Repeatedly saying that the impeachment proceedings are a “waste of time,” Department of Public Safety deputy commissioner Ambrosio Ogumoro stonewalled the Special Committee on Impeachment yesterday by invoking his constitutional right to remain silent on questions linking Gov. Benigno R. Fitial to the use of armed law enforcers to prevent former attorney general Edward Buckingham from being served a penal summons shortly before leaving Saipan in August.
Ogumoro invoked his Fifth Amendment right to questions whose answers have already been confirmed by three or four other witnesses since two weeks ago.
These include his orders to police officers on Aug. 3 to stop assisting Office of the Public Auditor investigators from serving a penal summons on Buckingham, and his threat to have these OPA investigators arrested if they continue to do so.
“Were you asked or instructed to prevent the service of a penal summons or the service of a document by OPA to Mr. Ed Buckingham? And if yes, by whom?” asked Impeachment Committee chair Joe Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan).
Ogumoro's response was, “Fifth Amendment.”
“Mr. Ogumoro, did the governor instruct you to prevent the service of OPA's document?” asked Deleon Guerrero, to which Ogumoro again invoked his Fifth Amendment right.
He was also asked, “Did Mr. Buckingham instruct you or ask you to prevent the service of a penal summons by OPA or their staff?
With his private counsel Douglas Cushnie by his side in the House chamber yesterday, Ogumoro also invoked his Fifth Amendment right on questions that were meant to clarify DPS policies or personnel rules, such as the person from whom the governor's security aide/driver, Capt. Jermaine Nekaifes, was getting his instructions from.
Ogumoro is the last witness to testify before the committee that is reviewing a historic resolution to impeach the governor for 16 allegations of felony, corruption, and neglect of duty.
Deleon Guerrero told Saipan Tribune yesterday that the committee may start voting on the remaining 13 articles of impeachment on Thursday.
The voting record will be a key part of the committee's report and recommendation to the full 20-member House of Representatives, which needs at least 14 “yes” votes to impeach the governor. That report could be completed by Friday.
In the nine-member Senate, at least six “yes” votes are needed to convict the governor.
The full House voting is expected to occur days before the Nov. 6 mid-term elections.
Deleon Guerrero, during the hearing, said he finds it “disturbing” that Ogumoro as DPS deputy commissioner would instruct police officers not only to stop assisting OPA investigators in serving a penal summons-a violation of the law-and to have investigators from another agency be threatened with arrest for doing their job.
“I want to ask you Mr. Ogumoro, what is the basis for you to make a decision to pull these officers back and to threaten the arrest of another investigator?” Deleon Guerrero asked.
Ogumoro responded, “Mr. Chairman, I decline to answer, Fifth Amendment.”
In an interview after the hearing, Deleon Guerrero said he was “sort of” disappointed that Ogumoro chose to invoke his Fifth Amendment right even to questions about DPS standard operating procedures.
As to Ogumoro's repeated statements that the impeachment hearings were a waste of time, Deleon Guerrero said, “If you think about it, the reason he's here answering questions is because his officers were instructed to do things that were not part of their.may have been in violation of the law. I think people understand whose time is being wasted in the Buckingham escort.”
'Not afraid of anyone'
Committee members asked successive, direct questions but Ogumoro almost always invoked his Fifth Amendment rights, more so when Rep. Ray Tebuteb (R-Saipan) started his line of questioning.
“Is it possible that the reason for your invoking your Fifth Amendment is that you are afraid of something?” asked Tebuteb, drawing a reaction from Cushnie.
“Now you're getting out of line congressman. I'm not afraid of anything, and nobody here in this chamber I'm afraid of,” Ogumoro said.
“So are you afraid to answer my question?” Tebuteb followed up.
“I'm not saying yes, I'm exercising my Fifth Amendment Mr. Congressman Tebuteb,” Ogumoro said.
“Are you in fear of getting terminated from your job,” Tebuteb again asked.
“Well you should be honored that I've been terminated so many times and I'm still working today,” Ogumoro responded.
“Are you scared of an authority?” again from Tebuteb.
“I'm at the authority. And I will tell you again, with all due respect, I want to exercise my Fifth Amendment,” Ogumoro said.
Tebuteb asked whether Ogumoro was afraid that his answers might incriminate himself.
At this point, Cushnie said, “That question is improper.”
The questions that were stonewalled were not only from the House minority members, but even those from the House leadership.
Rep. Fred Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) himself asked, “Did you receive any order from the governor to escort Buckingham to the airport?” and “Did Ed Buckingham request a police escort?”
Ogumoro invoked his Fifth Amendment right, as well as to the following questions again from the committee chairman: “Do you know why Mr. Buckingham would need police escort? Did he feel that he was concerned about his safety, what was the reason for police protection?” and “Were federally funded vehicles used in the police escort for Mr. Buckingham?”
Joe Deleon Guerrero also asked Ogumoro whether he's aware of a staff and command meeting at DPS-following the series of hearings-“wherein threats were made that if police officers continue to cooperate to provide testimony, that they may be fired.”
“Mr. Chairman, I decline to answer that question,” Ogumoro said.
“Mr. Ogumoro, have you threatened any law enforcement officers for cooperating with this body?”
“Mr. Chairman, Fifth Amendment.”
Ogumoro's brother, Aniceto, is the acting commissioner of DPS.
As of 7pm last night, House Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan) has yet to respond to media question whether he will call for a House session on Wednesday at 2pm.
The Impeachment Committee is in recess until Wednesday morning, to give the Legislative Bureau ample time to prepare a synopsis of the evidence gathered from testimony and documents gathered. After reviewing the synopsis, members of the committee could start voting on the 13 remaining articles on Thursday. If they need more time, the voting could be on Friday, Deleon Guerrero said.
This is the first time in CNMI history that a resolution impeaching the governor is formally introduced and reviewed by a special committee.