Ethics Group Says Cover-Up Likely in Rehberg Boat Crash

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.

Posted: November 1, 2012 at 7:49 am

20 thoughts on “Ethics Group Says Cover-Up Likely in Rehberg Boat Crash

  1. Craig Moore

    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.

    Calling this a lie, is a lie by those that offer it. Rehberg offered his observation and opinion. I don’t believe any of the witnesses offered an opinion based on their observations that contradicts Rehberg. Did any of the witnesses say that Barkus wobbled, slurred his words, drooled on himself, have glassy eyes or any other physical manifestations of being drunk? Don’t think so.

    BTW, it is quite dishonest to quote the Fire Chief, Chuck Harris who said, “it is possible that some did not want to get involved and that others may have been giving me assumptions due to the nature of the crash.” People’s stories often change after a serious accident as fact is separated from assumption.

    1. Analyst

      The Barkus BAC at the hospital, probably an hour after admission, was .16. Unless he was swilling those margaritas that were aboard during Senator Toad’s Wild Ride, his BAC must have been around .18-.20 when he hit the rocks.

      He would have been staggering around like a sailor in a hurricane.

      Denny’s statement didn’t say anything about the mystery bottle of wine consumed at The Dock restaurant. No one knows where it came from, but everyone knows it was emptied. It was not on the bar tab.

      Denny also said he was in the boat after the crash, with Kathy Barkus. Nope. A camper who responded to the deafening sound of the crash actually turned the boat engine off (the transmission and propellor were ripped off in the water) and found Kathy there. Everyone else got tossed out in the water. The bow of the boat was maybe 30′ up the cliff when the rescuers got there, but Denny claimed he fell out of the boat, into the water, after the crash.

      Nope. The back of the boat, after it stopped sliding backward down slope toward the lake, was a good eight feet out of the water.

      Denny claimed it was chilly, but that the boat was only traveling about 25 mph. In fact, all the forensic and Kristin Smith’s witness evidence shows it was going 45-50 mph. It was sixty degrees that night, but they were crouched down in the boat due to the extreme wind chill.

      Denny’s spokesperson, doing damage control shortly after the crash, said his BAC at the hospital was .05. That minimized it. He rounded down from .055, against mathematical principles. That was because Denny’s BAC was from blood drawn well after that taken from Barkus, so he had to be over the .08 limit for driving at the time of the crash, unless he was hitting those margaritas.

      Denny in his interview from D.C., also claimed that Dustin Frost was much improved and he wanted to talk to him. In fact, Frost couldn’t speak at all, by that time, due to substantial brain damage.

      We all know that Denny’s a drunk, thanks to the Kazakhstan fiasco when fell off his horse and his rib was broken (was that when he got his vertebrae fractured?). He flat out denied drinking anything that would have gotten him anywhere near that fake “.05″ BAC. He said he was drinking over a three and a half hour period, had maybe a couple of beers. He would have been around .01 or .02 if that were the case.

      What we also know is that, besides the campers that rescued the party, the only one who told the truth, or close enough for her to have regretted her candor, was Kristen Smith. Denny lied to the police about the condition of Barkus, which is a crime.

    1. Craig Moore

      Greg, to call opinion based on observation a “lie” is a lie when there is no other contradictory observation. Opinion is opinion. No one had a BAC test kit in their pockets. Funny how CREW who is so concerned about ethics is silent on Bullock’s ethics lapse and this is not even disputed by Bullock. Apples and oranges I know, but CREW is hardly objective and non-partisan.

      1. Mike

        Craig, it’s not a lie to question whether that’s his actual opinion or just something he said to cover Barkus’s (and more importantly to Rehberg his own) ass. According to the report, Rehberg told reporters Sen. Barkus was not intoxicated, despite the fact that he’d been drinking for quite some time, and quite possibly even on the boat. To me that says that Rehberg is either incredibly stupid or a blatant liar.

        1. Craig Moore

          Mike, from my reading Rehberg did NOT say Barkus was not intoxicated. From the quote above:

          …as far as I can tell I saw no signs of impairment at all. None.

          That is opinion based on personal observation. From the reports I have read the two men were not in each other’s close company throughout the evening as they were talking to other people for various reasons. The restaurant at LakeSide was filled with people. Politicians work crowds of potential voters and donors. They waste the moment if they hang with other politicians.

          CREW wasn’t questioning, they made an accusation for political effect.

  2. Trust No One

    The BAC speaks for itself, he was drunk. I’d like to know if anyone examined the GPS for past tracking/speed data or a log file that showed their course from The Docks to Marina Cay. Depending on the model of the GPS there is/was some data that could have proven valuable for either side.

  3. Dave Skinner

    Designated driver? Is that all you can come up with?
    Because water is soft and asphalt hard, most people don’t understand that bad boating requires care. That’s what happened here.
    Not like it was a shoalwater approach in pea-soup fog with an LNG tanker.

      1. Dave Skinner

        That was bad typing, A demerit for me. Boating, period. B O A T I N G.
        Lot of people see and understand only that big, smooth, floaty surface. With no lines on it!
        Just watch the depth finder or go diving sometimes and you understand the mountains don’t stop at the shoreline. There’s some scary stuff lurking down there. And in Montana, there’s scary stuff floating on the surface, or just below.
        My Navy dad, a navigator in the Pacific during the war, was also a yacht broker for a time, as well as a captain-for-hire and instructor. We would go down to the yard at look at the weekend victims, or would simply be out on the water to witness utter folly.
        Most people don’t operate water vessels enough to get really good at it.

  4. James Conner

    I shudder at the image of Captain Grog conning an LNG tanker in broad daylight on the high seas. I might shake apart imagining him conning that tanker through shoal waters in heavy fog. Not a recipe for wreckless conduct.

  5. Drunks for Denny

    Hey, they’re on Flathead Lake in a speedboat with a cooler of margaritas. I think its the fault of the property owner (e.g., Wayfarers State Park: owner BRIAN SCHWEITZER) for inadequate lighting of the shoreline so that stiff boat captains don’t whack into the rocks.

  6. Drifter

    Now I’m certainly not going to speculate as to whether or not Rehberg was three sheets to the wind. Back in the bad old daze when I used to get excrement-countenanced, I sure as hell couldn’t tell who else wuz.

  7. Analyst

    Why is no one asking about the 33 consecutive lines redacted (blacked out) from the “Comments” section of the court documents?

    The Flathead County Attorney, Ed Corrigan, didn’t want the report released at all, and got to redact “confidential” information. That would have been addresses and social security numbers of witnesses and victims, not “comments.” Where is the report of the police interview of Rehberg?

    1. Hi-Liner

      Rumor is that some of the other substances in use that evening are redacted e. g. Prescription drugs.

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