The Real Problem with Buck’s Prosecutor Scandal

We wrote yesterday that Republican Senate candidate Ken Buck was doing a good job in managing the scandal that has emerged surrounding his time as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office in the 1990s. But just because Buck is handling the scandal well — we’ve always said it’s best to just come out and do the “mea culpa” from the beginning — that doesn’t mean that this isn’t going to be significantly damaging down the line.

The DSCC sent out a press release today with the title “New Report Raises Serious Questions of Ken Buck’s Record as a Federal Prosecutor.” We’ll let you take a look at their angle of attack first, before we tell you what we think is the bigger problem for Buck:

Surging in the polls against his establishment Republican opponent Jane Norton, Ken Buck may have just hit a major stumbling block thanks to a front-page Denver Post article which calls into question his judgment, ethics, and competence.  In 2000, as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Buck refused to prosecute two pawn and gun dealers who he knew through Republican Party circles.  The brothers operated a pawnshop which sold cheap handguns, sometimes illegally.  

When the U.S. Attorney then decided to go forward with the case, Buck was reprimanded for interfering in the case by privately trashing the government’s felony case to the defense lawyers representing the gun dealers.  The U.S. Attorney called Buck’s actions a “reckless disregard of your obligation to keep client information confidential,” and issued Buck a letter of reprimand, which according to sources in the Department of Justice is “unusual.”  Buck two months later took a private sector job and was forced into taking ethics classes.          

The story doesn’t end there though.  According to the Denver Post, one of the brothers has contributed at least $700 to Buck’s Senate campaign.

“Coloradans already knew that extremist Ken Buck was outside the mainstream on a host of issues, but now it appears that his ethics and judgment are in serious jeopardy as well,” said DSCC National Press Secretary Deirdre Murphy.  “After being sternly reprimanded for ‘reckless disregard of obligation,’ Ken Buck left his job as a federal prosecutor in a dark ethical cloud.  This incident calls into serious question Buck’s ability to serve in public office and maintain any semblance of public trust.”

The DSCC seems to think that the “ethics” angle is the best way to get at Buck here, but that’s not why we think he’s in trouble. We said yesterday that we think this will have little effect on Buck winning the GOP primary, but it could be a major problem in a General Election because it cripples the message that Buck is a “tough on crime” candidate.

The greatest advantage for a candidate like Buck who comes from a law enforcement background is that they can put forth an image of “tough crime fighter” that plays well across every demographic. It’s the same benefit that applies to candidates who served in the military or are former police officers or firefighters; no “messenger” polls higher than a law enforcement figure in a “who do you trust more” kind of question.

Thus, what kills Buck in regards to this scandal is not the ethics question, but the image that he was soft on crime and helped a defense attorney protect criminals. That is what will ultimately be devastating for Buck, because any time he tries to project his “good guy fighting bad guys” image, Democrats can just bring this up and say that he got pushed out of the U.S. Attorney’s office for helping criminals. And they don’t even have to make it a partisan angle, since it was a REPUBLICAN U.S. Attorney (John Suthers) who wrote the letter of reprimand.

Perception is everything in politics, and that’s a really, really easy story to sell in TV ads — a story that completely takes away Buck’s biggest natural advantage over his Democratic opponent.

49 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Passing the Buck

    It’s Buck-up time

    Buck naked

    It’s Buck season

    Big Bucks

    Buck the establishment

    This guy is a headline writer’s dream.

  2. Craig says:

    Why is the DSCC interfering in this now.  Don’t they want Buck to win the primary and then beat him in the general election. I must assume that they think that Jane Norton is a worse candidate since it seems they’re trying to help her win the primary.  Are they nuts??????

