PORTLAND, Ore. -- Nearly 2 ½ years after he resigned as governor of Oregon, John Kitzhaber on Friday received the news he had predicted all along: he will not face any criminal charges.
“It feels very, very good. Very good to be vindicated, very good to be able to reengage in the issues that I care so deeply about,” Kitzhaber told KGW News on Friday afternoon.
Background: No charges for Kitzhaber and Cylvia Hayes
Kitzhaber sounded upbeat just hours after receiving official word that federal prosecutors will not file charges against him.
The U.S. Attorney for Oregon, FBI, IRS and others spent years investigating if Kitzhaber and his finance Cylvia Hayes broke the law by using their official positions for personal gain.
“To me it’s the same conclusion that I started out with two years ago. There wasn’t anything ever there,” Kitzhaber said.
Federal prosecutors also announced that Hayes would not face charges. Kitzhaber declined to talk about her reaction to the news. He did, however, confirm they are still engaged.
The federal investigation dragged on much longer that most observers anticipated. It hung like a dark cloud over Kitzhaber, who has not publicly discussed details of the investigation before today.
He said he still doesn’t know much about how the investigation was conducted.
“I don’t have much detail about what went on behind the curtain,” Kitzhaber said.
He said he was only interviewed by investigators about six weeks ago. The interview lasted a couple of hours.
Kitzhaber said he had no difficulty answering any of their questions.
While Kitzhaber won’t face criminal charges, his Republican opponent from the 2014 election said it doesn’t change the fact “the governor and Cylvia Hayes accepted money from those desiring to purchase influence.”
“It is clear that Oregon and the nation still have a long way to go to restore trust in government,” said Dennis Richardson, who lost the 2014 election but was elected as Oregon Secretary of State in 2016.
Kitzhaber didn’t offer a direct answer when asked how he’d handle things differently given the opportunity.
“I just learned about this today and need a little bit of time to absorb it. At that point I might do a little reflection and retrospection but probably not this afternoon,” Kitzhaber said.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler was the state treasurer when Kitzhaber resigned. Wheeler was one of several prominent elected Democrats who called for the governor to step down.
“Honestly, I’m pleased,” Wheeler said about the close of the investigation. “I think it has gone on long enough. In fact, I think this investigation has gone on too long. I’m surprised it took this long.”
A spokesman for Gov. Kate Brown said the governor had no comment on today’s announcement. Brown assumed the role of governor when Kitzhaber resigned in 2015 and was elected to the office in 2016.
Kitzhaber said he’s had second thoughts about his decision to resign, but at the time it was clear he couldn’t be an effective governor.
“You have to remember I made that decision in a different time with a different context,” Kitzhaber said. “It is what it is and it’s time to move on.”
Kitzhaber said he’s still digesting the news while contemplating his next move. When asked if he’ll run again for public office, he only said, “I’ve got to let this sink in.”
With the investigation behind him, Kitzhaber said he still has energy to work on issues related to health care and early childhood education.
“I’ve still got fuel in the tank, a lot of runway ahead,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting back to it.”