The Oregon Department of Justice has decided not to file criminal charges against former Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen, or the former county employee he had an extramarital affair with, Sonia Manhas. Cogen stepped down from his job in September, after admitting the affair with Manhas, who was a county health policy official. Kristian Foden-Vencil joined Beth Hyams in studio to explain what the attorney general’s office said Friday afternoon.
Beth Hyams: Kristian, remind us a little about this case.
Kristian Foden-Vencil: Well, as you said, Cogen admitted to having an affair with Manhas. She was forced out of her job shortly after that revelation, and Cogen stepped down later. He had held onto the position, though, even when his commission colleagues voted in favor of his departure. The attorney general’s office launched an investigation to determine whether the affair broke any laws. At the time, Cogen said he believed the investigation would clear him.
BH: And now, it appears that the investigation has— or at least that the Department of Justice found not evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
KFV: That’s right. According to the Department of Justice, the investigation began when the Attorney General’s office was asked to step in by District Attorney Rod Underhill. It was conducted by special agents. They interviewed numerous witnesses, including Manhas. They looked into travel and other activities. You may recall that Manhas and Cogen traveled together for work.
BH: Did they interview Cogen?
KFV: No. The statement from the AG’s office says that they repeatedly sought to interview Cogen, but that he refused to be interviewed without what they call “advance information,” that they were unwilling to provide.
BH: What else did the investigation focus on?
KFV: They say that they also focused on Manhas’ promotion. Questions were raised about her promotion once the affair was revealed. The investigators also looked at the budgeting for Manhas’ department.
BH: And what did the find?
KFV: The Attorney General says that Manhas’ promotion complied with county polices, and that she was qualified for her position. They say no evidence was found to indicate that Cogen improperly exerted his influence to secure that promotion. And although Cogen did recommend favorable budgets for Manhas’ department, the DOJ says those recommendations were extensively discussed before they were approved by the Multnomah County Commission. They found that the budget recommendations were in line with Cogen’s longstanding policy priorities.
BH: What about the trips they went on together?
KFV: The investigators found that while Cogen and Manhas traveled together or stayed together on various work-related trips, there was no evidence that county funds were improperly spent on those trips. Manhas joined Cogen at a conference in Atlanta “in her personal capacity,” to use the words of the DOJ. But she used vacation time and paid for her own travel. Cogen selected a hotel that cost more per night than rooms in the conference hotel. But the report says county policies give elected officials discretion to select their accommodations for official travel.
BH: Anything else to wrap up?
KFV: When he resigned, Cogen said that his behavior was disappointing for his staff and the people of Multnomah County. He said that continuing his job as county chair would run counter to the higher standards he had set for himself. I tried to contact the place where Cogen, on a Facebook page, says that he’s working. I left a message, but haven’t heard anything from him.
BH: Thank you Kristian.
KFV: You’re welcome.