Happy Saturday! Here’s an abbreviated edition of my weekend column after one of the most dramatic Fridays in recent Rhode Island history – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to firstname.lastname@example.org. For quick hits all week long, follow @tednesi.
1. You could almost feel the shock wave ripple through Rhode Island’s political class around 11 a.m. Friday when news broke that state and local law enforcement officials were searching Gordon Fox’s State House office and East Side home. For all the bad coverage Fox has garnered over the years – PEDP, 38 Studios, GTECH – Friday’s action was a stunningly high-profile move against Rhode Island’s most powerful politician by investigators from the state police, the FBI and the IRS. It’s hard – very hard – to see how Fox can survive as speaker after such a blow to his stature, unless it’s quickly made clear he’s not the target of the investigation. Assuming Fox is on the way out, the coming days and weeks are going to be very consequential ones for Rhode Island.
2. I asked Tim White, an expert on law enforcement, to explain exactly what happened Friday and what to expect next: “Before federal and state investigators could even move in on the State House, they had to convince a judge that they had the authority to do so. Detectives and agents presented evidence to a federal judge to get the permission to execute a search warrant on the State House, and what we believe to be a second search warrant on Gordon Fox’s home. You use a warrant because you think someone’s going to say no. You can always ask permission to get information that you’re looking for, but if you have a judge’s OK – that is, a warrant – you have the authorization to go in and take it. In my job, the most interesting thing about warrants (which in this case we’ll only get if they’re eventually unsealed) isn’t what they find, but what they told the judge they wanted to look for. The affidavit to obtain the search warrant is basically a mini-case that tells a judge what they’ve discovered so far in an investigation, and that is truly telling. It might tell us who is cooperating with investigators; it might tell us what they’ve found so far; and certainly it will tell us the motive for wanting the warrant. And of course that warrant wasn’t to break down just any door – it was a door in one of the most historic buildings in the state, leading into the office of arguably the most powerful politician in the state. The big question is, when do we get to see what’s on the search warrant? And the answer is, we probably won’t see the search warrant unless someone is charged. That’s when these things usually become public. But that day – if it ever comes – is probably at least weeks away if not longer.”
3. From WPRI.com reporter Dan McGowan, a look at what happens next: “Investigators were only at the beginning of their six-hour raid on Gordon Fox’s State House office when his colleagues began putting the wheels in motion to discuss a potential replacement for the speaker in the event that he tenders his resignation. One of the factions is led by House Majority Leader Nick Mattiello, who convinced at least 25 lawmakers to attend a closed-door meeting at the Providence Marriott Friday evening. The Cranston Democrat said he’s ‘confident’ he has the votes to be the next speaker if Fox decides to resign, but told reporters he had not talked with Fox. The question now is who else wants to be top dog in the House? We know a separate group of lawmakers that included Reps. Mike Marcello, D-Scituate, Patrick O’Neill, D-Pawtucket, John Lombardi, D-Providence, and Greg Costantino, D-Lincoln, met at Venda Ravioli in Providence, but it’s unclear who called the meeting. It’s also widely believed that Majority Whip Stephen Ucci, D-Johnston, and Deputy Majority Whip Chris Blazejewski, D-Providence, could be leading another team of lawmakers hoping to assume leadership. Regardless, it’s not clear that anyone went to bed Friday with the 38 votes needed to become the next speaker if and when the job becomes open. All eyes are now on Tuesday, the next time members of the House convene.”
4. Missed last night’s wall-to-wall TV coverage of the Fox raids and the fallout from them? Click here to watch 23 minutes of WPRI 12 team coverage covering all the angles:
5. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – treasurer candidate Ernie Almonte, plus UMass Dartmouth’s Clyde Barrow and Providence College’s Patrick Kelly on casinos. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Nabsys CEO Dr. Barrett Bready. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 6 p.m. on myRITV (or Sunday at 6 a.m. on Fox). See you back here next Saturday morning.