Cylvia Hayes, facing no charges, gives first interview since end of criminal investigation

Cylvia Hayes talks with KATU's Joe Douglass in her first interview since the federal government cleared her and her fiancé, former Gov. John Kitzhaber, of criminal wrongdoing.

Former Oregon First Lady Cylvia Hayes granted KATU her first interview since federal authorities ended their criminal investigation into her and former Gov. John Kitzhaber and announced no charges would be filed.

The government was investigating Kitzhaber and Hayes for allegedly misusing their positions for personal gain.

Oregon's Government Ethics Commission is still reviewing whether to launch an investigation of its own.

Hayes was emotional and highly critical of the media in the interview on Saturday, saying our systems of democracy and media are fundamentally flawed and on a dangerous trajectory.

KATU reporter, Joe Douglass, asked her several questions about the investigation and she repeatedly maintained that she and Kitzhaber were fully exonerated and will be again by the Ethics Commission.

Sitting in her living room in Bend with her dog, Tessa, at her feet, Hayes began the interview with a brief opening statement.

"The truth is this has been such an extraordinarily difficult two-and-a-half years," Hayes said. "I've grown so much. It's been such a time of spiritual awakening. ... I had to sit with this for a while until I could get to the point where I didn't just want to hit back."

Kitzhaber, who's been engaged to Hayes for three years, resigned in February of 2015 while facing accusations he used his influence to enrich Hayes.

Hayes had accepted more than $200 thousand from outside groups as a consultant allegedly because of her connection to Kitzhaber.

The following is an exchange between Douglass and Hayes:

Joe Douglass: "When did you and Gov. Kitzhaber learn that you would not be facing criminal charges?"

Cylvia Hayes: "Two weeks ago yesterday standing in line at the grocery store to buys eggs and my phone starts blowing up. I learned it from the media just like everybody else did. ... A Google Alert came up with my name on it."

Joe Douglass: "How did that feel?"

Cylvia Hayes: "It didn't feel like I expected it to feel. It was not immediately celebratory. It felt heavy and I think there was a sense of, 'Is it really real? Is it finally over?"

Joe Douglass: "How would you describe your role in the governor's office? What duties did the title of 'first lady' actually entail?"

Cylvia Hayes: "You know, there is no handbook. There is no job description. There isn't even established protocol for a first lady."

Joe Douglass: "But you were part of the governor's office..."

Cylvia Hayes: "Well, I was part of our team but there is no official title. ... I didn't mean official title. There's no official role or position."

Joe Douglass: "Well, the governor came out and said later on that you were gonna be removed from his administration, so you had to have had some kind of role for him to say that, right?"

Cylvia Hayes: "Well, I had an unofficial, as we have stated, I have had an unofficial role. It's all unofficial if you're not an actual employee, which I wasn't. Joe, I've gotta say, all of these kinds of questions, I feel like I know where you're going with this and I feel like it's an effort to continue the false narrative. We were just investigated for two-and-a-half years by the FBI, the IRS, the Department of Justice, etcetera. All of this is what they focused on and we were cleared."

Joe Douglass: "You collected more than $200,000 from outside groups as a consultant because of your connection to the governor."

Cylvia Hayes: "Excuse me"

Joe Douglass: "Is that wrong?"

Cylvia Hayes: "Well, listen to how you just framed that."

Joe Douglass: "Did people pay you for something else? You're connected to the governor's office."

Cylvia Hayes: "I think it was just proven in the investigation that my work was not given to me just because of my position, relationship to the governor. So see, this is what, this is what I've dealt with with the media. Even the way you framed that question proves that you're coming in with a false assumption about the truth and about me."

Joe Douglass: "OK."

Cylvia Hayes: "That's not why I was given that work. I was doing a lot of that kind of work for years before I even knew John Kitzhaber."

Joe Douglass: "OK. We understand that it's not illegal but is it appropriate? Is it appropriate for somebody who's in the governor's office to be taking more than $200 thousand from outside groups when they have an official position in the governor's office?"

Cylvia Hayes: "I think you and others are gonna have to make your own subjective opinion about propriety. All I know is I was just stood up to two-and-a-half years of federal investigations and (have) been cleared."

