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Robin Hayes, Head Of North Carolina's Republican Party, Indicted On Federal Charges

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Federal prosecutors today indicted one of the most powerful politicians in North Carolina. Robin Hayes is head of the state Republican Party and a former five-term congressman. Prosecutors have charged him with public corruption and bribery. The indictment also names the state's top political donor and two of his associates. Joining us with details now is Jeff Tiberii. He is a capitol bureau chief for WUNC in Raleigh. Welcome to the program.

JEFF TIBERII, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: What are the charges that Hayes and these other people are facing? What more can you tell us?

TIBERII: The charges are wire fraud, aiding and abetting and lying to the FBI. Now, the Department of Justice called this a brazen bribery scheme in a letter that came out today with the indictment. According to them, it involves a wealthy businessman, two of his associates and, as you mentioned, Robin Hayes. He's a former five-term congressman and currently still as of this moment leads the state Republican Party.

The indictment lays out in some very specific detail what amounts to an effort to gain favorable treatment from the state Department of Insurance. And allegedly the businessman, this man named Greg Lindberg, offered millions of dollars to the state insurance commissioner. His name's Mike Causey - the commissioner - who is also an elected Republican. And what they wanted - the business folks - in return were looser regulations and some control over personnel within the state Department of Insurance.

CORNISH: How did the alleged fraud come to light?

TIBERII: Well, according to federal prosecutors, it was the insurance commissioner himself, Causey, who had just been on the job for a few weeks, maybe a month or two who came to them in 2017. He had concerns about what he perceived were illegal campaign contributions, and he agreed to cooperate with them if there was an investigation. And of course there was this investigation. And it's unclear exactly what mechanism was used, but there are direct quotes throughout this indictment - phone conversations, in-person correspondence. So a lot of what is alleged to have happened in this conspiracy appears to in some form or fashion have been recorded.

And what we also know from the indictment - what we learned today and also based on campaign finance reports over the last year or two is that Lindberg, the businessman, donated large sums of money - hundreds of thousands of dollars - to the state Republican Party, and he wanted a lot of that to go to the re-election campaign of this insurance commissioner. However, in this state, in North Carolina, campaign finance law does not allow for the earmarking of money. A donor can give unlimited amounts, but he or she can't say, oh, it's got to go toward this campaign or that re-election campaign.

I think it's also worth noting that the money here is astronomically higher than what an insurance commissioner normally raises. It was donated three years in advance to when Causey would have been running for re-election. He hadn't even announced his re-election bid here. And the maximum that donors can give in this state is $5,400 per person.

CORNISH: Any response from Hayes or the other defendants?

TIBERII: I've left Chairman Hayes a voicemail. I have not heard from him. He has not said anything publicly. We have not heard from any of the other ones, any other folks who have been indicted at this time.

CORNISH: And to pull back for a moment, what about the state Republican Party?

TIBERII: Very fluid - it's interesting that just yesterday, Hayes - he's 73 years old - announced that he would not run for another term as state chair, citing health challenges. It would be surprising, I think, obviously if he remains in his post here. As for the state party, we'll see what more comes in the days ahead.

CORNISH: That's Jeff Tiberii, WUNC's bureau chief, in Raleigh, N.C. Thank you.

TIBERII: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Tiberii first started posing questions to strangers after dinner at La Cantina Italiana, in Massachusetts, when he was two-years-old. Jeff grew up in Wayland, Ma., an avid fan of the Boston Celtics, and took summer vacations to Acadia National Park (ME) with his family. He graduated from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, and moved to North Carolina in 2006. His experience with NPR member stations WAER (Syracuse), WFDD (Winston-Salem) and now WUNC, dates back 15 years.
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