Gov. Charlie Crist's call to forward the investigation of former state Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer to the U.S. Attorney's Office is being hailed by some as an appropriate step. Others say it's pure political theatrics.
For now, officials at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement say the case is still theirs.
"The party would get a fair shot and Greer would get a fair hearing," said Michael Caputo, a veteran political operative who has worked on several GOP campaigns.
"I have no doubt that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement could do the job. But for appearance's sake, and in the interest of question-free clarity, this might be a good move," Caputo said.
Others see politics cutting both ways.
"In a way, this request is an insult to the professionalism of the FDLE," said Tom Tillison, organizer of the Orlando Tea Party.
Crist announced his position Friday after receiving a letter from Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink urging that the investigation be put in the hands of either the State Attorney's Office for the Second Judicial District or the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Florida.
Attorney General Bill McCollum, Sink's likely opponent in this fall's gubernatorial election, had directed the case to FDLE earlier this week.
McCollum acted after receiving the results of an internal audit which alleged that Greer had mishandled or misappropriated party funds.
McCollum's office released this statement Friday afternoon:
"We believe the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is the appropriate authority to conduct this criminal investigation at this time. However, we have absolutely no objection to the U.S. Attorney's Office investigating this matter, or any other appropriate investigatory agency."
In her letter to McCollum, Sink stated:
"It is not appropriate to refer this investigation to a law-enforcement agency that works under the direction of the four of us (Cabinet members Crist, McCollum, Sink and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson)."
"We need an independent prosecutor leading this investigation, and not a Cabinet agency," Sink said.
Crist responded quickly with a short letter to Sink, stating:
"While I have tremendous confidence in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, I can certainly understand and appreciate your very reasonable request for referral.
"I do believe it should be referred to the United States Attorney's Office due to the potential IRS implications."
But Crist's missive -- representing just one unofficial vote on the four-member Cabinet -- had no impact at FDLE, which said Friday afternoon that it was still on the case.
"There's no change in status," agency spokeswoman Heather Smith told Sunshine State News.
Smith would not speculate on what action, if any, might move the Greer matter out of FDLE's purview.
Per state statutes, McCollum has, as the state's chief legal officer, authority to direct the case to the appropriate investigative agency.
"It's not a majority vote of the Cabinet," said a source who declined to be identified.
According to Statute 943.03, the governor can direct FDLE to investigate "authorities subject to suspension or removal by the governor."
Crist installed Greer, a longtime associate, as state Republican Party chairman after being elected governor in 2006.
The Tea Party's Tillison said, "Whereas, the FDLE does report to the Florida Cabinet, Sink is part of this entity and is in position to ensure transparency. It is clear that both Sink and Crist wish to benefit politically by elevatingthis investigation.
"It's also not surprising that Crist willingly obliges this request, hoping to snare (Marco) Rubio in the process."
Chris Cate, Crist's deputy press secretary, said the governor's letter "speaks for itself. It is simply a response to the CFOs letter."
Spokesmen for Rubio, who is battling Crist in a hotly contested U.S. Senate primary campaign, could not be reached.
Sink's office would not comment beyond the contents of her letter.
Greer resigned earlier this year amid widening allegations he had misappropriated party funds.
On Thursday, he sued the Republican Party, charging that the RPOF had violated the terms of a secret $124,000 severance agreement.
Party officials deny that claim, saying Greer had not signed any such document and had not received any funds.
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or (772) 801-5341.