AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage won’t face a criminal investigation for threatening to withhold funding from a nonprofit that hired House Speaker Mark Eves, said Attorney General Janet Mills and another Democratic prosecutor in a Tuesday letter.

But that decision won’t ease partisan tension over the issue: Eves, a Democrat from North Berwick, is suing the Republican governor over losing his job offer in June to lead Good Will-Hinckley and a trio of legislators is still expected to advance a longshot bid to impeach LePage during the January session.

The letter from Mills and Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney does take air out of the impeachment effort and bolster Republican claims that further investigation of LePage would be little more than partisan politics.

Reps. Jeffrey Evangelos, I-Friendship, Ben Chipman, D-Portland, and Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, who are pursuing the impeachment effort, requested an investigation of LePage, alleging “abuse of power,” on Dec. 4, but it was rejected by Mills and Maloney on Tuesday.

They said while that term isn’t addressed in Maine statutes, Mills’ office reviewed the law and facts of the case, concluding “that there is not a basis at this time for us to pursue a criminal investigation.”

Eves hasn’t backed impeachment and his attorney, David Webbert, called Mills’ letter “no surprise.” LePage’s office hasn’t commented.

But in an interview, Evangelos criticized Mills, saying there’s a “lack of courage in Augusta to confront the realities of what we’re dealing with.”

“We obviously disagree with her decision,” he said. “It doesn’t change our plans for impeachment. In fact, it makes impeachment more certain.”

The controversy has enveloped the State House since June, but the basic facts of the case aren’t in dispute: After learning that Eves was hired as Good Will-Hinckley’s president in June, the LePage administration made clear that $530,000 in discretionary funding for the organization’s charter school would be pulled, according to an investigation by the Legislature’s watchdog arm.

That move led to concern about the nonprofit’s solvency and one of its private funders, the Harold Alfond Foundation, reconsidered millions of dollars in grant funding. It was enough for Good Will-Hinckley to rescind its offer to Eves, who has blamed the governor for his firing.

LePage hasn’t really denied that, criticizing Eves’ past votes against charter schools and labeling his initial employment offer “a back-room deal between cronies” in a June news release.

The Legislature’s watchdog panel ended its probe of LePage’s actions earlier this month, but the impeachment effort looms and the court fight between Eves and LePage will likely stretch into 2017. On Friday, Eves added another charge to his civil lawsuit, accusing the governor of violating a state law prohibiting intentional interference with a contract.

Webbert called that lawsuit Eves’ focus in a statement, saying it’s “the most effective way” to hold LePage “personally accountable for his reckless abuse of power and to set a legal precedent to protect Maine’s people from future such abuses by a governor.”

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...