Gov. Benigno R. Fitial said yesterday he thought about firing public auditor Michael Pai whom he accused of having a personal ax to grind with Attorney General Buckingham, now a subject of a bench warrant and a $50,000 cash bail for not appearing in court despite penal summons served on him by an FBI special agent.
But the governor is not commenting on issues involving Buckingham and Department of Public Safety officers who allegedly attempted to shield the AG from being served a summons at the airport on Saturday morning, an incident that has been drawing flak and calls for investigation from government officials and ordinary citizens.
“No comment,” the governor said, when asked by Saipan Tribune whether he asked that the AG be escorted by DPS police officers at the airport.
Pai, when asked for comment on the governor's statement yesterday, told Saipan Tribune that he is “referring it to OPA legal counsel, Mr. George Hasselback, as this is related to the case I have recused myself from.”
The public auditor also referred to Hasselback a similar request for comment on Sunday, after the governor issued a statement saying that his biggest regret in life is appointing Pai as public auditor.
The governor appointed both Pai and Buckingham, and could also fire them.
“That follows logic right?” Fitial said. Earlier on, he said, “I don't know whether I have that authority. I'll find out.”
When yesterday's chance interview again touched on Buckingham, Fitial said “No comment.”
Fitial only confirmed talking to Buckingham about the AG's decision to withdraw his resignation notice on Sunday. He also said Buckingham was in San Francisco, California when he last spoke to him.
The governor said he is happy that Buckingham withdrew his notice of resignation as AG, a decision that Fitial accepted.
The governor said he had a contingency plan had Buckingham decided not to withdraw his resignation on Sunday. He was referring to a possible replacement for Buckingham.
But he said Buckingham stays on as CNMI attorney general. He, however, doesn't have any idea yet when the AG will be back on Saipan.
While the governor was at the Commonwealth Election Commission in Susupe yesterday morning to file nomination petitions and documents related to the candidacies of Republican Party of the CNMI Association which he chairs, a few meters away-in the Superior Court-a judge was issuing a bench warrant for Buckingham's arrest for not showing up in court despite penal summons served shortly before his 6am flight departed for Narita, Japan on Saturday.
Superior Court associate judge David Wiseman also imposed a $50,000 cash bail for Buckingham. The Fitial administration is still mum as to whether CNMI taxpayers will pay for the $50,000 cash bail.
“I don't have anything to say on that. I don't know anything so,” Fitial said, when asked about the bench warrant and $50,000 cash bail.
OPA's criminal charges against Buckingham are in connection with the AG's alleged hosting of a delegate candidate's gathering at the governor's house in August 2010 and the award of a $400,000 sole-source ARRA management contract, among other things.
OPA amended yesterday the complaint against Buckingham for obstruction of justice and misconduct in public office.
The Fitial administration said OPA's charges against Buckingham stemmed from a gathering held at the governor's residence and a sole-source contract awarded to Integrated Professionals Solution, and both of these issues date back to 2010. He had said it is “increasingly suspicious that OPA could not come up with charges over a two-year period, but once Buckingham announced his resignation, charges were filed within two days.”