N.C. Attorney General facing possible indictment after grand jury action
Wake County DA investigated Stein over allegedly false campaign ad, despite recommendation from election investigators
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein is facing a possible indictment after a grand jury approved prosecutors moving forward with a criminal investigation.
Prosecutors in the Wake County District Attorney’s Office have been investigating Stein since the spring of 2021 over whether Stein and his campaign aired a false campaign ad in the 2020 election.
A little-used, century-old law makes it illegal to make knowingly false statements in a political campaign. Stein has been under investigation since October 2020, when his Republican opponent for attorney general, Jim O’Neill, filed a complaint about an ad the Stein campaign ran attacking him.
The North Carolina State Board of Elections, the agency charged with investigating such complaints, recommended against pursuing criminal charges against Stein.
In a memo from the NCSBE to Freeman’s office, obtained by WBTV, an attorney recommends the investigation stemming from O’Neill’s complaint be closed because it was not clear that Stein’s ad was knowingly false.
“The falsity of the statement draws ambiguity and therefore, it is inconclusive to determine a clear violation of N.C.G.S 163-274(a)(9) occurred,” the memo said.
“Additionally, the NCSBE is concerned that if a violation is found, this might be an unconstitutional application of the statute.”
While discussing the findings of its investigation related to the truth of Stein’s statements, the memo also refers to three statements made by O’Neill that a top aide to Stein claimed were false.
The criminal investigation into Stein became public earlier this summer when Stein filed a legal action in federal court asking a judge to block state prosecutors from bringing charges. A judge initially granted a temporary request to block state charges but later rescinded that decision, which paved the way for Monday’s grand jury action.
Stein has asked the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to intervene but that request had not yet received a response as of late Monday afternoon.
Monday’s grand jury action came through a seldom-used criminal procedure known as a presentment. It is a process used to bring misdemeanor charges before a grand jury. Monday’s grand jury action means prosecutors can now bring an indictment for misdemeanor charges before a grand jury.
Stein released the following statement in response to the grand jury returning a presentment:
“District Attorney Freeman continues to pursue her nonsense investigation over a campaign ad that is true from an election that is long since passed, using a 91-year-old statute that has never been used against any other candidate. While the Attorney General is disappointed by this ongoing distraction, he continues to focus on his work to test sexual assault kits and get justice for survivors of sexual assault.”
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