Indiana's top ethics officer cleared embattled Secretary of State Charlie White of wrongdoing Thursday for reading or otherwise accessing his predecessor's report on possible vote fraud committed by White.
Inspector General David Thomas issued findings saying White did not violate any ethics rules because Indiana has no law barring the secretary of state from viewing a predecessor's past investigative reports.
Meanwhile, after getting clearance from Thomas to release the report, White did so Thursday. It concluded White appeared to intentionally vote in the wrong precinct a year ago when he won the Republican nomination for secretary of state.
A Hamilton County grand jury indicted White in March on seven counts including vote fraud and perjury for using his ex-wife's address on a voter registration form, and he's due to go on trial in August. He also faces a civil challenge: The Indiana Recount Commission agreed Wednesday to rule by late June on whether he was eligible for office when he was elected six months ago.
The special prosecutors pursuing the criminal case against White, John Dowd and Daniel Sigler, requested the ethics inquiry after learning the report prepared under his predecessor, Todd Rokita, was made available to White after he took office in January. They said White's access to the report was approved by the attorney who invested White, Jerold Bonnet, the general counsel for the secretary of state's office under both Rokita and White.
Dowd stopped short of disputing Thomas's findings, saying Thursday, "That's what his office determined." However, he added, referring to White's access to the report, "It doesn't seem like it smells right to me."
The Rokita report, as the secretary of state's investigation has come to be known, came at the request of Democratic Party officials after they learned that White listed his ex-wife's home as his voting address when he was residing elsewhere.
The report said that after White, then a Fishers town councilman, and his wife divorced in December 2006, and White moved to a nearby apartment that was in the same council district, listing it as his new voting address. However, he changed his voting address back to his ex-wife's address in February 2010 four days before he closed on the purchase of a new home outside the council district.
Then, last Sept. 21, after a Democratic attorney announced he would hold a news conference the next day to discuss White's residency, White abruptly resigned from his council seat. The next day, he changed his voting address to the new home, Bonnet's report said.
It said it observed "apparent, albeit rebuttable, intent that White knowingly voted in a precinct in which he did not reside in the 2010 Primary election." It found similar intent that the February 2010 change of voting address "was false, fictitious or fraudulent."
The secretary of state's office declined to comment on the Rokita report's conclusions since it was a criminal matter. A message seeking comment was left with White's criminal defense attorney, Dennis Zahn.
Indiana Democratic Chairman Dan Parker wasn't swayed by the report's inconclusiveness about whether vote fraud was committed by White, who wasn't interviewed for the report.
"Given the fact that we now have seven indictment counts, we're moving in the direction that it was fraud," Parker said.
The recount commission on Wednesday said it would hear the White residency matter June 21. Democrats want to depose White to gather information for their case, but White's attorneys have argued that White could incriminate himself in the criminal case he faces by defending himself in the civil case before the panel.
Ken Kusmer can be reached at http://twitter.com/kkusmer