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June 25, 2010 12:59 AM UTC

The Right Way to Manage a Scandal

  • by: Colorado Pols

By now, you’ve probably read today’s much-anticipated story about an incident in GOP Senate candidate Ken Buck’s record at the U.S. Attorney’s office. The campaign of Buck’s opponent Jane Norton certainly knew about this–we had heard a little about it, and that it was coming; up to and including the muddy resolution that really doesn’t impugn Buck as much as you expect…at least not yet.

Even so, we think there’s a lesson here, as the Colorado Independent reports:

Measured by recent polls and delegate voting and media coverage, Weld County D.A. Ken Buck is now solidly out front in the heated GOP U.S. Senate primary race. In response, his opponent, onetime strong frontrunner and former Lt Governor Jane Norton, has seriously ramped up her attacks. Among the more serious, she has called Buck corrupt and drawn attention to a recent legal complaint that he is in collusion with wealthy donors to circumvent campaign finance laws. She has also drawn on long-simmering rumors about Buck’s tenure at the U.S. Attorney’s office. On a radio show recently, she said he left the office ten years ago “under a cloud of suspicion.”

The Denver Post waded into that cloud with a long piece Thursday for which Buck released the painful details of the “mistakes” he says he made. Now Democratic Party Chair Pat Waak has seized on the serpentine tale of prosecutors and politics and guns and money to call on Buck to step down as Weld County District Attorney and to essentially abandon the Senate race…

Buck is not likely to either step down as District Attorney or shutter his campaign. He, at least, seems to have made peace with the episode and has clearly attempted to make a clean breast of it, talking openly to the Post in detail.

As the Independent’s John Tomasic goes on to explain, it’s not a great story. Buck was convinced that the pawn shop owner in question wasn’t breaking the law, and the case had been shopped without success. Ultimately resulting only in a misdemeanor plea, Buck freely concedes that the episode was a mistake, and that he shouldn’t have gotten involved as a prosecutor in a way that assisted the defense. Buck had declined to prosecute, then had a conversation with the defense attorney where he related disagreement among prosecutors on the case’s strength.

You can imagine the Norton campaign’s delight in publicizing this as widely as possible, but there are many reasons why it probably won’t have a lot of traction. For one thing, nobody was convicted of a major crime, meaning Buck’s original view that the case was weak was borne out. Buck was asked about possible defense attorneys in the case by GOP Sen. Shawn Mitchell.

But the biggest reason why we don’t see this meaningfully impacting Buck’s lead is the simple and honest way that Buck dealt with the story. Unlike the example set by Scott McInnis of running from the press, or Buck’s opponent Jane Norton cowering inarticulately behind spokespeople, Ken Buck was, at least belatedly, as forthcoming about the circumstances of this incident as anyone could ever ask. You can compare Buck’s candidness to, say, Bob Schaffer’s evasion of questions about his dealings with Jack Abramoff, and some might call it a refreshing difference.

(Though we should be clear that while we don’t see this really hurting Buck in the GOP Primary, it could be problematic in the general election).

One more thing: the Colorado Democratic Party did put out a pretty harshly worded release hitting Buck on this story today. There’s nothing overly strange about that, we suppose, Democrats going after a Republican, and you can judge their points on the merits. But as impartial observers we do note the likely motivation for Democrats attacking Buck–a dawning recognition of who they’re more likely to face this fall.


50 thoughts on “The Right Way to Manage a Scandal

  1. Especially for someone campaigning as a “law and order” type.  He intentionally undermined the prosecution of a crime by leaking information to the defense.  He received a serious rebuke by his superiors, including US Attorney John Suthers, and left his former job under a cloud.  For someone who claims to uphold the rule of law, and to be tough on crime, this was no little “mistake.”  As for his allegedly being honest about it, I don’t remember Buck discussing this situation before today. It seems like he was hiding it before today.  But maybe I missed his prior disclosure.

    1. Bad pun but this is clearly a smoking gun for a real problem.  We trust prosecutes to work within the parameters of the law, not the parameters of political convenience.

      This story was broke by Allison Sherry at the Denver Post who pointed out that not only was Buck found guilty of ethical violations but was presented with a letter rebuking his actions. This is very serious.

      1. So you can accuse him of disobeying his boss, but to try to call covering for a corrupt boss unethical is beyond the pale. Nixon’s goons followed his orders; I wouldn’t call them ethical.

