The party released documents accusing Harnett of "apparent unethical and potentially illegal behavior," including trying to hack a party website to divert party money into his personal account. There's now a petition circulating within the party to get him out of the job.
Harnett has denied all the accusations against him, at one point indicating the charges are racially motivated. (Harnett is the state party's first black chairman.) He's also indicated this stems from ongoing tension between his more conservative faction and the party's more establishment members.
There's a lot of finger-pointing going on right now among Republicans in North Carolina, but it's rare in politics that we get to see such a public airing of dirty laundry, so it's worth diving into. Here's a quick rundown of what you need to know about the drama:
North Carolina's Republican Party is not a fan of its leader
Sounds obvious, right? But according to Jim Morrill with the Charlotte Observer, this is the latest episode in an escalating feud between Harnett and the party he heads.
Harnett, a former campaign manager and businessman, was a largely unknown entity to North Carolina Republicans when tea party activists helped elect him to the top spot in June. He beat the establishment candidate who had the support of the state's governor, the statehouse leaders and at least one of its U.S. senators.
But even before Harnett's election to the top job, there was tension brewing between him and some of the party's top officials. Earlier that year, a party committee headed by Harnett considered issuing a vote of "no confidence" for the state GOP executive director, Dallas Woodhouse. (Executive director is the party's top staffer, while the chairman is its top elected official. Also, Woodhouse is the brother of well-known D.C. Democratic communicator Brad Woodhouse.)
Then, the Raleigh News & Observer's Lynn Bonner reported Harnett got testy with Dallas Woodhouse this month when his party email account was cut off -- apparently to address a "security issue." The angry email Harnett fired off to his colleague when he couldn't log in gives us some hint of how emotionally charged things are within factions of the party right now. From Bonner:
“I mean seriously, is this some form of ritual or hazing you would put the first black chairman of the NCGOP State Party through?” Harnett wrote to Woodhouse, using a private email account. “Or is it because I am not white enough for you? You keep pushing the limits. I guess time will only tell what your real plot and schemes are all about against me.”
The allegations against Harnett
The accusations revolve around the party's annual convention in May, where the party will elect its leaders and delegates to the national Republican convention. Harnett said he wanted to lower the price of admission so more people could come; other party leaders thought that was a bad idea.
After that debate, party leaders said they suspected Harnett tried to replace their website with his own site advertising reduced fees for the convention. Harnett called those accusations a "witch hunt."
"Recent accusations of me hacking into the NC GOP website are false and ridiculous," he said in a Facebook post days before the vote.
But the party didn't buy it. In late March, they approved a vote of "no confidence" for Harnett and censured him for trying to circumvent their wishes.
Here's where things get a whole lot more dramatic: In the press release they sent Tuesday, party leaders say they now have proof that not only did Harnett try to crash their website, but that he tried to divert party funds into his own account. They cite sworn testimony from a community college computer science professor, Ken Robol, who said Harnett asked him to replace the party's convention website with a new one.
They say Harnett also used his party email to set up a separate Eventbrite page -- the same system the party uses to sell tickets to the convention. That led them to believe Harnett was trying to go around their system to sell convention tickets and start his own. "It was entirely Chairman Harnett’s own initiative to ask Dr. [Ken] Robol to crash the party website and set up a competing website to divert funds away from the party," said Thomas Stark, the general counsel for the state party, in the press release.
Harnett did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Where things go from here
It sounds like North Carolina's GOP leaders are intent on getting Harnett out of the top job. They've shut down his email account and banned him from accessing their websites and from going into party headquarters.
The final showdown could happen April 30, when party leaders are trying to set up a meeting to oust him.
In an interview Monday with WRAL News, Harnett seemed to strike a more conciliatory tone, focusing on the job the party has to do to keep its majority in the state House and Senate this year, along with keeping the governor's mansion and one of its senators in office this November.
"The relationships are very dynamic, and everyone has their perspective as to what is right and what is wrong," Harnett said. "But the key for the NCGOP at this point in time is to focus in on doing the right things."
Unfortunately for Harnett, powerful people in North Carolina's Republican Party now think getting him out is the right thing to do.