Tom Horne Probes Self with Help of Chief Deputy Rick Bistrow
So what do you do when you have the FBI breathing down your neck (again), you've been ordered to give back $400,000 in illegal campaign contributions (again), and allegations of your using the Arizona Attorney General's Office as your re-election headquarters have been so well documented that both conservative U.S. Senator Jeff Flake and über-conservative U.S. Representative Matt Salmon (Republicans, like yourself) have asked for you to ditch your re-election effort?
If you're Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, you pretend all is well, file your signatures to get on the ballot, ignore the plaintive cries of your employees for legal counsel, and put your chief deputy, Rick Bistrow, on the job, organizing a whitewash.
Last week, Arizona Republic reporter Yvonne Wingett Sanchez scored a fistful of e-mails from AG underlings begging for lawyers in the wake of allegations by ex-AG employee Sarah Beattie, which implicate Horne's executive staff in campaign work on state time.
The e-mails were sent around noon on May 8, after interviews with Beattie had appeared both on this blog and in the Arizona Capitol Times. About a week earlier, Beattie's resignation letter, which stated that Horne's office was "not following campaign laws," had been made public.
Tom Horne's hatchet man, Chief Deputy Rick Bistrow
Sent to Horne's chief deputy, Eric "Rick" Bistrow, the e-mails from clearly concerned AG employees mirror each other and each contains the same opening line:
"Based on recent events, I am hereby formally requesting counsel be appointed me in the matter of Sarah Beattie claiming Campaign Finance & Elections Law Violations."
But the employees got the big brush-off. Stephanie Grisham, spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office, followed up again on May 14, two days after Beattie's attorney, Tom Ryan, filed his client's affidavit and supporting documents with the Arizona Secretary of State's Office and the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission.
"In light of these new developments," Grisham writes Bistrow in her second e-mail pertaining to this subject, "and the fact that I have to speak publicly to the press AND potential issues with directives from my boss going forward, may I have counsel?"
But these employees did not receive an official response until Sanchez did a records request for the e-mails, and the office was forced to release a statement, calling it "premature to provide counsel at the present time for AGO employees that have been mentioned in the affidavit. Only unsupported allegations have been made and it is unclear whether any employee, including the attorney general, is entitled to legal counsel."
Horne now is serving as his own attorney in the Beattie matter, ever since lawyer Dennis Wilenchik, a Horne supporter who employs Horne's mistress, ex-Assistant Attorney General Carmen Chenal, announced that he would be summering in Peru and the Galapagos Islands and would not be defending Horne.
In case you haven't seen it, on May 19, Wilenchik e-mailed the following to those involved:
After further review and consideration, and discussion with the Attorney General, I will not be representing him in either the Secretary of State matter or the Clean Elections matter from this date forward. Mr. Horne, it is my present understanding, will be representing himself in responding to both of your inquiries so you may deal with him directly. Thank you for you professional courtesy and cooperation extended to me previously.
Since I am headed to Peru and the Galapagos Islands through mid June starting this Wednesday I think I will be having the better time than working on this anyway. In any event, thanks again to all, and Mr. Horne is fully aware of your deadline of June 2nd and intends to comply with it. Have a wonderful summer (if there is such a thing here) and take care. There is no need to copy me on anything further with respect to this matter.
Good thing Horne has that Harvard Law degree, eh?
A bit of levity from Phoenix videographer Dennis Gilman...
The employees that have been e-mailing Bistrow, however, are not lawyers. They've been told they won't need any till the FBI agents come a-knockin'.
Comforting thought, I'm sure.
But fear not, the AG's Office will be, according to its statement, be "pursuing the selection of an independent party to conduct an appropriate investigation so that a determination may be made as to what action or inaction should be taken."
Who decided that an internal probe was necessary, I asked Grisham, and that an "independent party" should do it?
Grisham told me that "the chief deputy and others in the office" made the decision.
She said she believed that Solicitor General Robert Ellman and the AG's ethics attorney had been consulted as well.
