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OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE! CNMI House to issue subpoenas after Torres threatens cops into silence

By Eric Rosario

Even Republican Vice Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao voted to skip the niceties of courtesy letters and have the House Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee issue subpoenas to witnesses in the investigation of corruption in the Torres administration.

Gov. Ralph Torres, Lt. Gov. Arnold Palacios, and first lady Diann Torres are on that list, among others.

Mr. Attao joined the six Democrats on the JGO in unanimous votes to issue the subpoenas following last-minute notices from three administration officials that they would not accept invitations to tell the truth before the JGO today.

In the absence of the three - Jomalyn Gelacio, who was a driver for the Torreses, Bernadita Palacios, and Matilde Rosario - committee chairwoman Celina Roberto Babauta entered into the record a non-disclosure agreement officials of the Department of Public Safety had police officers sign.

The police officers, according to sources, were and are those assigned to the personal security detail of the governor and his wife, and the lieutenant governor. The NDA prohibits these officers from ever revealing any information they have about the conduct of the Torreses and the Mr. Palacios, and threatens the officers with lawsuits if they reveal any such information.

"This is contempt," Rep. Tina Sablan said. "At the very least, this is contempt, according to the law, and this may very well be obstruction of justice," the congresswoman said about the Torres administration's efforts to silence witnesses.

The JGO has begun an historic investigation into Mr. Torres based on hundreds of pages of documents evidencing his misuse of public funds and illegal travel. The committee today was to begin asking witnesses to the corruption questions under oath and penalty of perjury.

"What ever happened to 'I have nothing to hide?'" former Gov. Juan Nekai Babauta asked, alluding to a statement Mr. Torres made in his defense when the damning documents against him were first scrutinized by the previous legislature.

“All my documentation, anybody can get it, there is nothing to hide,” Mr. Torres told the Saipan Tribune in December 2019. “If they want to do an OG [Open Government] on it, go ahead. If they have questions on the expenditure, please feel free. I got nothing to hide.”

But run and hide the administration is doing. The NDA simply is the latest example of the Torres administration's fork tongued rhetoric, but it is a move that committee members fear will create a chilling effect on future witnesses.

“Mark my words," Ms. Babauta warned the administration, "I will take it further than that. This committee has an obligation to get to the truth of these documents. These NDAs paint the picture of the guilty conscience of this runaway government."

Rep. Ed Propst requested Ms. Babauta open dialogue with the Office of the Attorney General to determine whether the OAG was aware of or complicit in the issuance of the NDAs, and if not, who had the NDAs issued.

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