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Thursday, April 9, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Senate GOP plans to issue subpoenas over prison controversy

OLYMPIA – Senate Republicans accused Gov. Jay Inslee of withholding information on a serious problem in the Department of Corrections, and the governor accused them of “taking political potshots” while he was trying to solve the problem.

In successive news conferences Thursday morning, Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, and other GOP leaders questioned the independence of an investigation Inslee commissioned last month after the department revealed that a computer problem that went unnoticed for 10 years wasn’t corrected for nearly three years after it was discovered.

The Senate Law and Justice Committee, which Padden heads, said it will subpoena information about the problem, which resulted in certain inmates with complicated sentences being released early because a computer program was miscalculating their credits for good behavior. The Legislature hasn’t issued subpoenas since 1987, when a joint committee subpoenaed records from Blue Cross in an investigation of state employee health benefits.

The committee questioned Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke for about an hour Monday, but Vice Chairman Steve O’Ban, R-Pierce County, said lawmakers had hoped for more information about how the problem occurred and who was responsible. Instead, “there were things he couldn’t say or wouldn’t say,” O’Ban said.

Pacholke deferred answers to many of the details senators sought, saying they were the subject of an independent investigation in which he wasn’t involved.

O’Ban said lawmakers don’t know if the report those investigators produce will be edited by Inslee before it’s released or if the governor will claim executive privilege.

“We hope to get to the bottom of this,” Padden said, adding Inslee should “welcome this. He’s said there’s nothing to hide.”

A short time later, Inslee reiterated he had nothing to hide, but was clearly not welcoming lawmakers’ suggestion the investigation wouldn’t be aboveboard. Had the senators asked, Inslee said, he would have told them he will not claim executive privilege or edit the report of the two former federal prosecutors, Robert Westinghouse and Carl Blackstone, he has hired to investigate what went wrong and who was responsible.

“I’m not controlling the investigation. I’m not editing any report,” Inslee said. He added that he expected some political potshots directed at him, but defended the independence of the investigators. “I don’t appreciate (Senate Republicans) questioning their integrity.”

Asked if he consulted with any legislators before naming the investigators – one of the other complaints raised by Senate Republicans – Inslee replied: “I don’t believe so.” But he added that no one had raised any questions about their ability to handle the job.

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