Just as real estate is about location, location, location, federal probes into potential wrongdoing by government officials are, from the purely political perspective, about timing, timing, timing.

The timing of the unfolding federal inquiry into the state ethics investigation of Gov. Nathan Deal’s 2010 campaign for governor is, well, interesting.

Jan. 14 is the day after the opening gavel of the 2014 session of the Georgia General Assembly. It’s also when a federal grand jury is scheduled to begin the review process of documents related to the Deal investigation. And of course, 2014 is the year of Deal’s re-election bid.

An implication underscores these happenings, if one cares to see it through a conservative lens of cynicism; namely, that the timing of the grand jury’s seating might possibly have something to do with weakening Deal in his expected general election race against, most likely, Democratic State Sen. Jason Carter.

This could be done without any ethical wrongdoing by the feds themselves. It could just be fortuitous timing, if anyone behind or involved in the federal probe might have the secondary intention of damaging GOP hopes in Georgia next November.

On the one hand, the Obama Justice Department has been accused more than once of acting with cynical and overly aggressive partisan intent.

It’s true, too, that in the past the feds generally have shown restraint in opening high-profile inquiries about elected officials right when those officials are to go before the voters.

But if the seating of a grand jury in this case is at least partly political in its intent, it would be highly unusual, if not unprecedented.

Everything beyond official statements on this matter is purely speculative right now, but a political witch hunt by the feds against Deal seems unlikely. The governor’s attorney says Deal’s office has not been contacted about the probe, and there’s no reason to disbelieve him.

More likely the investigation is about getting to the bottom of possible, alleged misdeeds by ethics commission members or some of their staff. Intimations have filtered into media that documents relating to the 2010 Deal election investigation were destroyed or altered. Some of the britches worn by ethics officials may have gotten too big.

As for Deal, the thing to watch likely isn’t the intent of the probe, but its unintended effect on his reelection, and possibly on overall Republican fortunes in November 2014.

The investigation is a judicial one now, and not legislative. That means regular updates on the progress or the findings of the probe aren’t going to be forthcoming. Unless Deal’s office gets pulled into this before the election, any potential damage to the governor’s reelection hopes will come from his opponents, both Republican and Democrat.

John Barge, the apparent main threat to Deal in the Republican primary next spring, already has said that Deal’s ethical standing is damaged by the investigation, regardless of whether his office is directly involved.

If that’s the most damaging thing Barge or others can say, Deal should be okay. Jason Carter so far has declined comment, a promising sign of political maturity on his part: If anything devastating to Deal’s reelection chances emerges from the grand jury, it will do so without Carter having to make speculative charges against the governor.

Some are speculating that this investigation will force Republican leaders in the House and Senate to consider new ethics reform measures, as a way to deflect the heat of public perception over ethics as this federal probe deepens.

We’re not so sure. Deal already signed an ethics reform bill earlier this year. If he and Republicans were to pursue additional reforms, it might draw more attention to the federal probe, rather than serve to help keep their image clean.

The 2014 session is going to be a short one. Look for Deal and the Republican leaders in the General Assembly to ride out the publicity storm. The presumption of innocence is theirs right now, unless they fumble it away by overreacting.

 

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