Thursday, May 3, 2007

Rep. Rehberg, grand juries, and aides -- dig a little deeper

Jay at 4&20 Blackbirds is to be commended for not leaping to conclusions regarding a recent press release sent out by the Montana Democratic Party -- a message that strongly implied that Rep. Denny Rehberg's state director, Randy Vogel, was under federal investigation. That paradigm of an environmental ranger, Larry Kralj, is doubly to be commended for immediately calling Vogel "a decent guy," and expressing disbelief in any wrongdoing on his part -- without even waiting to see what happened first.

Shane Mason over at Montana Netroots gets an honorable mention for later calling the matter a "non-issue," and for expressing regret on another blog for repeating the allegations on Netroots.

Mason initially characterized the matter as follows:

"While the office of Denny Rehberg has left Montanans in the dark on the nature of the issue, Chairman of the Montana Democratic Party, Dennis McDonald responded..."

For those who missed it the first time, Montana Democratic Party Chairman Dennis McDonald's subtle innuendo is worth repeating:

This is disturbing news for the people of Montana. Where does this federal grand jury subpoena lead? To convicted lobbyist ‘Casino’ Jack Abramoff, who played such a big part in Sen. Burns’ defeat? Or to Kevin Ring, Team Abramoff partner who Rep. Rehberg recommended to Carter County, Montana? Or to former Republican candidate for Governor, Pat Davison, who will be sentenced shortly for fraud and felony? Or does this lead to INSA, the Missoula-based organization tied closely to Rehberg and Burns, and which is now being investigated by the FBI? ...

It looks like the Republican Culture of Corruption may still be with us here in Montana, despite the defeat of Sen. Conrad Burns last year...

(It looks like "Culture of Corruption" is now a proper noun, deserving capitalization.)

What was characterized as Rehberg leaving "Montanans in the dark on the nature of the issue" turned out to be an old-fashioned matter of following procedures designed to protect the confidentiality of constituents -- in this case, one who is in a dispute with the IRS.

Subsequent information showed, as Rep. Rehberg correctly pointed out, that everything anyone needed to know about the subpoena could have been obtained through a simple phone call to Vogel (or for that matter, to one of Speaker Pelosi's aides or to the Justice Department, if a Republican Congressman's office couldn't be trusted to tell the truth.)

All in all, it can be agreed that the Montana liberal blogosphere behaved with a restraint and willingness to correct the record quickly that their party's leaders apparently still need to learn.


The real story, though, was right there in front of everyone's eyes in the original Netroots post, where one could clearly see the date of the communication from Randy Vogel to Speaker Nancy Pelosi reporting the subpoena: March 19, 2007. Vogel's letter to Pelosi was published in the Congressional Record on March 21, 2007.

Now, Montana Headlines could go through the motions of asking rhetorical questions like "what did Dennis McDonald know, and when did he know it?" But we won't insult anyone's intelligence -- or rush to judgment.

It is, of course, possible that the Montana Democratic Party sent out their news release about this subpoena the second that they got the information into their hands.

And it is possible that McDonald and the Montana Democratic Party knew absolutely nothing about this communication from March 21 until May 2 -- a mysteriously missing 43 days.

And it is possible that the Montana Democratic Party knew absolutely nothing about what the subpoena was related to, and didn't make any discrete inquiries through Congressional sources to see if there was something damning behind the subpoena.

And it is possible that the date on which they released this piece of information... that they had just received 43 days after it was published in the Congressional Record... and that they hadn't checked into at all in spite of there being two Montana Democratic Senators in Washington --

-- it is possible that this date just happened to coincide with the date that the FEC gave its long-awaited ruling fining the Montana Democratic Party $15,000 for neglecting to disclose $106,000 it spent on 2005 attack ads against Sen. Conrad Burns. (A fine that was, as The Western Word astutely points out, for an ad campaign at a critical time for Burns, and which turned out to be a very good $15,000 investment on the part of the Montana Democratic Party.)

It is possible that they weren't sitting on this press release about Randy Vogel for a month and a half. It is possible that they weren't waiting, intending to try to get it into the press on the same day that the FEC fine of the Montana Democratic Party was reported -- all in an attempt to counteract the negative publicity. (That this didn't happen is likely due only to alert press relations on the part of Rehberg's staff.)

All of this is possible. We won't rush to judgment.

But even if we give the benefit of the doubt, and assume that all of the "possibles" above are really what happened, the fact remains that Dennis McDonald was willing to rush to judgment on Randy Vogel. This is not the first time that the Montana Democratic Party has been willing to twist a story in a hyperventilating attempt to get at Denny Rehberg by tarnishing the reputation of this long-time honorable public servant.

Reckless mud-slinging at an elected public official is bad enough. Reckless mud-slinging at a staffer who is just doing his job is quite another.

So while it is admittedly more the kind of thing we associate with righteously indignant Democrats, it is hardly over-reaction on the part of Montana Republicans to call for the resignation of the source of this irresponsible attack -- McDonald.


Jay Stevens said...

That's hilarious. You laud the leftys for restraint in not judging Vogel, then you go off the deep end on some fantastic consipiracy theory organized by McDonald without a single shred of evidence.

Nice acrobatics!

Montana Headlines said...

Off the deep end, eh? Come on in, the water's fine.

Understandable criticism, though, and not one that wasn't considered before writing the second part of the post.

There is quite a difference, though. Consider the amount of evidence that Randy Vogel was implicated in any of things that McDonald listed -- zilch.

And then, by contrast consider objectively all of those "possibles" that needed to take place in order for these two things to come out on exactly the same day.

It a series of remarkable coincidences that you and other left-leaning bloggers would be swarming over and questioning to the nth degree -- unapologetically -- if a Montana GOP chairman had done something similar.