by Max Brantley
David Koon reports from the news conference this afternoon by U.S. Attorney Chris Thyer of the Eastern District of Arkansas, who brought the charge against state Treasurer Martha Shoffner, and Western District U.S. Attorney Conner Eldridge, who buttressed the message that the feds are looking for corruption statewide.
Thyer said that the decision to extend immunity to the informant referred to as Confidential Human Source 1 (CHS1) in the criminal complaint against Shoffner was not an easy one, but it was made "out of necessity," due to how limited the alleged conspiracy between Shoffner and CHS1, an unnamed bond broker, was. "If both of those two people remain silent," he said, "we wouldn't be here today."
Asked by a reporter if CHS1 was Steele Stephens, Thyer said "no comment." He later cited Justice Department regulations that require him to only release information contained in public filings, but said the identities of those named in the criminal complaint will eventually come out incourt. He said the immunity extended to CHS1 will keep the informant from being prosecuted "by my office," but he added the immunity doesn't cover potential prosecution on state charges.
Thyer said that the timing of Shoffner's arrest on Saturday had to do with the fact that the Saturday meeting between CHS1 and Shoffner was the first time they had met to make a cash handoff since CHS1 was offered immunity. According to the criminal complaint, the meetings between Shoffner and CHS1 happened at intervals of up to six months. Shoffner wasn't indicted, he said, because a grand jury wasn't available Saturday to hear the evidence. Thyer said they decided to move forward without an indictment because a delay would have meant "we would have left $6,000 in government funds in her possession until the grand jury met." He said the case will be presented to a grand jury as soon as possible.
Asked whether Shoffner should resign, Thyer said he has a personal opinion on it, but declined to share it, saying it is "none of my business," and should be left up to Shoffner and the Arkansas legislature. She can be impeached at a special legislative session if she does not resign. A resignation would leave it to Gov. Mike Beebe to make an appointment.
Beebe called today for Shoffner to resign. He said he hadn't talked to her since she made a snarky remark about the governor being driven around by a "manservant" at a time when attention was focusing on use of state vehicles by statewide officeholders such as Shoffner. By law, the State Police provdes the governor with a security detail.
Shoffner's attorney, Chuck Banks, said he'd "probably" recommend that Shoffner should resign, given the interference with her work if she decides to proceed to trial. But he said that was her decision. He'll be meeting further with Shoffner tomorrow.
In addition to commenting about Shoffner, Thyer and officials from the FBI Little Rock field office, Pulaski County Sheriff's Department, Arkansas State Police, Little Rock Police Department and the U.S. Attorney for the Western District used the occasion of the press conference to announce the formation of the new ArkTrust Public Corruption Task Force. The multi-agency task force will accept and investigate confidential tips on public corruption at any level — local, state or federal — by any elected or appointed official in Arkansas. Tips can be submitted to the ArkTrust hotline at (501)221-8200 or visit tips.fbi.gov.
David Ramsey reports on the Mike Beebe news conference at which he said he had no immediate ideas about a replacement if she does leave office:
Ms. Shoffner should resign. I think she should resign immediately.
... Everybody’s presumed innocent and I understand that. But there’s a difference between a public official and alleged acts that are contained in that affidavit surrounding her official duties. It would be very hard in my opinion for that office to properly function under her continued leadership.
... Over the weekend I was thinking about potentials but there are no immediate names. Obviously you’d like somebody that has management skills…good reputation for integrity, preferably somebody that has knowledge of finance.
...I was shocked by how blatant the conduct was based on the allegations.
... There is a presumption of innocence. Common sense allows most folks to be able to read the affidavit is true, and to the extent that the affidavit is true—and I have no reason to believe it’s not—it’s pretty ironclad.
... [asked whether any current or former employees of Shoffner’s office approached Beebe or his office with problems.] No. What I knew is they had approached Legislative Audit and I know what was said…
... In terms of the FBI sting, they don’t tell state police, they don’t tell anybody.
... [asked whether it hurts democratic party] It hurts everybody. Jason Rapert said it right, it hurts all elected officials. Allegations like this aren’t restricted to one party or the other. Illegal activity unfortunately is known to both parties. Wherever it occurs, it needs to be dealt with and dealt with quickly.
Beebe's official statement:
"I think Martha Shoffner should resign, and I think she should resign immediately. While everyone is presumed innocent until legal proceedings are complete, it would be very hard for the Treasurer's Office to function properly under her continued leadership. When you are elected to any public office, your conduct is held to a higher level of expectations to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. These alleged actions are far worse than that." -