Governor’s Staff and SBI General Counsel Provide Few Answers

On Tuesday, May 2, House Oversight and Reform Committee members pursued allegations by State Bureau of Investigation Director Bob Schurmeier of overreach and strong-arming by Governor Roy Cooper’s office.

Director Schurmeier testified in March that the governor’s Chief of Staff Kristi Jones and General Counsel Eric Fletcher attempted to interfere in his personnel decisions and intimidate him to resign. He also testified that SBI General Counsel Angel Gray was unsure what responsibilities she had either to the Bureau or to the governor.

Jones, Fletcher, and Gray appeared before the Committee to address the allegations. But the hearing ended with more questions than answers. The three cited rules of professional conduct and other impediments that left them unable to discuss or refute any of the allegations. Despite this, they did mark areas of disagreement with Schurmeier’s testimony and made clear statements that they did not engage in anything that could be deemed inappropriate.

Gray stated that, contrary to Schurmeier’s testimony, she was not conflicted or confused about her role as general counsel of the SBI. “My job is to give advice to my client to make the best decision possible.”

Likewise, Jones, amidst repeated attempts to divert the Committee’s attention, also denied Schurmeier’s accusations of intimidation and interference. She said her relationship with the director was collaborative on hiring practices, training, recruitment, and retention.

(L-R) Governor Roy Cooper’s General Counsel Eric Fletcher and Chief of Staff Kristi Jones and SBI General Counsel Angel Gray testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee Tuesday, May 2. (Photo by David Cobb)

Governor Cooper nominated State Capitol Police Chief Roger “Chip” Hawley as SBI director when Schurmeier’s term ends. When questioned by Representatives, Fletcher and Jones seemed confused about the process as well as the provisions in place if the successor had not been confirmed and duly qualified.

Schurmeier testified to meetings with Jones and Fletcher in late 2022 where they asked him to resign and threatened him with an investigation due to discrimination complaints. Jones did not dispute that the meetings happened but that he mischaracterized those meetings and the nature of the look into SBI practices.

Co-Chair Jake Johnson brought to light email communications that did not include Schurmeier between Gray and governor’s staff on SBI matters dating back to 2019. Some of the emails included little more than a personal cell phone number and an invitation to continue communication that way. They suggested significantly more contact between Gray and the governor’s staff without Schurmeier’s knowledge than they had testified to earlier in the hearing.

After the hearing, Johnson said, “I think it is extremely troubling that the general counsel of an independent state agency, and the chief of staff of a sitting governor would be discussing personnel and who knows what other issues behind the back of the sitting SBI director. This testimony raises more questions than answers and certainly merits a follow up.”

Co-Chair Harry Warren called for further investigation in his closing statement and expressed his frustration afterward.

“Interference in personnel matters is much more fundamental than interference in any specific case at the SBI. It is extremely unfortunate that the governor’s office chose not to answer committee members’ pertinent questions. Hopefully, they will be more forthcoming as the committee continues to investigate Director Schurmeier’s allegations,” Warren said. “North Carolinians are entitled to the truth.”

The transcript from the hearing can found here.