The U.S. Justice Department has offered no details as to why it did not pursue criminal charges.

But multiple legal scholars, including Professor Tung Yin at Lewis & Clark Law School, said a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year likely had a big influence.

"The Supreme Court essentially torpedoed this kind of case, requiring more or less direct evidence of bribery," Yin told KATU via email.

The High Court's decision effectively overturned bribery convictions of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife.

Joe Douglass: "Do you think that case benefitted you and Gov. Kitzhaber?"

Cylvia Hayes: "I actually think it hurt us because it gave the media an opportunity to pin those two things together and it's apples and cucumbers. ... They're two completely different circumstances."

Hayes said the scandal that led to Kitzhaber's resignation and the media's coverage of it took a big toll on her emotionally.

"I will tell you for sure I now understand why especially young people sometimes commit suicide when they wind up in the center of a shaming or bullying event," said Hayes. "I never got to that point, that's for sure. But I did get to the point where I would've been OK if I didn't wake up."

She said she's been through professional counseling because of the experience.

"I had so much rage and so much hatred toward the handful of media who were so dishonest," Hayes said. "And I made a choice that instead of viewing this as being this attack and banishment I was gonna view it as an unasked for sabbatical. And I feel really good about how I've handled this."

Now Hayes said she's still running her economic and environmental consulting company, 3E Strategies, and she's been certified as a life coach through Tony Robbins' training program.

Joe Douglass: "I have to ask you since you're engaged to Gov. Kitzhaber, is there a date yet for a wedding?"

Cylvia Hayes: "No. No. We hadn't thought about it. I think, um, really we wanted all of this to be behind us before we thought about that next step and it, you know, um, no, we haven't set a date but we're golden and I'm blessed."

Hayes pulled no punches in criticizing local media outlets, slamming KATU's news partner, Willamette Week.

She said they published multiple errors while breaking the story that ultimately led to Kitzhaber's resignation.

Aaron Mesh, Willamette Week's news editor, told KATU, "Our reporting was and is accurate. We proudly stand by our story.”

But Hayes said other media outlets, including KATU, shouldn't be so quick to re-report their claims without doing their own fact-checking.

She said Willamette Week's 2014 article, First Lady, Inc. by Nigel Jaquiss, which broke the scandal, contained multiple errors.

"Big one was the point about my income being more after John got elected than before. That’s not true. Nigel Jaquiss said that prior to John’s election, the governor’s election, that I had had only small and local clients. That’s absolutely not true," Hayes said. "I had in the couple of years prior to the governor running again, I had state contracts, some work with the federal government, some of my biggest clients to date. There’s a statement in there where Nigel Jaquiss said that I said questions about my contracts were unfair and missed the point. I didn’t say that. Every response I gave to him was in writing and I still have that document. Smaller things like a story about my parents, my mom leaving my dad in Oklahoma or something – that’s not the truth and I’m on the record with the truth so a lot … a lot."

On Sunday night, Mesh sent KATU the following statement:

"Starting in July of 2014, WW made a number of public information requests of Cylvia Hayes and Gov. John Kitzhaber about Ms. Hayes' private consulting contracts and apparent conflicts of interests, issues that had caused concern among Gov. Kitzhaber's own staff.

From that point until the publication of our story, 'First Lady Inc.,' on Oct. 7 of that year, Ms. Hayes repeatedly declined to be interviewed or to respond to written questions.

After the publication of that article, WW continued to follow the story, including the attempt by Gov. Kitzhaber's office to remove emails from the state server, an effort that led a whistleblower to turn those emails over to WW.

During that entire time as well, Ms. Hayes made herself unavailable to answer questions and never made substantive challenges to our coverage.

We proudly stand by our reporting."

Late Monday afternoon, Hayes sent KATU an email saying, in part:

"The story that first launched the false allegations against John and me was an article titled, First Lady Inc., that Jaquiss posted Oct. 7, 2014. This story contains serious misinformation. Perhaps the most damaging false reporting about me was Jaquiss’ assertion that I had made more money before John got elected than afterwards. This is blatantly untrue. He made this claim and stated it as fact without having my full financial and tax filing information. My attorney is now on record stating, 'Ms. Hayes fully reported the consulting payments she received on her tax returns, in the year she received the income.'

