No State Investigation into Schweitzer Comments, AG Says

By Robert Struckman, 9-11-08

Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath declined to investigate comments made by Gov. Brian Schweitzer at a fundraising event in Philadelphia on July 14, describing the speech as “admittedly intemperate” and saying “the accusations contain no allegation supported by fact.”

Yesterday, NewWest.Net broke the news about Schweitzer’s speech before the Trial Lawyers Association, in which he jokingly said he had tampered with the 2006 election, in which fellow Democrat Jon Tester narrowly beat Conrad Burns for the U.S. Senate.

Specifically, Schweitzer described how he had rigged the release of one county’s election results with the goal of avoiding a recount and how he prompted reservation cops to run-off Republican poll watchers to keep them from harassing Indian voters.

“He’s just telling a story. He did not tamper. I wouldn’t let him or anyone else,” said Mary McMahon, head of the elections office for Silver Bow County. “I have to take some humor with it, otherwise it would drive you crazy,” she added. “As for the inference, I resent that.”

McMahon went on to describe election night in full, which included a call from the governor’s office. She also described the scrutiny of her office, including by lawyers for both major political parties. There were no complaints at the time.

McGrath’s short letter to Montana Secretary of State Brad Johnson, who requested the investigation after getting a complaint from Tammy Hall of Bozeman, said no more about the governor’s comments. “The misuse of the criminal justice system for political purposes is a serious matter. It is inappropriate to use a public office as election-season PR for a political blogger or any other special interest,” he says.

Bill Mercer, U.S. Attorney for Montana also received the complaint from Hall. But his office has yet to make public any decision about whether to investigate. (The U.S. Attorney’s office would have jurisdiction over tribal lands.)

Erik Iverson, chairman of the Montana Republican Party, wanted an official inquiry into the governor’s remarks.

“Far from being funny, Gov. Schweitzer’s comments are breathtakingly foolish and vulgar. Rigging the electoral process is nothing to brag about. It’s just not funny. The governor ought to be embarrassed,” Iverson said. “There are always rumors swirling about. These are serious issues. I think law enforcement should decide (whether the statements had merit) at this point.”

By Robert Struckman, 9-11-08

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