Special Committee on Impeachment members spent hours yesterday arguing about a report or a “mysterious document” that later turned out to be nonexistent as the eighth day of the impeachment hearings zeroed in again on the government's sole-source award of a $392,406 ARRA management contract to a just resigned Cabinet member in 2010.
At the same time, committee chair Rep. Joe Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) said yesterday afternoon he will be asking House Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan) for a one-week extension of up to Oct. 19 to complete its report and recommendation to the full House.
The committee is reviewing a resolution impeaching Gov. Benigno R. Fitial for 16 allegations of felony, corruption, and neglect of duty, including the no-bid ARRA management contract.
Vice speaker Felicidad Ogumoro (Cov-Saipan) repeatedly asked Office of the Public Auditor legal counsel George Hasselback about a 2010 conversation between Procurement and Supply director Herman Sablan and OPA investigator Juanette Atalig, and an OPA report on its investigation of the sole-source ARRA contract award.
Hasselback repeatedly told Ogumoro and the rest of the panel that he would have to check with the OPA investigator about that specific conversation and any document, if any, from that event.
He also pointed out that he was not with OPA at the time that conversation took place.
Hasselback said the Interior's Office of Inspector General conducted a joint investigation with OPA on the matter, and the OIG released a report. OPA did not release a report and Hasselback said there's no telling whether OPA will produce one.
“The evidence that Agent [David] House gathered is sufficient and admissible in CNMI Superior Court. The evidence gathered by Agent House is sufficient to establish beyond reasonable doubt that Mr. [Ed] Buckingham violated CNMI law. That is why I filed criminal charges against Mr. Buckingham,” Hasselback told the committee. He said the investigation on the former attorney general continues.
'Badgering the witness'
Still, Ogumoro and Rep. Fred Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), both Fitial allies, were not satisfied, with Fred Deleon Guerrero raising his voice when he told Hasselback that he “should know if your people go down to do things.”
Moments later, Rep. Frank Dela Cruz (R-Saipan) said that Fred Deleon Guerrero “is beginning to badger” the witness. Fred Deleon Guerrero said he's not.
“Sir, I want to ask quickly, are you insinuating that I'm not telling the truth today?” Hasselback asked Fred Deleon Guerrero, who said “no.”
Article 16 of the impeachment resolution makes no mention of an OPA report, but of an Interior's Office of Inspector General report that found evidence suggesting that the contract to Integrated Professional Solutions violated multiple CNMI ethics laws, among other things.
Still, Ogumoro said the committee has every right to see an OPA report that says what or how CNMI laws were violated.
Hasselback pointed to the Interior's OIG report.
After a few more exchanges, Joe Deleon Guerrero asked Ogumoro to take a deep breath and ask questions one at a time and allow the witness to answer the questions one at a time.
Rep. Tony Sablan (R-Saipan) said the panel has gone back and forth arguing about what he termed a “mysterious document” that Public Auditor Michael Pai early yesterday morning and later on Hasselback told the committee said they will confirm with their staff.
The Impeachment Committee chair, in addressing the matter of the mysterious document or report, said he too wishes that every document he has asked for be provided.
“I wish that those log sheets at the Department of Corrections, of missing torn pages, can be provided to this body. Unfortunately it has not. What can I do about that? I wish that the video footages at the Department of Corrections were made available to this body. They said the videos are inoperable. I'm not going to demand that it be made operable at the time the inmate was released from detention. There's nothing I can do. Despite all these limitations, we have to do and make.our best and most informed decision based on what we have,” Joe Deleon Guerrero said.
He was referring to other allegations in the impeachment resolution referring to the temporary release of a federal inmate in January 2010 to give the governor an early morning massage at his private residence.
Corrections officials said the prison video was inoperable and prison logbooks were missing so they could not provide these to the committee.
The impeachment hearings continue today and Monday. After that, the committee will work on their report and recommendation to the full House of Representatives. This is the first time in CNMI history that hearings related to a resolution impeaching the governor are being conducted.