Unanswered questions remain on Flynn's role

Deputy Attorney General Michael Delaney has recommended that Governor Benson and the Executive Council consider some unspecified discipline of Safety Commissioner Richard Flynn over a number of “irregularities” in the commissioner’s conduct during the investigation of former Attorney General Peter Heed. We hope we’re wrong, but considering both the near-legendary power Flynn wields in state government and the usual “go along to get along” nature of the Executive Council, this may be akin to asking Charlie McCarthy to discipline Edgar Bergen.

Flynn’s role in the investigation of Heed’s alleged groping of a state employee at a post-conference party at the Mount Washington Hotel last May was, indeed, “irregular.” At Governor Benson’s request, Flynn met privately with Heed to encourage the attorney general to resign. That this should occur while Heed was the subject of a criminal investigation carried out in large part by State Police under Flynn’s command indicates, at the very least, a conflict between Flynn’s official duties as commissioner and his ex-officio role as the governor’s Sancho Panza.

It also is strange that Flynn ordered the investigation suspended after he had spoken with Heed and did not renew it until asked to do so by then-acting Attorney General Kelly Ayotte. Heed claims Flynn offered to “slow down” the investigation to give the attorney general time to consider resigning. Flynn denies that, claiming that he called a halt to the probe for budgetary reasons — a claim Delaney, in his report, found “not credible.”

The executive councilors might, in a rare display of intellectual curiosity, ask the governor why he chose to use Flynn as a go-between. According to the Delaney report, the governor spoke of a “personal bond” and “productive working relationship” between himself and the attorney general. Indeed, he volunteered the information that he had spent a day canoeing with Heed just weeks before the Mount Washington Hotel incident. If Benson wanted Heed to resign, why didn’t he tell him so directly, without involving a state official in control of the investigation? Were the phone lines down between the governor’s and AG’s offices?

As Delaney noted, the governor might not have made that request of the safety commissioner if he had a legal counsel to consult. But the governor has not had one of those for roughly a year. It’s a vacancy crying out to be filled. Considering all the legal and ethical problems that have plagued the Benson administration, it seems fair to say no governor in memory has needed legal counsel more.

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