The FBI is asking questions about the pardons Matt Bevin issued during his last weeks as Kentucky governor, the Louisville Courier Journal of the USA TODAY Network has learned.
State Rep. Chris Harris, D-Forest Hills, told reporters that a criminal investigator contacted him last week and asked what he knew about Bevin’s pardons.
Harris did not elaborate on what questions were asked, and he declined to say which law enforcement agency contacted him.
“I can confirm that I have been contacted by someone looking into the pardons that were issued by Gov. Bevin on his way out the door,” he said. “The impression I got is that there was an investigation ramping up.”
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Two sources with knowledge of the inquiry told The Courier Journal on Monday that an FBI agent had spoken with Harris. A spokeswoman with the FBI office in Louisville did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.
Bevin has received national criticism for pardoning or commuting the sentences of more than 650 people following his failed reelection bid in November.
State prosecutors and leaders such as U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have condemned several of Bevin’s decisions, particularly his pardon of Patrick Baker, who had servedtwo years of a 19-year sentence for reckless homicide and robbery in the slaying of a Knox County man in front of his family.
The Courier Journal reported on Dec. 11 that Baker’s brother held a campaign fundraiser at his home for Bevin in July 2018 that raised $21,500. The former governor also received a letter from business executive Terry Forcht, one of the state’s Republican mega-donors, urging Bevin to pardon Baker.
Forcht has given at least $2.8 million to state and national political causes in the last 40 years, including more than $100,000 to Bevin’s campaign and inauguration funds.
Bevin has welcomed an investigation and denied political gifts had anything to do with his pardons.
“You will see people subpoenaed, you will see people deposed, you will see people convicted,” he predicted.
“If the truth comes out, there will be people involved in this process on the other side of the equation that have very good reason to be very concerned right now. And some of them are the loudest people right now, and for good reason.”
Harris said an investigator called him on Dec. 17 and asked whether he knew anything more than what he had said at a press conference five days earlier. At that press conference, Harris and state Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, called for state and federal investigators to look into Bevin’s pardons.
“It may be a formal investigation or it may not be a formal investigation,” Harris told The Courier Journal. “It may be just calling to see if there’s anything there to warrant a full investigation. … I can tell you, at least, there are questions being asked.”
McGarvey, the Senate’s Democratic floor leader, said he has not been contacted by investigators. But he said an investigation is needed.
“It’s clear there was political favoritism involved in these pardons,” McGarvey said Monday. “We have got to find out if the pardon power was abused and possibly sold to restore the public’s trust in the system.”
Contributing: Joe Sonka, The Courier Journal.
Follow Phillip M. Bailey on Twitter, @phillipmbailey.