The media's been hot for Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne's head over allegations that during the 2010 campaign he was improperly involved in supporter-turned-staffer Kathleen Winn's independent expenditure committee Business Leaders for Arizona.
See also: -Tom Horne's Alleged Hit-and-Run at an Address Listed for Carmen Chenal (w/UPDATE) -Bill Montgomery Takes Action Against a Campaign Scandal -- While His Campaign Uses a Consultant From Another Scandal -Attorney General Horne Hired Carmen Chenal to a Highly Paid Top Post -- 'Cause She's His Goomba -Tom Horne's Pal Carmen Chenal's Bar File Partially Sealed by Judge -Carmen Chenal Overwhelmed as Tom Horne Pulls an Andy Thomas on Redistricting -Tom Horne's Female Trouble: Kathleen Winn Not "the Mole" -Bill Montgomery Rushes to Arpaio's Aid -- Just As Disbarred Predecessor Andy Thomas Used to Do
This, after Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery thought the AG's actions so egregious that he called a big press conference Monday to tell us all about them, and even got the FBI's Phoenix division Special Agent in Charge James Turgal to be present and back him up.
"Why isn't Horne being prosecuted criminally?" newshounds cried at the presser. "Why isn't Monty calling for Horne's resignation?"
Why? I'll tell you why. Because all politicians do the same damn stuff, they just try a little harder not to get caught.
So Monty is not going to start looking for ways to prosecute people criminally for civil violations that most pols engage in.
Who do you think he is, Rick Romley in the AzScam days? Yes, there was once a time, back in the early 1990s, when the Maricopa County Attorney set up stings to catch crooked pols. But those days are gone.
Because, if you'll wind your brains back to 2010, you'll recall that Romley, then acting Maricopa County Attorney, was clobbered by Monty in the primary of a special election held to replace ex-County Attorney Andrew Thomas (now a disbarred, wannabe-Wal-Mart greeter), who was off to joust with Horne and lose in a tightly-contested GOP primary.
How did Monty best Romley? With the help of more than a half million dollars in TV ads and mailers paid for by Monty's benefactor, Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Interestingly enough, it was none other than Lincoln Strategy Group, the same firm Winn used to do her ad defending Horne, which was hired to do those mailers attacking Romley on behalf of Joe.
Well, ostensibly on behalf of Joe. Actually both they and the TV ads were on behalf of Monty, because Arpaio wanted his guy heading the MCAO, not his longtime enemy Romley, who is constitutionally incapable of rolling over for our scalawag of a sheriff.
An administrative law judge agreed that the mailers were an in-kind contribution to Montgomery. Though, for reasons only the judge seemed to understand, the more expensive TV ads were not.
As a result, Arpaio's campaign war chest, administered by Chad Willems of Summit Consulting, was dinged to the tune of $154,000.
Only Arpaio appealed, and got the amount knocked down to $77,000 before paying it.
At Monday's press conference, I asked Monty what the difference was between the solid Arpaio did him and the solid Kathleen Winn did Horne?
It's all about that alleged coordinatin', according to Monty.
"The nature of the action was very similar," he admitted. "But, unlike this particular action, there was no coordination in that other election, certainly not with respect to monies raised for that expenditure, certainly not with respect to how that expenditure was put together."
Oh, I'm sure they never coordinated. I would never, ever suggest such a thing.
As was the case with Arpaio's spending on behalf of Monty, this deal with Winn and Horne is a civil matter and will go before an administrative law judge, and that judge will decide whether or not a fine is merited.
After that, Horne and Winn may appeal and get the amount busted down. Just like with Joe.
So why was the FBI chasing Horne around as he hooked up with his employee Carmen Chenal and backed into another vehicle? I mean, I know this is some kind of heinous crime, but don't these agents have some terrorists to flush out or something?
More importantly, did FBI investigators dog Arpaio and his henchmen in this manner over the abuse of power allegations? Did they do wiretaps? Did they leave no stone unturned in an effort to bring Maricopa County's badge-slingin' Al Capone to justice?
And if they did, why are they so shy about discussing it? I don't recall Tugal making himself available to the press when the U.S. Attorney's Office made the criminal investigation of Arpaio go away at 5 p.m. on a Friday before a three day weekend?
You know those federal employees, they do like their time off.
"The FBI is that organization that is charged with protecting the public's trust," said Turgal to the press on Monday. "That trust is what lies at the very core of our democracy. It costs nothing but faith, but it means everything, and that's what the FBI's role is."
I practically felt like saluting the flag. Not.
I asked Turgal if the FBI was involved just because one of Horne's own investigators, Meg Hinchey, came to the agency with the allegations against Horne and Winn.
"The FBI is involved because we are that organization at the federal level, whether it is civil rights or public corruption, it is our responsibility," he explained. "If the FBI doesn't do it, nobody does. So whether you are an individual who is an elected official at the federal, state, local, or tribal level, if there are allegations of misconduct or wrongdoing, it is our responsibility to investigate that."