    • greality says:

      This ordeal shows us that the DSCC, Colorado Dems, and Bennet’s campaign think Buck would be more threatening in the general and over the last couple weeks, I’ve come to agree with them. I am having trouble hunting down a link, but a few weeks ago the AP did a profile of Ken Buck that really made him out to be a strong grassroots candidate and an all-around great guy. This scared me because the article almost made me believe it. Say what you will about his policy stances, Ken Buck has created a much more likable image than Norton and this makes him a threat in the general (assuming Bennet wins).

      A strong, likable, grassroots candidate with a law enforcement background up against a liberal incumbent that just screams beltway insider (even as a Bennet supporter, I must admit he comes off as an insider regardless of his non-political past) is not the race that Michael Bennet wants to run. Bennet’s campaign would much rather have Jane Norton as an opponent simply because she can be played as more of an insider than Michael, and she is not nearly as likable as Buck or Bennet.

      And since perception really is everything, likability wins every time.

    • MADCO says:

      Because it’s a story now.

      I’d like to think that if Buck released the relevant records six months ago, the DSCC and anyone else interested in who is elected to the Senate from Colorado this cycle would have commented then. LIkewise, if it was in September.

  3. BlueCat says:

    That’s exactly what I was thinking.  if it had been a Dem, no problem at all. Blame all this on an incompetent Dem and gotcha politics.  But since it was not only a Republican but a Republican running in what could be a competitive race, this could be  awkward, to say the least, for both of them if Buck is nominated and they are both running in the general.  Suthers would then constantly be confronted on the subject and neither would be free to criticize the other though there can’t be much love lost between them. Suthers had better hope for Norton to pull it out.  

  4. to innocent until proven guilty?

    Buck refused to prosecute two pawn and gun dealers who he knew through Republican Party circles.  The brothers operated a pawnshop which sold cheap handguns, sometimes illegally

    at least throw in an “allegedly”…

  5. to innocent until proven guilty?

    Buck refused to prosecute two pawn and gun dealers who he knew through Republican Party circles.  The brothers operated a pawnshop which sold cheap handguns, sometimes illegally

    at least throw in an “allegedly”…

      • Colorado PolsColorado Pols says:

        The problem is that Buck talked with their defense attorney and shared details about the prosecution…which looks doubly-bad considering that one of the guys is a donor to his campaign.

        And even after Buck didn’t prosecute them, the U.S. Attorney’s office still pursued the case. So it has the appearance that he let them off the hook.

        Why this is bad for Buck is very simple: It looks terrible, and it’s really, really easy to put it all in a TV ad. Perception is everything in politics.

        • Middle of the Road says:

          And we haven’t even talked about the fact that he made sure he buried this whole story both of the times he ran for Weld County’s DA.

          I’m just guessing but it probably wouldn’t have benefited his political aspirations to become prosecutor for the people of Weld County if he had to admit that he received a letter of reprimand, was forced to take ethics classes, violated rules and compromised a felony prosecution case.  

          The mission of the Weld County District Attorney’s Office is to  seek justice, promote public safety and fight for our community.

          What part of “seek justice” did his actions fall under, again?  

      • parsingreality says:

        Don’t bring it up, ever.

        Just like Buck!  Ha ha ha…..

  6. Earnest says:

    Today, I agree with your assessment of this situation.


  7. bjwilson83 says:

    Here’s the deal. Now you’re making things up. Buck did not help criminals. The judge found the case so laughable that he assigned the defendant ONE day of UNSUPERVISED probation. It was a message to the corrupt prosecutor Strickland not to bring sham cases before the court to advance his career. So I would appreciate an apology for saying that Buck helped criminals or proof of their criminal wrongdoing.

    • catpuzzle says:

      That’s why it failed. Read the story, the defense got a memo about evidence weaknesses or whatever in the case. Probably made their job pretty easy.

      This doesn’t mean the case was wrong, it just means there were very specific issues with the evidence that they had available that the defense was able to play lawyer games with and exploit.

      • bjwilson83 says:

        I guess you would have rather had Buck cover for Strickland and send those innocent men to jail!

