Treasurer Dan Rutherford delivered a forceful, even believable defense of himself last week during a suburban press conference hours after he was hit with a federal lawsuit alleging sexual harassment and coerced campaign work.
Rutherford made a strong case that at least some of the accusations are untrue. There were some holes in his argument, some bigger than others, but it seems obvious that some of the charges are overblown.
For instance, the accuser, Ed Michalowski, claims in his lawsuit that all the campaign and sexual pressure from Rutherford directly resulted in “leakage of cerebral spinal fluid in the brain,” which seems more than a bit of a stretch. Michalowski also takes a joking text message between himself and Rutherford’s campaign manager completely out of context. And Rutherford laid out Michalowski’s numerous financial troubles in an attempt to demonstrate that the plaintiff’s need for money was driving much of the lawsuit.
That being said, I’ve had some real worries about Rutherford’s so-called “independent” internal investigation of these allegations. Rutherford announced the investigation weeks ago when he let the media know about the potential lawsuit.
Rutherford’s top people have been saying for weeks they fully expected the investigation would clear their guy. So, I was naturally concerned this would be a whitewash. I mean, why were they so confident they’d be vindicated if people were literally lining up to spill their guts about what they knew?
I’ve also been concerned that Rutherford would use the so-called “independent” investigation to find out what people in his office were saying about him to help with his lawsuit, so I personally didn’t think it was all that wise to cooperate with the probe.
But the investigator, who was given a $250 an hour state contract, convinced several members of Rutherford’s staff that he was on the up and up and would go wherever the facts led him.
The investigator then interviewed several people, starting with some treasurer’s office employees who allowed Michalowski to use their names as either witnesses or corroborators.
The first person to be interviewed brought a recording device and recorded his interview. He reportedly laid out all the goods he had on Rutherford, and it wasn’t pretty.
The interviewer was apparently caught off guard by that move, and when the second person entered the room, he was reportedly denied permission to record the conversation. Other employees then reportedly demanded during their interviews that they be allowed to record the proceedings. They were told, insiders say, that their interviews would be recorded and that the employees would each be given a copy of those recordings.
Well, the employees are still waiting for their recordings, leading them to worry that whatever they said could be twisted out of context or eliminated entirely from the record.
The investigator also invited the entire office to come in and talk, leading one of the employees with complaints to grumble that those interviews could delay and/or dilute the findings, allowing the investigators to claim that the complaints center around a small handful of “disgruntled employees.”
Needless to say, Rutherford was in enough trouble without trying to get cute with this internal investigation.
And then he dropped a bomb. Rutherford’s attorney announced last week that he would not allow the release of information gleaned from that internal investigation. The attorney explained that the office shouldn’t be releasing information while a federal lawsuit is underway.
The explanation has a little merit. It’s not wise for a defendant in a federal civil suit to be releasing details of an internal investigation. But Rutherford was not yet legally prohibited from doing so and he and his staff promised over and over for weeks that the results would be released no matter what.
Despite all his protestations to the contrary, the treasurer will undoubtedly wind up using all those employee interviews to glean information for his legal team about what the other side knows and where the potential minefields are.
That’s just not acceptable.
For one thing, this $250 an hour probe was paid for with tax dollars. The info should be released to the public, who funded it.
And if he continues to refuse to release this information, despite all his promises, what does that say about the sort of governor Rutherford would be?
This smacks of a cover-up. If the treasurer wants to retain a shred of credibility moving forward, he ought to overrule his attorney and release the information, come what may.
• Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.