        1. Was that after he was forced to take an ethics class? Then bravo!

          You’re seriously defending as “ethical” Buck’s attempts to undermine a prosecution he disagreed with? Maybe if he’s done something other than hang onto his job for years and something other than jumped ship to a juicy private sector gig immediately after being reprimanded. Maybe it’s not the end of Buck’s political career (though it certainly spelled the end of his lengthy career as a federal prosecutor). But there’s nothing ethical about what Buck did and you should be ashamed for defending it.

          1. you are defending those who followed Nixon’s orders. After all, he was the President. You should be ashamed of putting Strickland’s career ahead of an innocent man. Instead of standing up for justice, you are elevating Strickland’s greed and political opportunism. I have nothing to be ashamed of.

            And could please explain what is wrong with a private sector job? Socialists…

            1. There are absolutely right ways to handle it when you’re subject to “orders” you consider immoral, illegal or wrong.

              I like Buck and have said elsewhere that this “scandal” is unlikely to damage him in the primary. But to act like there’s something praiseworthy about how he handled things a decade ago is absurd.

      1. According to the Denver Post source:

        Department of Justice sources who didn’t want to go on the record said letters of reprimand are unusual.

    2. if someone hadn’t known to ask about this, would he have ever told us? In other words, for a guy who wants to  appear to be transparent and trustworthy, what else is he hiding?

      What else would we wish we knew about if we had only known to ask? Or if he had only really been transparent and trustworthy, what else would he be disclosing?

      Sure, I appreciate that he acknowledges now that it was a mistake.  And politically it was the best move: get it over now and hope it stays over.

      But I’d hope it’s not over. It’s exactly this kindof vetting that campaigns should bring out.   We sure as hell don’t really get it to do it again after we vote for him, so it’s now or never.

      So what else does he have?

    3. Note our lack of quotation marks around “scandal” in the title. It’s not a good story for Buck, it does undercut him ethically to some degree, and he could be made to pay a price for it–if not in the primary then perhaps in the general where the issue could be more salient.

      All we’re saying is Buck’s deportment, when confronted with the details, appears to have been considerably more upfront than other candidates we compared him to. It may not be satisfactory for everybody, but graded on the curve it is worth something to his defense.

      As for whether or not there should be a curve? Weigh in at the ballot box, folks.

    1. Because he lies to you and hides relevant facts about his past job performance?

      Not that facts matter that much. I mean, precision and accuracy are so overrated.

  2. Here’s the “harshly worded” Colorado Democratic Party press release alluded to in the story:


    DENVER – Pat Waak, Chair of the Colorado Democratic Party, issued this statement in reaction to today’s Denver Post story about Ken Buck’s ethics violation as an Assistant U.S. Attorney.

    “Ken Buck isn’t fit to hold any public office, be it assistant US Attorney, Weld County District Attorney, or United States Senator. Mr. Buck has violated the trust of those who elected him and should resign from his position as district attorney immediately.  Ken Buck has built a career by bypassing justice and ethics to reward political allies and campaign contributors.  This repeated behavior makes it clear that he is unfit to hold public office or the people’s trust.”

    As assistant US Attorney, Ken Buck refused to prosecute a prominent Republican donor and activist for illegally selling cheap handguns linked to dozens of violent crimes in Denver. When other prosecutors took up the case, Buck leaked highly confidential information to the defense, sabotaging the prosecution and letting his political allies off the hook. Buck was subsequently investigated, found guilty of ethics violations, and subsequently left the office under a dark ethical cloud. Despite twice running for District Attorney of Weld County, Buck hid this serious ethical scandal from his constituents. Now, that same defendant who he let off the hook has contributed repeatedly to Buck’s senate campaign, raising serious questions about whether Ken Buck can be trusted to hold public office.

    1. I think this is being dismissed way too easily. This is a really serious thing. Handling it well, playing politics well, whatever, doesn’t diminish the importance of it. You can ‘manage’ a scandal…but IT’S STILL A SCANDAL, and Buck should resign.

      Why? Because he hid this serious ethical scandal from the voters of Weld County for two elections. That is just plain dishonest. And like that statement says, the fact that he abused his position to help out a big time republican activist and donor who has contributed to his campaign is a really serious scandal, and raises ethical questions about whether he can be trusted in any position.

      This is something people in Weld County deserved to know about before picking him, and Ken Buck was dishonest with them.

        1. He contributed to Buck this campaign. Payback much?

          And it doesn’t matter how far back Buck’s ethical scandal is. But in this case, the fact is that it happened right before he ran for DA, it’s a really serious issue, he was completely dishonest about it, he mislead voters in Weld County, and he can’t be trusted. He got that job dishonestly, and he should resign.

