Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger tells the N&O* he had no idea the FBI was investigating the state’s private prison maintenance contracts when he and House Speaker Tim Moore removed a provision banning such contracts ” in the waning days of their budget negotiations, spending no more than three minutes discussing it.”

As you’ve probably read, the issue of prison maintenance contracts comes to light after the N&O reported last week that Gov. Pat McCrory met with a donor seeking the contract to maintain all of the state’s 57 prisons. Charlotte businessman Graeme Keith allegedly said in front of McCrory and prison officials during a 2014 meeting he ““had given a lot of money to candidates running for public office, and it was now time for him to get something in return.”

Berger says he “would not have eliminated the budget provision had he known of the inquiry and ethical concerns,” and in his discussions with prison officials they “preferred that the General Assembly not tie their hands.” And while for their part prison officials protested expanding Keith’s existing contracts with three prisons —-much less give him the contract for the entire prison system— Berger claims they never said anything about an FBI investigation.

Berger said the legislature will conduct hearings into the prison maintenance contracts on Nov. 18, a meeting that “promises an unusual set of proceedings: a Republican General Assembly confronting top officials of the Republican-led executive branch.” Good.

*P.S.–Is it me or does the N&O website really suck not prove to be very user friendly?