Uh, okay. so why didn't you investigate the 2011 recall shenanigans involving former state Senate President Russell Pearce and sham candidate Olivia Cortes?
"I'm not going to comment on that," Turgal replied.
So, no eleven month FBI investigation into ol' Russ, Cortes, and Constantin Querard.
And nope, Monty isn't interested in that one either.
Horne had that investigation at one point. He conflicted it out to Gila County prosecutor Daisy Flores, who gave it about as much scrutiny as a thirsty alcoholic gives a free fifth of Jim Beam before guzzling.
I'm not saying the Horne-Winn matter should have been ignored, but it pales in comparison to some of the other corruption here in Sand Land.
Nor do I feel sorry for Horne, who pretty much brought this mess on himself by ordering Hinchey to find a non-existent mole in his office. A mole who supposedly was telling yours truly that Horne and Chenal were playing their version of strip canasta in between meals at the Pita Jungle.
You should see the doorstop of transcripts of interviews done of AG employees in an attempt to sniff all this out. Why all this tree-killing? There were no grand jury secrets or any other kinds of privileged info involved.
Horne was obviously paranoid someone was whispering about his alleged infidelities. Not good rumors to have out there if you want to run for governor in 2014, which Horne did. Though that pipe dream is now bust.
There'll be no Camelot on West Washington Street for Horne and his underlings. Not so much because of the alleged coordinatin', but because in March Horne hit a parked car and didn't leave a note, with his Cubana gal-pal along for the ride.
Hardly Chappaquiddick, but it is one of those things people expect an Attorney General not to do; i.e., a vehicular hit-and-run with your alleged mistress in the passenger seat, after doing a car switcheroo.
No wonder that on last night's Fox 10 newscast, Horne declined to discuss his relationship with Chenal and would rather field questions concerning campaign finance.
"That's really off topic," the AG told a Fox 10 reporter. "I'm happy to talk about the independent campaign, and happy to answer any questions about that."
Of course he would. Because the AG knows, as does everyone in politics these days, that the Chinese wall that's supposed to exist between an IE and a candidate is made of Swiss cheese not concrete.
Remember when Steven Colbert of The Colbert Report let The Daily Show's Jon Stewart run his SuperPAC, as they promised viewers that there would be no coordinatin' between Steven Colbert and the Steven Colbert SuperPAC?
See, any fuss over "coordination" is, alas, a joke, a joke on a massive, national level, and fodder for comedy writers everywhere.
Slowly, painfully, my colleagues in the local press corps are beginning to see beyond their campaign finance geekery and understand the scandal for what it is: a sordid tale of a powerful politician who over several years rewarded his alleged mistress with high-paying jobs for which she is not qualified.
As Arizona Republic scribe Yvonne Wingett-Sanchez realized (at last) in a 315-word sidebar yesterday:
"It may not be a campaign-finance allegation that Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne is remembered for. It might be the March 27 hit-and-run fender-bender he was involved in while driving with a female employee to her home..."
If so, why did Yvonne's editors limit her to 315 words and ignore the obvious implications of why Horne was sneaking around with Chenal while wearing a baseball cap?
Eventually, I suspect this town's journos -- assuming they care about this scandal in a week -- may end up asking the same questions I did more than a year ago when I wrote the column that prompted the AG to order an investigation to plug a leak that eventually roped in the FBI, which assigned agents to follow him around while he hooked up with Chenal for alleged nooners.
Which raises the interesting question of why FBI agents were doing this when their investigation was supposed to be about alleged campaign finance shenanigans that took place two years ago.
Horne having an affair with Chenal might not be that big of a deal if she didn't work for him and hadn't been hired to be an Assistant Attorney General in the AG's criminal division at a six figure salary despite her having been suspended previously by the state bar and despite her having no experience in criminal law.
Will the local media finally start asking questions about all the issues raised by that impropriety?
Perhaps. Give them time. There's also the more serious issue of Horne apparently asking if documents related to AG investigator Meg Hinchey's probe could be destroyed, er, legally.
Jim Keppel, who was in charge of the criminal division at the time, told the AG that, no, those docs could not be destroyed.
Keppel later resigned from his post over this hooh-hah.
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Obstruction of justice is just one criminal violation Monty or the U.S. Attorney could pursue, if they cared. But they don't, any more than they care about Arpaio's criminal misdeeds.
Welcome to Arizona, people, where corruption is more plentiful than cactus. And justice is taking a permanent siesta.
One last note: At Monday's presser, Monty claimed he has no interest in running for Governor or AG in 2014 and that newshounds can call him out on that if he changes his mind.
Somehow, I think if that's the only thing standing between Monty and higher office, he'll be able to live with the challenge to his credibility.