RALEIGH (WTVD) --It is unusual to see a governor dress down a mid-level state employee, but that's what's happening in North Carolina.
Governor Pat McCrory and his chief of staff have been going after long-time state toxicologist Ken Rudo, who's at the center of the coal ash saga in the Tar Heel State. He was the state scientist who signed and sent out hundreds of letters to families living near Duke Energy coal ash pits informing them that their water was unsafe to drink and contained harmful, often cancer-causing heavy metals.
Notably, Rudo didn't sign off on a second round of letters the state sent out months later reversing the recommendation to many of those families, telling them that the same water was no longer poisonous. That letter was signed by State Health Director Randall Williams, a McCrory appointee.
Last month, Rudo was deposed in the course of one of the ongoing lawsuits swirling around coal ash in North Carolina and, in his testimony, he describes how Governor McCrory's administration pushed him and his department to reverse its recommendation.
The testimony goes on to say Rudo objected to and never signed off on those letters. Neither did his boss, Mina Shehee. That's important because it directly contradicts what state Health Director Randall Williams told ABC11 in an interview earlier this year that Shehee did agree with the decision to send out "do drink" letters.
Williams told the I-Team there was consensus in the department to reverse the earlier state recommendation; but every DHHS employee the I-Team has tracked down or heard from suggests that there was no consensus.
Rudo's testimony was immediately challenged by McCrory Chief of Staff Thomas Stith, who called a surprise, late-night press conference to say Rudo had lied under oath. And today, Governor McCrory doubled down.
"This administration supplied all the information to the general public and especially the well owners," McCrory said. "We didn't limit any information. We didn't hide any information. In fact, we did just the opposite. We provided it as much information that we had."
But then, McCrory volunteered this: "I think the only other issue I want to say is that Governor Hunt's administration had the same issue with this individual regarding exaggeration and not telling the truth that we are having it now."
Asked by ABC11 if he was accusing Rudo of perjury, the Governor said, "I'll let others decide. I just know there were some exaggerations and some mistruths. And you've got to recognize, we only seen partial transcripts."
McCrory went on to suggest a left-wing plot that involved Rudo intended for political gain. "This is all part a coordinated political campaign because at the same time these transcripts were released, the News & Observer had a full-page ad on the exact same issue. And there are also other advertisements that just happened to come on TV in the same week that these issues were, these transcripts, were released partially. So, I think this is all part of a pretty well coordinated campaign by a super PAC."
Rudo is a registered Republican. He says he voted for Pat McCrory.
Democrats, perhaps sensing political opportunity, are hitting McCrory hard, calling on him to ask the State Bureau of Investigations to do a full, independent investigation.
"Here's what we know," said Rep. Larry Hall, Democratic Minority Leader from Durham. "The state toxicologist testified under oath that he was pressured by Governor McCrory's senior staff to say that the contaminated drinking water was safe to drink. Today, I'm calling on Governor McCrory to request his State Bureau of Investigation to conduct an independent investigation into Dr. Rudo's testimony. If it turns out that the Governor or his staff indeed pressured Dr. Rudo to reverse the do not drink orders for contaminated water, then someone in that executive branch, the people who ordered it, should be held to account."
McCrory's staff hasn't responded to follow-up questions based on Hall's request.