        • catpuzzle says:

          This story provides a pretty good outline of the details of the case.

          The problem, I’d expect, is that gathering evidence on something like this is very difficult, because so much of it is circumstantial. But it takes a willing suspension of disbelief to read that story and think that they were behaving legally.

          I’d expect there were one or 2 key details linking things that had issues, say there was some sort of material deficiency in the witness or whatever, that defense was able to exploit.

          The evidence for most prosecutions is not entirely clear cut, and that’s why it’s a hard job. If the defense has your playbook it’s going to be really really really hard to win.

  8. Romanoff’s campaign manager should come out and attack the DSCC as a pseudo-liberal group from DC that is helping Bennet and shouldn’t be trusted.

    After all, if you’re helping Norton by attacking Buck, then you’re not a liberal organization, you’re just pretending to be.  

  9. smart 1 says:

    The story that broke yesterday, together with the 5,000 Hispanic tax returns Buck grabbed illegally make him unelectable. The conservative leaders in the state knew these stories last summer and asked Norton to run. They knew Buck was not electable.  Buck has lied about the tax returns.  He did not admit until a month ago he grabbed 5,000 tax returns.  He has been saying for months that is was only 1,337 tax returns.  Anytime anyone would bring up malfeasance in the US Attorneys office, Buck would say it was a lie and that he did nothing wrong. John Suthers would not give him the reprimand and sent him to ethics classes if it were nothing! He would not have been fired from the office if it were nothing. Buck released no records at all when he ran for DA.  He knew this story would have caused him to loose to Quammman. Some honesty would be nice.  I do not want someone who cannot be straight with the voters to be my next Senator

    • marilou says:

      This is the same old story I’ve seen before from Norton groupies.  

      Buck is an honest man and refused to persecute a pawn shop owner who had done nothing wrong.

      BTW, how did Norton’s campaign get this?  Suthers?  If so, is anyone looking at that ethics violation?

      • RedGreenRedGreen says:

        So Buck refused to “persecute” a pawn broker because he thought the case was weak. Fine. There are appropriate channels for that, and it sounds like Buck took them for a while. But refusing to go along with a prosecution — and actively undermining a prosecution — are two different things. One is an ethical violation, and led to the end of Buck’s career as a federal prosecutor.

        Whether Suthers might have tipped the Norton campaign is a good question, but this story has been floating around for years. The USA office has a lot of employees. And, as the Buck apologists are so fond of pointing out, attorneys are prone to spreading the news.

      • Republican 36 says:

        He decided to undermine the prosecution’s case without even considering the ethical implications. If any of us hired an attorney to represent us and another attorney from the same firm, who didn’t like the attorney we hired, and because of that gave confidential information to opposing counsel as means of undermining and embarrassing our counsel, we would be furious. That’s exactly what happened here. Apparently, he believes he is above the law and the procedures that supports our legal system. How this particular case turned out is an after the fact rationalization by Mr. Buck to justify his unethical actions. That does not justify what he did.    

    • bjwilson83 says:

      let’s just say you’re a paid Norton staffer. It’s sad that all you can do is post the same lies over and over again, on facebook and ColoradoPols and who knows where else.

    • H-man says:

      Who are these conservative leaders who concluded Buck was not electable?  

      Were they part of the 77% at the Assembly that voted for Buck?

      Were these the same guys that advised Norton “the electable” to skip the assembly because she would not get enough votes to make it on the ballot?

      Are these the same geniuses that thought picking someone who has never run a statewide campaign for a candidate that has never run for office was a swell idea?

      Fired from the Office?  Got any evidence Norton water boy?

  10. smart 1 says:

    Buck has lied for years about the US Attorney office malfeasance. He should have been disbarred for his actions. He reused to release any records when he ran for DA, because he knew he would loose if he did.  Buck has lied about the 5,000 tax returns he grabbed, saying he only grabbed 1300. Buck shows a pattern of playing fast and loose with the law. People have heard him say he is the law in Weld Co, and he can do what he wants.  Buck needs to be reminded he must follow the the law, the Colorado and US Constitution. Buck supporters, it is time to take off the blinders and realize Buck is not electable.  

