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Monday, April 25, 2005

MT-Sen: Conrad Burns and Jack Abramoff Staff Scandal

Posted by Bob Brigham

What is the one thing that makes a worse scandal than an Jack Abramoff golf trip? A hunting trip.

Shawn Vasell has made Swing State Project before. He is one of the major links between Jack Abramoff and Montana Senator Conrad Burns, having worked for Abramoff directly before and after working for Burns (he was State Director).

Vasell was already a key figure in multiple investigations and now he is at the center of a scandal that will enrage Montanans in a way that the corruption scandal never could.

Even before this latest scandal, Sen. Conrad Burns was in trouble. The Abramoff corruption scandal was hurting his campaign, he was sinking in the polls, and the press had tired of his B.S. responses to the corruption investigations. And now this...

The Thanksgiving Deer Scandal

New West Network Managing Editor Courtney Lowery has THE SCOOP:

Washington lobbyist Shawn Vasell, a former aide to Montana Sen. Conrad Burns, has already attracted some unwanted media attention in our nation's capital as a key link between Burns and controversial lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Now we've come across an interesting little story on the Web (with photos) about Mr. Vasell and his Thanksgiving deer that if true, is not likely to endear him even to loyal Republicans.

Vasell, who Burns’ spokesman J.P. Donovan said worked as the office’s state director for about a year before stepping down in December of 2002 to go back to Abramoff's firm, was named and pictured on a Web site about hunting and fishing written by one J.R. Reger. Reger, in what can only be read as a fit of macho hubris, details the rockin' good time that he, Mike Reger and Vasell apparently had on a spur-of-the-moment, day-after-Thanksiving hunting outing. Only problem is, the story depicts the boys in apparent violation of at least four Montana hunting laws.

FOUR VIOLATIONS? Like Conrad Burns; like Jack Abramoff; Shawn Vasell appears to have a total disregard for the law.

In particular, Vasell allegedly shot a deer from the window of a pickup truck, a clear no-no. And, a quick phone call to the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks licensing department tells us that state records (which search back to 2002) show there have been no hunting licenses issued to a Shawn Vasell in the state of Montana. So if that's his deer he's posing with in the photos ...

It gets better...

So what is the response?

Reger, reached on Saturday via phone, would not comment on the story or confirm or deny its accuracy, but told New West he would have time to talk about it later. Alas, he has not returned repeated phone calls since then and - surprise - his site had been taken down by Sunday morning. We figured this might happen, so we made sure we recovered it through Google's cache of pages, which is where you can read it here.

Why would anyone so brazenly brag about breaking the law?

The story certainly doesn't read like something that was made up, though it's a bit of a mystery as to why Reger would be so eager to brag publicly about things like his hunting buddy shooting a deer on someone else's land after dark. There is one clue though. Elsewhere on his site, Reger writes: "Every Monday morning I look forward to reading the paper. Moreover, I look forward to reading about one of my delinquent friends or acquaintances getting into trouble with the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department. For the fine amount paid, and trust me on this one, the amount of good press you get from doing something wrong is totally worth it. I highly recommend poaching a little or doing something minor to get your name in the paper at least once a year."

Montana blogger Matt Singer points out:

This trip was illegal. If Reger reported the details accurately, multiple laws were broken. Shawn Vasell has not had a hunting permit in Montana (at least not since 2001). He apparently shot the deer from inside a car (illegal). Later, he helped one of the Regers move a deer that had been shot on a neighbor's property without permission after dark following drinking (illegal). This isn't just illegal. It violates many of the unwritten rules of landowner/hunter relations.

Violating the unwritten rules of the west will result in the worst punishment. Singer also focuses on a fact all of you Jack Abramoff scandal watchers will appreciate:

One of the most interesting points is buried in the story. Shawn Vasell's official website lists one of his accomplishments as having "obtained federal [Indian school construction] monies for participating clients." This is exactly the question at issue in the original Washington Post article that brought this former Conrad Burns staffer's name to our attention. Burns was accused of giving money to Abramoff clients because of special connections. Now, one of Abramoff's former coworkers is claiming that their firm was responsible for lining up Indian school construction monies for their clients. Hmmm....

Conrad Burns lied when he said he would only serve two terms (he is running for his fourth). He didn't want to lose touch with Montana, but he did. Burns has been spending time with some very crooked people back in Washington, DC. But that isn't as bad as bringing those crooked people back to Montana to break Montana's laws and the rules of the west.

In Montana, you don't violate your neighbor's property and start shooting. Especially after dark.

You never shoot from a vehicle. There is an exception to this rule if you have a permit saying you are disabled, but otherwise you never, ever, shoot from a vehicle.

If someone is shooting -- after dark -- on another person's property, you call the sheriff. You don't help them drag their poached deer to the truck in a conspiracy to move the game across the property line before it is gutted and tagged.

In Montana, you respect guns, you respect property lines, you respect hunting safety, you respect the law, and you respect the game. Nothing is worse than an east-coaster disrespecting law, custom, and common sense...with a gun in his cityfolk hand. Actually, there is one thing worse, when that person was State Director for a Montana politician.

Here is the contact info for the eight offices that Shawn Vasell managed as Burn's State Director:

Senator Conrad Burns - Billings Office
222 N.32nd St., Suite 400
Billings, MT 59101
Tel: 406-252-0550
Fax: 406-252-7768

Senator Conrad Burns - Bozeman Office
211 Haggerty Lane, Suite A & B
Bozeman, MT 59715
Tel: 406-586-4450
Fax: 406-586-7647

Senator Conrad Burns - Butte Office
125 W. Granite St., Suite 200
Butte, MT 59701
Tel: 406-723-3277
Fax: 406-782-4717

Senator Conrad Burns - Glendive Office
324 West Towne
Glendive, MT 59330
Tel: 406-365-2391
Fax: 406-365-8836

Senator Conrad Burns - Great Falls Office
321 First Ave. North
Great Falls, MT 59401
Tel: 406-452-9585
Fax: 406-452-9586
TDD: 406-761-6885

Senator Conrad Burns - Helena Office
208 N. Montana Ave., Suite 202A
Helena, MT 59601
Tel: 406-449-5401
Fax: 406-449-5462

Senator Conrad Burns - Kalispell Office
1845 Highway 93 South, Suite 210
Kalispell, MT 59901
Tel: 406-257-3360
Fax: 406-257-3974

Senator Conrad Burns - Missoula Office
116 West Front Street
Missoula, MT 59802
Tel: 406-728-3003
Fax: 406-728-2193

Posted at 11:15 PM in 2006 Elections, 2006 Elections - Senate, Montana, Republicans | Technorati


Democratic state auditor John Morrison will challenge Burns.

Posted by: Newsie8200 [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 26, 2005 02:02 AM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

This will be a fantastic primary. All of the likely candidates--Morrison and Tester primarilly--are going to provide a fantastic backdrop for an ongoing outright nailing of Conrad Burns. If reform is the centerpiece of the Demcorats' 2006 narrative (and it better be, damn it) then this will be a perfect race to showcase Reform Democrats.

Posted by: Frontier PAC [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 26, 2005 03:28 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment