Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina legislative Republicans are taking aim once again at Democrats in the executive branch of state government.
Just hours after enacting a budget that slashes the budgets of Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein, both Democrats, a key House committee signed off on a resolution to begin the impeachment process against Democratic Secretary of State Elaine Marshall.
The vote was strictly party-line, with all 20 Republicans in attendance voting aye, and all 10 Democrats voting no.
"Impeachment is a process. The first step will be a formal investigation of the matter" by a House select committee, sponsor Rep. Chris Millis, R-Pender, said.
Millis claimed he has "clear evidence of malfeasance" by Marshall involving "hundreds of unqualified aliens being illegally granted the public benefit of a notary commission."
He also accused her of "false and misleading statements" and "clandestine and secretive improper acceptance of other forms of documentation" for notary applications.
Marshall denied breaking any state or federal laws.
"My office has never commissioned a notary public on the basis of a DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] card," she said in a statement. "We have openly communicated with the General Assembly about our process. We have always told the General Assembly that, if they want to change the notary law, we will administer such changes. Not one single change has been sent to us to administer in this area.
"The public should continue to have full confidence in the integrity of the more than 144,000 notaries public in North Carolina. Every single non-citizen we have commissioned as a notary public has presented appropriate federally -issued work authorization documentation to qualify as a notary," Marshall said. "I can only conclude that this is a political attack and nothing else."
Millis' accusations against Marshall go back to February, when he launched his own investigation after, as he explained it, he "came across an article" that suggested Marshall may have commissioned illegal immigrants as notaries public, which he said would violate state and federal law.
In March, Millis held a press conference calling for Marshall's resignation, claiming to have evidence that 320 non-citizens were licensed as notaries by Marshall's agency. That press conference was attended by Michael LaPaglia, the Republican rival defeated by Marshall in the November 2016 election. During the campaign, LaPaglia made similar accusations against Marshall.
The bulk of those, 250, were in the federal DACA program – it allows people brought to the U.S. illegally as children to work and study in the country without fear of deportation – and had submitted DACA driver's licenses or employment authorization cards as one of their forms of proof of identity and eligibility, Millis said. In other cases, he said, people had submitted NAFTA work authorizations or Mexican passports, and one even had a final deportation order filed against her.
Neither state nor federal law requires that a notary be a U.S. citizen. He or she must, however, "reside legally in the United States." The issue appears to be the definition of legal residency.
Deputy Secretary Haley Hanes explained that there is no legal requirement, state or federal, that notary applicants have a permanent residence status in the state. She told the committee that applicants submit all sorts of documents with applications, even marriage licenses and birth certificates.
"A DACA card is not a document that we use to certify a commission," Hanes said.
Democrats on the committee objected to the introduction of the measure and tried to block its hearing, but they were voted down by Republican committee members along a straight party-line vote, 21-10.
Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, asked Millis whether any law enforcement agency, federal or state, had taken any action to investigate or bring charges against Marshall.
"I did a legislative request," Millis replied. "Those findings are very conclusive."
"The answer to the question is no," Dollar shot back.
"That is not correct," Millis countered, suggesting that those "aspects" might happen later or could be occurring without his knowledge.
"Something may be coming forward," he said.
"Why would you not wait for that to happen?" asked Rep. Becky Carney, D-Mecklenburg.
"It's just not the issue of law, it's the issue of it being masked to the public for years upon years," Millis answered. "I'm just a humble representative moving forward with my responsibility."
"I don't know whether to laugh or cry," Carney told Millis. "I’m going to take someone's reputation and rake it through the coals publicly before I know anything from any law enforcement?"
"Representative Millis has accused Secretary Marshall of state and federal crimes," Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, argued against the resolution. "This about a lot more than the Secretary of State's Office. This is about the integrity of the House. This is about if we’re really going to sink to this kind of level of partisan politics."
"What you are accusing is a crime," said Rep. Robert Reives, D-Lee, asking repeatedly whether any attorney licensed in any state had given an opinion as to whether Marshall had broken any laws in commissioning notaries.
"There have been attorneys that have weighed in on this very issue," Millis replied, "whether you can confer a public benefit to an unqualified alien ... there's plenty of legalese."
"The chair is going to declare that the gentlemen has answered the question to the best of his ability to do so," said Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, moving on.
Senior Marshall adviser Mike Arnold told the House Rules Committee that, when he hand-delivered the requested confidential documents to Millis' office, "the candidate who ran against Secretary Marshall [LaPaglia] was there to receive the records. So, we feel like politics is a part of this."
"The allegation of politics in regard to my motives is absolutely false, and the testimony is not factual," Millis countered. "This is exactly why we all need this investigation – to make sure the law is being followed."
The measure will be debated on the House floor in the next few days.