  11. smart 1 says:

    To all the Buck koolaid drinkers, Buck refused to follow the law and prosecute people who were breaking the laws selling guns illegally. He should have lost his law license for giving critical prosecution evidence to the defense. He was sent to ethics classes, because even after law school, he still did not know the law. He only prosecuted 6 cases while in the US Attorney office. He was given the Rocky Flats case to prosecute.  He did not have the math skills to be able to be able it handle the case. Buck has lied about his time in the US Attorney’s office.  He knew if the truth came out his legal career would be over. As soon as the story broke, the Democrats were instantly saying he is soft on crime, has poor judgment, lacking in good ethics.  Sorry, but Buck will never win another election!  

    • H-man says:

      Buck was promoted to lead the general crimes area and later to be head of the criminal division by a Democratic appointed US Attorney.

      All of the Democrats in the US attorneys case thought the gun case was stupid, not just Buck.

      What evidence did Buck give to the other side?

      Did not have the math skills to prosecute a case?

      For a dumb shit, you picked an interesting handle.

    • H-man says:

      There was something in Politico this morning that reflected on Buck’s math skills.  Here’s the quote:

      “I am going to pursue the same issues in a general election campaign, and if you look at electability, head to head, I’ve been able to attract more voters than my opponent,” Buck said, citing his party convention win.

      Democrats are beginning to agree with Buck’s electoral math.

      “We think she’s toast,” Waak said, referring to Norton. “We were kind of ignoring him, but this is clearly going to be a rough race, and he may be the guy.”

      Read more:

  12. H-man says:

    I think there is a real disconnect with how the dwindling Democratic Party insiders found at Colopols look at this and how it will be seen by the public at large.  This “scandal” is not inconsistent with Buck’s message of limited and competent government.

    There was an article in the Denver Post that discussed the odd bedfellows of on the one hand “screaming” Josh Penry and her master Jane “NRSC annointed, Ref C approvin’, not-so-fiscal-conservative, Jane Norton and on the other hand Wacky Pat Waak. Here is a link to the article :

    I found one of the comments by HL Morton spot on:

    Ken Buck has guts and he does his job where others have shirked. I met him on the occasion of the arrest of an accused killer whom Buck announced he would prosecute. The D.A. who preceded Buck refused to prosecute in spite of compelling evidence because the victims body has been hidden. Buck won’t let this killer get away with murder. All the carping over a reprimand is political side show. And I’m a Democrat!

    Buck’s record as a Weld County DA reflects a 50% reduction in crime and a 100% conviction rate for people charged with murder.  

    • caroman says:

      And a 100% “get our of jail free” card if you’re a prominent Republican donor and activist.

      • H-man says:

        The pawn brokers were prominent republicans?  That was the reason everyone thought they should not be prosecuted?  Give me a break.  All the dems in the office thought the case was a dog, except for the moron who was the newly appointed US attorney.  All the dems were impressed by the prominent Republican pawn brokers?

        Your statement makes no sense.

          • H-man says:

            “Agents first presented the investigation to the U.S. attorney’s office in 1998, when Buck was chief of general crimes. At the time, Buck and a prosecutor below him declined to file charges because of weaknesses in the ATF probe, Buck said.

            Henry Solano, who was then the U.S. attorney appointed by President Bill Clinton, said the ATF never appealed the decision to him. Solano, a Democrat, served in that post until December 1998.

            In his view, declining the case “was an appropriate decision,” Solano said in a recent interview.


            Before Strickland’s team filed a 37-count grand-jury felony indictment, Buck said he had a conversation with then-federal prosecutor Stephanie Villafuerte. He said she told him she had written a memo about the case’s weaknesses. Buck said he asked for a copy but that she never passed it along.”