Grisham also said Horne was "walled off totally" from the probe.
The news of internal review was greeted with skepticism by Ryan.
"If it's the solicitor general, great," Ryan explained. "If it's the executive office calling for it, it's not going to be worth the paper it's written on. It's just going to be a total whitewash.
"In my opinion, this is just a way for the [AG's] executive office to get free counsel, the thing they've be denied for so long."
Ryan also decried the use of yet more taxpayer resources.
"We're going to waste more taxpayer money investigating what we already know," said Ryan. "That is, Tom Horne's been campaigning on taxpayer dollars."
While Ryan expressed some confidence in the reputation of Ellman, he has none in chief deputy Bistrow, Horne's right-hand man.
"There aren't enough buses around to throw people under with Bistrow around," quipped Ryan. "School bus, party bus, incubus, succubus."
Indeed, the smaller fry in Horne's office should be aware that Bistrow is not their buddy.
Ask Meg Hinchey, the former AG investigator ordered by Horne to find a link to the press in his office back in 2011, a wild goose chase that inadvertently uncovered allegations of illegal activity by Horne and others.
Ultimately, Hinchey turned over the allegations to the FBI, with the knowledge of former Judge Jim Keppel, then head of the AG's criminal division.
Before Keppel left the AG's Office April 2012, he spoke with FBI agents, in an interview that was released later in 2012 as part of a cache of documents made public by the FBI and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.
That interview implicates both Bistrow and Horne in an effort to hide Hinchey's investigation from the world.
Keppel told FBI agents the following:
Then on December 12th, Rick [Bistrow] asked me to come to his office to, ah, discuss the internal [investigation]. So I -I went to the office. Ah, he wanted to know if the records could be destroyed or removed from [Meg Hinchey's] computer. And I told him that couldn't be done because they could be considered public records and destroying them would be a crime, that they're public records.
He asked what Meg would say about doing that and I said she wouldn't do it. And he asked if the reports could be considered drafts. I said they weren't drafts, but they were case updates. Ah, he asked whether putting them in a personnel file would protect the records. And I asked him whose personnel file? And he said [outreach director Kathleen Winn's]. I told him I didn't think it would protect them. And he said, ah, we'd discuss it further.
Keppel also told the FBI of another suggestion that Hinchey's file be made inaccessible to the public or to other law enforcement agencies, this one made by Horne, with Bistrow present.
Keppel told the FBI that:
"[Horne] said what I want to do is -is get [Hinchey's] notebook and, ah, have everything on the investigation taken off her computer. So at that point I looked over at [Rick] Bistro to see what he was going to say. And he just sat there and looked at me. He didn't say a word. So I looked back at Horne and, ah, Horne says, well, you're -you're looking at Rick to get an answer. Ah, he says Rick agrees with me."
Horne apparently knew that there was an FBI probe at this point.
The FBI investigated Horne for obstruction of justice and other federal crimes, but the U.S. Attorney's Office declined to prosecute.
Bistrow has his boss' interests in mind, as well as his own. The public interest? Not so much.
Hinchey alleged that Bistrow and Horne began a smear campaign against her, isolated her in the office, and further retaliated against her because they knew she'd gone to the FBI.
She sued in federal court, and settled for about $100,000, after having left her job at the AG's office.
Similarly, Beattie has alleged that the AG's office spread malicious gossip about her following her resignation, though she has not named Bistrow and Horne directly in this accusation.
So what should executive office staff do, given this information, and given the fact that any of them could serve as grill-fodder for Bistrow's bus?
Ryan suggested that they could do what Beattie has: get clear of the AG's Office and get an attorney of their own.
AG staffer Garrett Archer, one of those sending an e-mail to Bistrow asking for counsel, already has resigned. He has declined to comment, so far.
For those who do not follow suit immediately, if I were their shoes, I'd be keeping copies of anything and everything that could bolster my story in the future. Just like Beattie has done.
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