,” Perdue said. She said it would be inappropriate to make any additional comments about the probe.

The investigation opens up another layer of scrutiny for prominent Democrats in the state. Federal authorities started investigating former Gov. Mike Easley shortly after he left office in early 2009, and a local prosecutor reviewing a separate case involving Easley said he hopes to soon decide if he’ll pursue criminal charges. Investigators, meanwhile, recently sent a fresh round of subpoenas in the case of former North Carolina senator and presidential candidate John Edwards.

Andrew Whalen, executive director of the North Carolina Democratic Party, questioned the timing of the Perdue announcement, coming just days before a crucial election. He noted that U.S. Attorney George Holding is a Republican appointee.

“The timing of these events would lead any reasonable person to have serious questions about this new investigation,” Whalen said.

A spokeswoman for Holding said she couldn’t comment. However, North Carolina’s State Bureau of Investigation also recently opened its own probe into Perdue after the district attorney in Wake County, a Democrat, said he had lingering questions about her campaign’s airplane flights.

North Carolina Republican Party chairman Tom Fetzer said in a statement that the party believed all along it would take a criminal investigation to get to the truth.

“We still stand by our assertions that Gov. Perdue and her campaign broke laws and attempted to cover up their actions with lies,” Fetzer said.

The State Board of Elections fined Perdue’s campaign $30,000 in August for failing to report in a timely fashion private flights going back to 2005. A majority of the board determined that no deliberate effort to break the law, a conclusion that angered Republicans.

Perdue issued the statement shortly after The News & Observer of Raleigh reported about the probe.

The governor and her staff have said for the past year that an internal review found the unreported flights and that the campaign voluntarily reported the potential problems to the elections board. But the board found that the campaign had information on 37 flights in mid-2007 but only reported 18 of them before Election Day of the following year. Perdue’s committee attorney couldn’t explain why the campaign information was withheld.

Perdue said earlier this month that she’s confident the state investigation won’t turn up intentional criminal wrongdoing. She said Friday she would continue focusing on her work.

“North Carolina, a state we all love, as we all know, is in a critical time in its existence,” she said in the statement. “I will continue to use all my time and energy to address and resolve the challenging issues facing our state.”

The federal investigation into Perdue’s predecessor, Easley, already led to a guilty plea from former aide Ruffin Poole.

Poole agreed to cooperate with investigators, and prosecutors put aside more than 50 criminal counts laid out in an indictment accusing him of helping move along state permits for coastal housing projects while receiving gifts and a sizable investment return on two of those subdivisions.

Easley’s state investigation came after the State Board of Elections fined the campaign committee $100,000 when it determined there was enough evidence to show the committee failed to report dozens of flights between 1999 and 2004.

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