Kitzhaber canceled several planned public events on Wednesday, two days after the state’s attorney general launched a criminal investigation into the business activities of first lady Cylvia Hayes.
The Oregonian reported he nixed a planned appearance at a tree planting in a Portland suburb on Saturday.
Kitzhaber has struggled to answer questions about Hayes’s private work on state business, for which she was paid tens of thousands of dollars. Kitzhaber said last month that Hayes would no longer serve in a policy role in the final three years of his term.
As rumors swirled through Salem, Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown (D) abruptly left a meeting of the National Association of Secretaries of State in Washington, D.C., a group she chairs, to return to Oregon. Brown would take over if Kitzhaber resigns, according to the state constitution.
Kitzhaber’s attorney, Jim McDermott, told the Associated Press that Kitzhaber told him Wednesday morning he would not resign.
Kitzhaber earlier this week asked Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum (D) to conduct an independent investigation. In response, Rosenblum told Kitzhaber in a letter that she had already opened a criminal investigation.
The Oregon Government Ethics Commission has put its own investigation on hold now that a criminal investigation is pending. Attorneys for Kitzhaber and Hayes tried to end the ethics probe last month, arguing that Hayes did not have an official position in Oregon’s government.
E-mails released last week showed Hayes was involved in Oregon’s development of an alternative economic measure, the Genuine Progress Indicator, at the same time she was under contract by a national group that promotes the indicator. Hayes scheduled a meeting to discuss the GPI with top officials in the Department of Administrative Services at Mahonia Hall, Oregon’s governor’s mansion, three days after she sent an invoice to the group that was paying her.
That work is only the latest in a string of consulting jobs Hayes won thanks to connections through Kitzhaber, including an $118,000 contract with the Clean Economy Development Center, based in Washington, D.C., a group that advocates renewable energy programs. Hayes was paid $25,000 for five months of work with Rural Development Initiatives, a nonprofit that promotes rural jobs. Hayes was introduced to both groups by people who worked for Kitzhaber.
Hayes and Kitzhaber are engaged to be married. They weathered another storm shortly before Kitzhaber won reelection to a historic fourth term, when Hayes admitted she had accepted cash to marry an immigrant seeking to remain in the United States, and that she purchased land with a boyfriend with the intent of setting up an illegal marijuana-growing operation.
Willamette Week, an alternative newspaper in Oregon, also uncovered state e-mails that showed Hayes used her taxpayer-funded assistant to book flights and hotel rooms for her consulting business. Hayes routinely used Mahonia Hall for meetings with private clients, even though the state ethics office urged her not to use her first lady title during her work.