In a startling turn of events, Johnson County District Attorney Phill Kline was given permission Thursday to hire a special prosecutor. It is widely believed the target of the investigation will be Kansas Attorney General Paul Morrison.
Morrison, a Democrat, defeated Kline, a Republican, last year in a bruising political battle for the attorney general's office.
Now, Morrison is caught up in a sex and legal ethics scandal, which includes allegations that Morrison tried to get information about Kline's work as Johnson County district attorney.
"The crimes that we are investigating and that I will refer out involve phone harassment and potential blackmail and other potential crimes," Kline told Johnson County commissioners.
Kline said it is necessary to seek outside help in the matter because staff members in his office may be witnesses in the investigation.
The commissioners approved $25,000 to hire a special prosecutor.
A county official, with knowledge of the situation and who asked not to be named, said Morrison is the target of the investigation, according to The Associated Press.
However, Brian Burgess, spokesman for the district attorney's office, said, "We are not commenting on who it involves at this point."
Kline's action prompted a statement from Morrison, saying, "I take full responsibility for my personal failings and once again apologize to all of the people across Kansas that I have let down.
"There is no doubt, however, that all accusations of official or criminal wrongdoing are false and part of a political assault against me waged for partisan gain."
Morrison has been embroiled in a fight for his political life this week.
On Sunday, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported that Linda Carter, Morrison's former director of administration when he served as Johnson County district attorney, had accused him of sexual harassment and attorney misconduct. Carter has filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the newspaper said.
Carter said she and Morrison had a two-year affair, the paper reported. Both she and Morrison are married.
And, she said, Morrison sought information through her about Kline's actions in a lawsuit involving Planned Parenthood of Overland Park. She also said Morrison tried unsuccessfully to get her to write letters on behalf of attorneys who sued Kline after he fired them when he became district attorney.
Morrison has admitted to having an affair with Carter, but he has denied allegations of professional misconduct.
After his defeat for reelection to be attorney general in 2006, Kline successfully got Morrison's old job as Johnson County district attorney in an election of county Republican officials. The GOP got to make the selection for the remainder of Morrison's term because Morrison was a Republican, who switched to the Democratic Party to face Kline.
Morrison has asked the Kansas Administrator's Office to investigate whether he violated attorney's code of ethics.
Morrison has retained Overland Park attorney Nick Badgerow, who represented Kansas Supreme Court Justice Lawton Nuss last year before the Commission on Judicial Qualifications. It admonished Nuss for having a lunchtime conversation on school finance with two senators when the Legislature was under a court mandate to spend more money on education.
Also last year, Badgerow represented Gov. Kathleen Sebelius when then-Attorney General Kline filed a lawsuit to force the state to stop financing abortions for Medicaid recipients. That lawsuit was dismissed by a district court judge.
Morrison spokeswoman Ashley Anstaett said Badgerow was hired "to deal with the state investigation and the EEOC matter." She declined to say whether Morrison and Badgerow have met, citing attorney-client privilege.
"The matter needs to be resolved in the appropriate forums," said Badgerow, who declined to discuss specifics.