Federal prosecutors will undoubtedly scour Easley's words and his version of various events related to free flights, a free car, and campaign-paid home repairs that Campbell testified were purposely hidden from the public.
"The matters from this week are probably one slice of the investigative pie," said Kieran Shanahan, a former federal prosecutor and Raleigh lawyer and a Republican. He had a minor client in the hearing, and after watching said he saw nothing that would make prosecutors hesitate.
Easley spoke openly of the federal inquiry in his testimony, talking of isolation from friends and associates to avoid obstructing justice. He said he has been scouring bank accounts in detail, recently cutting a $4,200 check to cover unpaid rent on his son's college housing. At one point, during a break, Easley went five rows deep into the audience and shook the hands of an FBI agent and IRS agent who were taking notes and have been tracking him.
The board's decision to refer its case to a state prosecutor could be folded into the wider range of other issues surrounding Easley that all seem to fit a pattern of accepting favors, at times apparently mixed with government action. Those other concerns include: a job Easley helped create for his wife at N.C. State University; action by his administration to waive violations or possibly speed up permits; and a $137,000 discount he accepted on a coastal lot he purchased.
Some of the same people involved in those issues, such as developer Gary Allen, testified narrowly, and the elections board avoided getting into material outside of campaign finance law.
The election board's inquiry also exposed a top Easley aide, Ruffin Poole, as being involved in fundraising while he was also serving as a key agent for Easley to clear obstacles at various state agencies. Poole, now working at the same law firm as Easley, fought the board's repeated efforts to question him. The case reached the state Court of Appeals, which has said Poole should be required to appear. The board could return to Raleigh to call him as a witness.
Easley's lawyer, Thomas Hicks, says investigators should focus just as hard on Campbell as they will on Easley. He has sought to discredit Campbell as a witness, relying especially on comments Campbell has made to The News & Observer.
Campbell, for instance, had told The N&O last year that he had been paid by the Easley campaign, writing on Oct. 21, 2008: "When I flew for the Easley campaigns, reimbursement was provided."
At the hearing, he produced a four-page memo and said he hadn't been paid for scores of flights worth more than $100,000.
Elections board member Anita Earls, a lawyer and Democrat from Durham, said the board weighed both "words and actions" in reaching its unanimous conclusion.
"We would not have referred it, obviously, if we didn't think that there was some evidence that McQueen Campbell's version was true," she said.
Easley did not make a major blunder, such as denying something and then having to admit it after a confrontation.
But Easley also testified in a way, familiar to reporters, that he has perfected in 16 years of holding statewide office. Faced with tough questions, Easley has been known to divert discussion to otherareas, or tell an anecdote.
During the hearing, for example, Easley testified he contacted car dealer Robert F. Bleecker this spring to settle up on an SUV that Easley's son had been driving for six years but that the Easley family didn't own or pay for.
Bleecker had testified that he had called Easley and sought payment before then.
Elections chairman Larry Leake asked Easley if Bleecker had been in error.
Easley didn't answer the question: "My recollection is the last time I talked to Mr. Bleecker I was vacuuming out my fireplace and the vacuum cleaner came unhooked and all of the dust started blowing out the back and I had to hang up and we didn't discuss the car at all." It drew chuckles throughout the room.
Much of the testimony covered a central dispute and possible crime involving Easley and Campbell, dealing with two payments from Easley's campaign treasury to Campbell in 2005.
Campbell says that the money covered house repairs he paid for on Easley's home in Raleigh and that Easley suggested he get the money from the campaign.
Related - or not?
Easley says he thought the payments were for flights. He denied taking part in any scheme to avoid paying Campbell for $11,000 in home repairs, including fixing a major water damage problem; records now show Easley also accepted a $5,400 insurance claim for water damage he hadn't paid for.
At one point in his testimony, Easley emphatically told the board members that "these two invoices are totally unrelated, at least in my mind, totally unrelated to anything to do with the house."
But he seems to have contradicted that in his own testimony.
It came when he talked about researching whether he had actually received the insurance payment. He was looking at the accounts this year because investigators were bearing down on him.
Easley told the board he wanted to acknowledge that he had checked and was clear on the fact that he, and no one else, had received the insurance money: "We received the check, and the check was deposited."
Leake: "But you didn't realize that until our investigators, if you will, got involved in making inquiries."
"No," Easley told Leake. "They didn't make any inquiry about that."
Easley then revealed that, in his mind, he actually had connected a Campbell invoice with his home repairs insurance payment.
"I made the inquiry," Easley testified, "when I found out about something I'm sure you are going to ask me about, which would be one of the [campaign flight] invoices."
Easley also testified that, as he went looking, he had hoped that he hadn't received the insurance money and was now willing to give it up.