While Congressman Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, was cleared two weeks ago by the House Ethics Committee of any wrongdoing related to a Tennessee real estate deal, controversy erupted again a week later when the Tennessee Valley Authority released a report that showed he’d been lying to the media for months.
Shuler’s lack of candor is likely to hound him in the run-up to next year’s election, especially given the fact that his only response has been a brief statement citing his exoneration in three separate investigations by government entities.
“This issue is closed and Congressman Shuler has nothing further to say on the matter,” the statement said.
After being cleared, Shuler has no pressing reason to explain his interactions with the TVA. Shuler has an ownership stake in a development in East Tennessee and was accused of using his influence in a land swap with TVA to gain better lake access.
But for months he has been adamant that he had no personal contact with the TVA over the matter, a fact plainly contradicted in the newest report.
“The appearance of preferential treatment was exacerbated by: (1) Shuler calling TVA’s CEO Tom Kilgore complaining about the lack of action on the permit; and (2) Shuler’s representatives dropping Shuler’s name with TVA employees,” the redacted report said.
An internal TVA communication included with the report shows that Shuler may have even threatened Kilgore with a lawsuit over the land swap delay.
The report still concludes that Shuler did nothing wrong, even suggesting he may have been held to a higher standard because of his position. The report noted TVA routinely granted land swaps to developers.
The question now –– posed by the TVA Inspector General Richard Moore in his report –– is why Shuler lied in the first place.
“The most astonishing aspect of the Blackberry Ridge transaction is how the parties have created a justified suspicion of their dealings with each other. Specifically, if all of this was above board, why did TVA and Shuler feel compelled to tell the media that there was no contact between the congressman and TVA in relation to ... the transaction. There obviously was,” Moore wrote.