            Solano was appointed by Clinton as US Attorney.  Villafuerte was under consideration or has been nominated by Obama as US Attorney, if I understand correctly.  Both are Democrats.

            It is likely that many of the other assistant US attorneys who turned the case down were also Democrats.  Most US attorney offices staff positions are relatively evenly split.  They are civil servants.

        • Colorado PolsColorado Pols says:

          Here’s the problem for Buck: It was a Republican U.S. Attorney, John Suthers, who issued the letter of reprimand for Buck. That alone is enough to make the TV ads work.

          • H-man says:

            And maybe it works for 80% of Colopols readers.  It is not resonating where it needs to.  Here is the quote I enjoyed, from a self described Dem, in the Post:

            Ken Buck has guts and he does his job where others have shirked. I met him on the occasion of the arrest of an accused killer whom Buck announced he would prosecute. The D.A. who preceded Buck refused to prosecute in spite of compelling evidence because the victims body has been hidden. Buck won’t let this killer get away with murder. Alll the carping over a reprimand is political side show. And I’m a Democrat!

            Time will tell if this is a killer ad.  I just don’t think it means much to non-lawyers and non-political junkies.

            Just my opinion.

  13. smart 1 says:

    Those of us who are the political junkies posting here are forgetting there are huge numbers of voters who are not junkies.  All they know is Buck has major problems coming to light.  Grabbing 5,000 Hispanic tax returns make him look like he is biased against Hispanics. The malfeasance coming out of the US Attorneys office looks bad. Buck looks like he is weak on crime, does not follow the law, thinks he can make his own laws, sympathetic to criminals, and ethically challenged.  The Buck supporters can spin away, but the truth is the story is extremely damaging to Buck’s campaign.  The conservative leaders knew about this story a year ago and recruited Jane Norton. Buck supporters who deny the relevance of both of these stories are not dealing with reality. The Democrats know all about these stories.  They have already started going after Buck with valid points about his time in the US Attorneys office. If Buck is the Republican nominee, we will have Bennett for the next 6 years.  Buck will never win another election. He would not be DA now if he would have told the truth when he was running against Quammman.  

    • marilou says:

      we will have Bennet for the next six years.  I’ve not seen such dirty campaigning since Marc Holtzman.  Colorado voters don’t like that and their votes show it.

    • marilou says:

      Here’s Buck’s statement.  Suthers had to close Strickland’s file and noted that the misstatement to the defense was “unintentional.”  

      Buck has owned up to it and expressed regret.  What more do you want?  His life?

      What the Norton campaign should be worrying about is what she’s doing to Suthers.  She dragging him through the mud right behind her and Penry.  Perhaps they don’t care how dirty they get but does Suthers want to be dirtied?  Right while he’s facing a formidable Democrat?  If he doesn’t get his name out of her dirt, he’s dead at the polls.

  14. smart 1 says:

    Buck and his supporters are the ones who have been doing the dirty campaigning for most of a year.  Buck should have dropped out as soon as Norton entered the race.  She was brought in because he is not electable. Norton has run a clean campaign.  She is a class act, in spite of vicious attacks. The Buck supporters have lost any civility or manners. I think they know they are going to loose so they are desperate.  

    • marilou says:

      Tell us exactly what Buck has done that is negative.

      Is reminding people that Jane supports more taxes when they are “necessary” a negative comment or is it true based on her history?

      Is commenting that Jane was solicited by and is supported by the biggest RINOS negative? It is a fact.  She has a list of insider PACs a mile long.

      Norton has lost any class she had.  She’s covered in dirt and muck.

      You throw out crap that has no relation to reality, and it makes people think you’re nuts.

      Buck looks like he is weak on crime?  Are you  nuts?  He has a 100% conviction rate for murder and crime is down 50% in Weld.  You see what I mean by your looking nuts?

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