Cabinet Backs Away From Gov. Scott Amid FDLE Shakeup

Jan 21, 2015

The Florida Cabinet (l-r) AG Pam Bondi, AC Adam Putnam, Gov. Rick Scott, CFO Jeff Atwater
Credit State of Florida / myflorida.com

Florida cabinet members continue to distance themselves from Governor Rick Scott over the removal of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner.

  Atwater, Bondi and Putnam to Revisit Bailey Ouster

A day after Governor Rick Scott denied his request to open an application process for the FDLE’s top job, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater is saying there is no division within the Cabinet. Scott and Atwater traded letters Tuesday regarding the appointment of Rick Swearingen as the new FDLE chief.

“The governor’s answer was, ‘Hey, bring forth some ideas at the next cabinet meeting for a better process', and he was open to the idea that we might well want to open up that position again,” Atwater said.

Atwater asked for a review of former commissioner Gerald Bailey’s departure, but Governor Scott flatly denied Atwater’s request. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Wednesday he does not support a search for a new FDLE Commissioner, but he does want to make changes to the cabinet.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Pam Bondi is promising to bring up Bailey's ouster at the next cabinet meeting.

"I believe the Governor, and every member of this Cabinet, share that view. But the recent process behind the appointment of a new FDLE Commissioner has raised serious questions, and those questions should be answered to ensure transparency, and the public’s right to know," Bondi said in a written statement.

"Since the last Cabinet meeting on January 13th, my office has been vigorously discussing how to do just that. At the next Cabinet meeting, on February 5th, we will discuss these issues, thoroughly, and in the sunshine."

The cabinet is made up of the Governor, Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer and Agriculture Commissioner. Bondi, Atwater and Putnam have previously said they were mislead about Bailey's resignation by the Governor's office. Bailey says he was forced out, and has accused the Governor's office of trying to get him to falsely name the former Clerk of Court in Orange County as the target in an investigation. The Governor's office has denied the claims, but they've been enough to concern state Republican and Democratic leaders.

Wednesday, an ethics watchdog group became the latest to call for an investigation into Bailey's claims.

Calls For Investigation Mount 

“There are a number of both federal and state law enforcement agencies that may have a role in this situation," Integrity Florida's Dan Krassner said. "The U.S. Department of Justice and FBI should look at any potential violations of federal law.”

In a letter sent Wednesday, Integrity Florida asked the FBI and Northern District of Florida U.S. Attorney to investigate accusations that Gov. Scott’s office tried to get Bailey to falsely name the former Orange County Clerk of Court as the subject of an investigation. The U.S. Attorney is Pamela Marsh, a cousin of current FDLE chief Rick Swearingen. 

The push for an investigation follows a similar call from top legislative democrats who say they want the Florida Ethics Commission to take up the issue.  Bailey says Scott’s staff also tried to get him to quash an investigation into a potential board appointee. The Governor’s office says the claims are untrue.

The U.S. Department of Justice is already monitoring the Scott administration over election law issues and when asked about a potential investigation into the FDLE ouster, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson suggested  the Justice Department would probably be the agency that could look into it.  Meanwhile, Governor is asking the cabinet to consider changing agency heads at the Departments of Revenue, Financial and Insurance Regulation.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli says the reports are "concerning".