Yesterday, some of the court documents from Congressman Rehberg’s alcohol related boat crash on Flathead Lake were finally released, albeit in a heavily redacted version.
Much of this we already know. When Rehberg didn’t bother to designate a sober driver, the accident sent the Congressman and three others to the hospital and put one of his staffers in a coma. The report says that one crash victim Dustin Frost, a staffer of Rehberg’s “still suffers from injuries sustained in the crash.” We already know that Rehberg said both Frost and Kristin Smith were “staffing” him that night, which he considered a “working evening.” As these people’s boss, the responsibility to designate a sober driver should have been Rehberg’s.
The release did reveal some suspicious new details about the crash investigation. The documents included a game warden’s report that rescue workers who initially reported smelling alcohol on GOP Sen. Greg Barkus’ breath would not reaffirm their own accounts later. As Citizens for Ethics in Washington (CREW) reports, the warden went down to the fire station to learn why the rescue team:
“changed their statement.” The Fire Chief, Chuck Harris, was unable to explain the change, other than to say it was “possible that some did not want to get involved . . .”
CREW also found it odd that there is no record of the game warden who interviewed Congressman Rehberg at the time of the accident asking the most obvious question: Was the driver of the boat drinking?
As CREW points out, Rehberg later claimed to reporters that he saw “no signs of impairment” in Barkus, so why is there no record of what he said to investigators on the subject?
All of the evidence demonstrates Sen. Barkus had been drinking for some time before the accident — while in the company of Rep. Rehberg and the other boat passengers. So, when Rep. Rehberg told reporters Sen. Barkus was not intoxicated, it appears he lied. Shockingly, the report also suggests there was an effort to cover up the drinking that had clearly taken place that evening and that some of the first responders participated in that cover-up.
In this transcript of Rehberg’s September 9, 2009 conference call with reporters, the Congressman was asked about the owner of the boat, Republican state senator Greg Barkus:
AP CORRESPONDENT MATT GOURAS: Congressman, was there any indication that you could tell if Senator Barkus was impaired at all?
REP. DENNIS REHBERG: No. Absolutely not. It would be like me talking to you right now. Yeah, and I have no idea what anybody else felt, I mean we can go through and second-guess ourselves forever on this thing, but as far as I can tell I saw no signs of impairment at all. None.
There is much discussion of how much Barkus drank at the lake party itself, (whiskey, wine etc.) But if you read the report, you might also wonder what was in the “red drinking cups” were found at the crash scene. (Rehberg admitted earlier to seeing a “cooler of… margarita” on the boat.)
Again, this all could have been prevented had Rehberg designated a sober driver. The boat crash report is online here.