Paul LePage, Tom Saviello trade insults after watchdog committee finds governor didn’t meddle in timber diversion

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Maine’s legislative watchdog has found no evidence Gov. Paul LePage was directly involved in a February decision to divert timber harvested on public lands away from two Maine mills.

In a 12-page report released Monday to the Government Oversight Committee, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, known as OPEGA, concluded the decision did not appear politically motivated or related to the governor’s position on softwood lumber tariffs.

LePage attended Monday’s meeting and appeared to demand an apology from lawmakers who had raised questioned. He singled out Sen. Tom Saviello, a fellow Republican with whom he has clashed with in the past.

Saviello of Wilton stood his ground and said, “I am not someone who fabricates,” prompting the governor to shoot back, “You’ve been doing it for eight years.”

Gasps could be heard from committee members and those in the audience.

Things did not end there.

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Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta, the Republican chairman of the oversight committee, attempted to calm the governor down by saying no one had accused him of wrongdoing.

“Bull,” the governor said before adding that Saviello was, “the most repugnant human” he had ever seen.

Katz then told the governor that he was “out of order.”

LePage replied, “Thank you,” and stormed out of the committee room.

Saviello, stunned, said, “I will not tolerate being bullied like everyone one.”

The outburst by the governor overshadowed what should have been a vindication.

The two companies who lost out on the timber, Moose River Lumber and Pleasant River Lumber, both owned by the Brochu family, had been publicly critical of the governor’s position on the U.S. tariffs on Canadian lumber and some felt they were being retaliated against.

LePage vehemently denied those allegations – he even echoed President Trump by calling it a “witch hunt” – and encouraged an investigation by OPEGA.

The watchdog found that the decision to divert the spruce and fir timber that had been harvested in Maine away from the Brochus’ mills and to Stratton Lumber was made solely by Doug Denico, director of the Maine Forest Service.

It also affirmed the decision was made because another mill, Stratton Lumber, was facing a critical shortage of logs at the time and needed the shipment.

The report was presented Monday morning to the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee.

LePage was in attendance and addressed the findings. He was unequivocal in his denial that he knew anything about the decision.

“I am a person who does not need to go behind people’s back,” LePage said.

The report also said there was little documentation to account for or explain the decision.

OPEGA Director Beth Ashcroft said Monday the discussions appeared to happen over the telephone or in person.

“That made it difficult to corroborate much of what we did hear in interviews” she said.

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