          It’s just that simple.  

  3. But, although this is serious and a show-stopper as far as I am concerned, it’s too much “inside baseball” as far as Real People are concerned.

    Buck is a fuckup, but try to make that stick.  I don’t think you can.

    1. Both that it sure looks serious – two U.S. Attorney’s in a row moved that letter forward and that it will be old news by next week.

      People in the private sector don’t see a letter in the personnel file as being a big deal because lots of people get warnings and quite a few are fired – many times for causes co-workers consider bogus. To them 1 letter is no big deal.

      And as you said, discussing that no one thought the case was winnable, and the case turned out to not be winnable – again not something most will consider a big deal.

      1. a much bigger deal than in the private sector.  Because all of the rights the employees have, supervisors have to jump through several hoops to take personnel action, and then the employee has the right to challenge the action before neutral bodies.  You might be right that “people in the private sector” don’t understand this.  But, in truth, such personnel actions are quite extraordinay, especially to someone of high rank (such as an assistant US Attorney).

    2. For you to have such a low opinion of Buck you must have some impressive pedigree. I don’t mind the assault on a person’s policies and stances but when you try to make it personal it kind of undermines your credibility.

      You and your liberal friends attack Buck for releasing his records which was not required. Yet each night you pray at the altar of Obama who has yet to release his records.  Is Obama a Fuck Up?  Buck showed some courage and is airing all for the people to decide.  So be it. They may chose not to have him as their Senator.

      You were right on one point, this will not have an impact on his chances of beating Norton.  Most liberals were not going to vote for him so I imagine it will have no impact on the general.  


  4. this is going to do much to hurt his campaign.

    His boss thought the case was a dog.  Yes, he received a reprimand from Suthers but I think most voters will see that he did his duty.  The case wasn’t winnable, as seen by the result.  Nobody wanted to take the case.  

    As a prosecutor, you make decisions on trying cases based on if you can win or not.  If you can, the case goes to trial, if not, then you try to plea bargain it.  

    The case was tried and the prosecutors lost.  This should be the end of the story.  Instead, Norton’s camp has brought this up to try to show Buck is unfit for office.  

    I’m wondering how this is going to affect Suther’s campaign.  He’s a Norton supporter and he’s going to be asked questions about it.  If Buck wins the nomination, Suthers’ going to need his support so he can’t piss off the GOP voters.  I guess “no comment” might be the norm.  

    1. A reprimand from the same guy who wanted to abuse his office to repeal healthcare reform shouldn’t really carry a lot of weight anyway.  Granted Suthers reprimand was a long time ago, but his bullshit stunt with HCR shows what he is about.

  5. Here’s the money quote from the Dem Party response I posted above:

    “Ken Buck refused to prosecute a prominent Republican donor and activist…”

    I don’t think anyone has refuted that allegation.  Of course this won’t matter in the GOP primary.  In fact, it’ll probably help him.

    But, if it’s true, this will be a BIG issue in the general election.  Colorado Independent voters will be disgusted when they learn that Buck abused his office to benefit a Republican donor.  

    Duh.  This ain’t rocket science, folks.

    1. But donating $700 dollars to Buck’s campaign doesn’t make you a “prominent” Republican donor.  

      I’m not sure if he has donated more in the past to other Republican candidates, but the story said he donated to Buck’s campaign this year.  

      1. It’s easy enough to check. The guy was a frequent and regular donor to Republican candidates and causes. Including a donation to the guy who thwarted the federal prosecution against him. Boy, voters will really love that one.

      2. The Dems say he’s a prominent GOP donor.  They didn’t limit this by saying he’s a prominent donor TO THE BUCK CAMPAIGN.  

        Now, it’s fair to question what total contributions to the GOP he’s made.  I think these details should be provided as the scandal evolves.  But, it’s really dishonest to make up an allegation that wasn’t made by the Dems.

        Gosh, maybe this is rocket science to “libertarians”.

  6. I read between the lines of the Denver Post piece and I can’t feel much sympathy for (Buck’s) critics, either.

    Frankly, Buck just wasn’t sufficiently enthusiastic about a trumped-up case designed primarily to help the political career of U.S. Attorney Tom Strickland, who was appointed in 1999. You might know Strickland better as the Obama Interior Department Official who was whitewater rafting as the BP oil spill began to spread, but he also ran for U.S. Senate in 1996 and 2002 as a Democrat. (He lost both times.)

    Strickland really wanted to prosecute this gun case, especially in the wake of the Columbine shooting, which took place just before he was sworn in.

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