Jaquiss also wrote that, 'Prior to Kitzhaber’s election in 2010, Hayes had typically worked on local issues and small contracts.' This also is blatantly untrue. In the few years prior to John’s election I had some of my largest contracts including state agencies and the federal government. Since those were government projects they would have been public record and a reporter wanting to find the truth should have known about them. It seems impossible that Jaquiss would not know about the larger contracts with Oregon Housing and Community Services and Community Colleges and Workforce Development because in 2010, Jaquiss made his first attempt to implicate me in scandal when he alleged the Oregon Department of Energy had awarded a small sub-contract to a company in which I was a partner because I was the likely next governor’s partner. Please note I was exonerated and never charged with anything in that investigation as well. Also note, the ODOE director who was investigated wound up suing the state for violating his civil rights and won a record-breaking $1 million settlement. During that investigation, though I do not know the full extent, I do know that my work with OHCS and CCWD were examined. It seems impossible Jaquiss would not have known that.

Other instances of misinformation about my work include Jaquiss’ allegation that the business trip I took to Bhutan, in which I was accompanied by Governor Kitzhaber, was intended to secure a consulting contract with Demos. This is not true. The contract with Demos was already in the works before the Bhutan trip and we did not discuss it while in Bhutan.

Jaquiss also misrepresented my collaboration with the Oregon Business Council regarding the Prosperity Initiative although this piece of his article was more innuendo than blatant false information. That being said, Jaquiss wrote, 'Last fall, Wyse’s group earmarked a $35,000 grant from Northwest Area Foundation to hire Therese Lang, a public relations consultant, to work as Hayes’ spokeswoman.' This is not true. There was no $35,000 grant from Northwest Area Foundation. That was a portion of a much larger grant that the foundation had granted specifically to support the Prosperity Initiative and that communications position was called for in the grant guidelines.

The October 7 2014 article also contains misinformation that is less serious but in line with the narrative Jaquiss seemed intent on creating. For example, he wrote, 'She said questions about her consulting work are unfair and miss the point.' Again, this is blatantly untrue. I only responded to Jaquiss’ requests for information about these allegations in written format and I never wrote what he printed above – I still have the original document I provided to Jaquiss two days before he published the inaccurate article and it does not include the statement he asserts. Note in his article he says that I said that without using quotation marks. These are his words put forward as mine.

Another case of more trivial but sloppy reporting is his statement, 'In the story she often tells, her mother fled Oklahoma after leaving Hayes’ father.' This is just wrong and I’ve never said it. What I have said is the reason I was not born in Oklahoma was because my mother left her first husband for his younger brother (my father) and so they had to get out of Dodge so to speak – that’s why I was born in the Pacific Northwest. I have stated this in numerous public speeches. Again, this is trivial compared to the others but it just shows the pattern of inaccuracy.

I’d like to point out one other thing, not related to the Oct. 7th 2014 article, but tremendously damaging was the repeated allegation by Willamette Week that Governor Kitzhaber demanded to have his personal emails deleted from the state server. This false story is something Willamette Week refused to acknowledge, let alone correct, despite repeated retraction requests. This false accusation was fully put to rest when investigations by the Marion County District Attorney, Yamhill District Attorney and Oregon State Police conducted definitively concluded the person who leaked the emails had not been ordered to delete them.

As for the recent Willamette Week statement that I ignored their requests for information, I do not recall receiving much from them prior to the Oct. 7th article. That story was certainly a surprise to me. The bombardment of media incoming that followed was extraordinary and I did not believe that either Willamette Week or the Oregonian was interested in facts that differed from the narrative they were creating. I did not agree to an interview with Willamette Week because I did not believe it would do any good in preventing the spread of false allegations. I did not formally demand corrections and retractions in those early weeks because I did not understand Oregon defamation laws and I was utterly overwhelmed being the center of the media frenzy. In retrospect I now feel that was a mistake and that I should have immediately and publicly responded to the false allegations. I would encourage anyone who winds up targeted by tabloid tactics to know the defamation laws and demand clarification of misinformation."

After reading Hayes' email, Mesh continued to maintain the Willamette Week's coverage has been accurate.

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