Editorial: U.S. Attorney Holding has work to finish
Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat, did the smart thing and the right thing when she recommended that U.S. Attorney George Holding, a Republican, remain in office until he wraps up an investigation of former Gov. Mike Easley.
While U.S. attorneys often change when a new presidential administration takes office, any attempt to replace Holding now, with two high-profile public figures under scrutiny (Easley and Sen. John Edwards), would invite charges that politics was taking priority over judicial independence. Leaving Holding in place doesn’t simply avoid the potential taint of political interference, however. He brings some important street-cred to the job of investigating high-ranking officials. As part of the team for former U.S. Attorney Frank Whitney, Holding successfully helped probe and prosecute high-profile corruption cases involving House Speaker Jim Black, former Ag Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps and U.S. Rep. Frank Ballance.
With those episodes of corruption in high places still lingering sourly in the public memory, it’s vitally important citizens trust that the Easley and Edwards cases will be investigated and, if necessary, prosecuted without fear or favoritism. Favoritism, after all, is at the heart of Easley’s problems, which include revelations that friends in high places may have improperly helped his gubernatorial campaigns (and post-election jaunts) by offering frequent-flier miles on their private planes. Favoritism is also front and center in parallel questions about Mary Easley’s lucrative job at N.C. State University ó questions that have already resulted in the resignations of the NCSU provost and trustees chairman.
Mary Easley, meanwhile, is resisting calls to voluntarily step down from her $170,000 per year position running a speakers series and a public safety center. She’s certainly within her rights to defend herself ó and her lucrative livelihood ó however much it may appear she benefitted handsomely from her husband’s connections. Like many another embattled public figure, she may believe that voluntarily resigning would be a tacit admission that she has done something wrong or doesn’t deserve the position that fell into her lap. It might be a different story if Mike Easley, once mentioned as a possible senatorial or even presidential candidate, still had ambitions of higher office. Even before the current controversies erupted, he’d denied harboring such goals. Safe to say, if the coals of such ambition still smoldered, they’re snuffed out now. He and his wife have nothing to lose by circling the wagons, digging in their heels and defending their reputations.
Not so, however, for the citizens of North Carolina. They have a lot to lose when political cronyism and favoritism are considered business as usual in the Tar Heel state. A thorough investigation into these issues is essential if citizens are to trust their government. President Obama should abide by Hagan’s request, which also has the support of her Republican colleague, Sen. Richard Burr, and allow Holding to complete his work, wherever it may lead.