Thoughts on the Kulongoski-Goldschmidt fiasco

It’s seldom the act, but rather the cover-up, that is the downfall of politicians.

That is the continuous lesson of politics stretching from the Gulf of Tonkin (Johnson) to Watergate (Nixon) to Iran/Contra (Reagan) to Lewinski and Whitewater (Clinton — both of them). The need to save face seemingly leads politicians to one pathological lie after another. And in doing so moves them deeper and deeper into the legal morass — a morass that could have been avoided and a mistake forgiven if at the first instance, the truth were told.

It is the lie, not the action denied, upon which the politician always falls. The most recent instance was the Scooter Libby case. What Libby was accused of doing was not criminal — just unseemly. He was not convicted of “outing” a CIA operative. He was convicted for lying about things surrounding the so-called outing. If Libby had simply stood up and said, “Yea, I did it, so what? She deserved it because of what she and her husband were doing” it would have been the end of the story — at least from a criminal aspect.

And so it is that we may be seeing this axiom being played out in Oregon politics now that Gov. Kulongoski has filed his formal response to Lars Larson’s complaint against him before the Oregon State Bar. The accusation leveled by Larson is that Kulongoski knew about former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt’s multi-year sexual abuse of a minor child and lied to the public about it. To the best of my knowledge, whether Kulongoski knew of the abuse does not amount to a criminal act. It most certainly would be a breach of trust with Oregon voters who had a right to know about such dirty little secrets. It may be grounds for disciplinary actions by the State Bar of Oregon. It may have even been grounds for removal from office during the times that Kulongoski was attorney general and/or a member of the Oregon Supreme Court. But I doubt that it amounted to a criminal act, particularly since the information was supplied by a third party and thus hearsay. There are no allegations that Kulongoski had direct information.

But in Kulongoski’s response to the Oregon State Bar, he flat out denied that he had had been told by former Goldschmidt and Kulongoski speech writer Fred Leonhardt about Goldschmidt’s rape of the then fourteen year old girl. The question is no longer whether Kulongoski knew of or believed the allegations relating to Goldschmidt’s criminal conduct. Now the question is whether Kulongoski has lied to the State Bar about what Fred Leonhardt told him.

It is unclear from press accounts whether Kulongoski’s denial is in the form of a sworn statement. If so, then Kulongoski is now at risk of a criminal act if it is determined that his statement is false. If it is not a sworn statement, Kulongoski is free to continue to parse his words and escape serious criminal ramifications. We know that his primary accuser, Leonhardt, did provide his allegations in the form of a sworn statement.

Kulongoski has asked the State Bar to dismiss the proceedings because it is his word against Leonhardt’s. Apparently, Ted thinks, as a result of having been attorney general, Supreme Court justice and governor, that he is more believable than Leonhardt. Sorry, it just means that he has more reason to cover up than most. More importantly, what does Leonhardt have to gain from his allegations? He was one of Kulongoski’s friends. Their families entertained each other. He worked for Kulongoski on repeated occasions. He is not being paid, he is not under indictment and seeking leniency by giving up someone else, and he is not a political opponent of Kulongoski’s. At this point in time, his reasons seem to be those of a good citizen.

And while Kulongoski would like to posture this as being a case of “he said, no he didn’t”, there are wild cards in the deck. Bernie Guisto is a factor in this because he is the one alleged to have relayed the information to Leonhardt. Guisto has his own problems regarding telling the truth publicly. He could be removed from office as Sheriff of Multnomah County. If Guisto goes down he will take Kulongoski with him. And Goldschmidt’s former wife, Margie, is a factor because she was alleged to have been present during the conversations between Guisto and Leonhardt. And Leonhardt’s and Kulongoski’s spouses may be a factor because the information regarding Goldschmidt was alleged to have been passed from Leonhardt to Kulongoski during social meetings between the two families.

In the end, the whole thing is just a sleazy as it gets. A former governor raping a fourteen year old girl. Allegations that his body guard, Guisto, covered it up while at the same time having an affair with Goldschmidt’s wife. Further allegations the Kulongoski who was running for attorney general at the time knew and remained silent. And if Kulongoski knew, how many other Democrat insiders knew and remained silent. The inner circle of the Democrat party is still run by the alumni of Neil Goldschmidt’s administration. The know each other, went to school with each other, married each other, had affairs with each other, hired each other and in the long run watched out for each other.

There will never be an end to this until there is a full-blown house cleaning. Until then, expect the sleaze to get deeper and deeper.