"Chuck Winder went to lunch a year ago with a John Doe--one of the people involved in a sleazy and inaccurate phone campaign that targeted Winder a day before the 2003 Mayor's election.
Doe apologized. He told Winder who orchestrated the attack campaign. They discussed three or four other people involved. Then, Winder said, Doe appeared on the ballot in May and November, winning both times.
Voters deserve to know this Doe and his unidentified cohorts."
--Idaho Statesman editorial, March 14, 2005
Nine months after this editorial came out in the Statesman, several more important layers of the Boise media's favorite "old news" story--the 2003 election scandal--have been exposed. We know now who had lunch with Winder, the candidate who lost by 807 votes to Dave Bieter, and who is now the chairman of the Idaho State Transportation Board. We also know who claims to be responsible for the "attack" calls. But with each of these revelations, an accompanying slew of contradictions have continued to cast doubt on both the involved parties and the local newspaper portraying them.
Last Tuesday, attorney Iver Longeteig, who represents the only admitted "Doe," local tax reform activist Laird Maxwell, delivered to BW a transcript of Winder's November 22 in District Court. The deposition was taken on behalf of Maxwell, who has claimed since July of this year that he orchestrated and paid for the calls on his own. However, the City of Boise is pursuing a civil suit not only against Maxwell, but also Xpedite Systems, the company who was paid to make the call, and an unnamed group of the "John" and "Jane" Does who the city's lawyers have maintained helped Maxwell.
Foremost among the revelations in the deposition, Winder named the supposed Doe he had lunch with: Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney. Second, and just as important: Winder said Raney is actually not one of the Does behind the call--and that he never told Statesman city government reporter Brad Hem that the man Winder had lunch with was one of the John Does. Hem first broke the story about the lunch on March 11, approximately a year after the lunch took place.
"I have tried never to represent him as a Doe, because I don't know who the Does are," Winder said in the deposition. "All I would say is that the--the article itself does not represent what I said." Winder also said Raney never told him who was behind the calls, as the Statesman story and editorial claim, but the pair instead simply "discussed" several "names"--including former city councilman Jon Mason, Maxwell's former attorney Bill Litster and Vaughn Killeen, former Ada County Sheriff and one of Winder's opponents in the election.
So is this just a case of simple misquotation, leading to a wrong-headed editorial? Not according to the author. Hem told BW on Wednesday, December 21, "I stand by my story, and the reporting that I did at the time." He also said that in the "dozens" of conversations he has had with Winder about the case, "he's never indicated to me that I misrepresented anything that he said."
Winder isn't the first local big wheel to question the Statesman's handling of this case. Earlier this year, former Ada County Prosecutor Jim Harris alleged that the newspaper buried information showing the content of the call was true, before endorsing Winder for the election (BW, News, "Hanging the Messenger," July 13, 2005). Specifically, the call alleged that Winder cut an inside deal with the corrupt Brent Coles administration to allow a friend to work rent free at the Boise Depot, bilking the city out of thousands of dollars of revenue.
In the deposition Longeteig questioned Winder heavily about the accuracy of the call--questions which both Winder's lawyer David Lombardi and Boise City prosecutor Cary Colaianni blocked for being irrelevant to the city's case against Maxwell.
Sheriff Raney was quick to respond to Winder's disclosure. "Mr. Winder has repeatedly assured me that he knows that I had no involvement in the phone scam against him," Raney said in a statement e-mailed to BW last Wednesday. "We have also discussed the fact that the 'apology' reported in the media was not a personal apology, but one expressing that I was sorry to see such an act happen to anyone. As for any questions about the disparity between Mr. Winder's deposition statements, media reports and these agreed upon facts, he will need to be the one to address those."
And address them Winder did, first in a Statesman article on Thursday, December 22, aggressively titled "Attack-ad victim thinks sheriff may have had role." In the piece (which was buried on Page 3 of the Local section and received no mention on the front page of either the newspaper or the front page of its corresponding Web site), Hem does not address the discrepancy between the deposition and the newspaper's previous coverage. Instead, he simply changes the way he labels Winder's lunch date from "Doe" to "the person who met [Winder] last year and discussed the last minute attack ads." Raney is identified as that person. While Hem never implicates Raney for wrongdoing in the piece, Winder is quoted at the end as saying, "I haven't changed my mind from the standpoint of still wondering whether he was involved"--a sharp contrast to Raney's statement that he had been "repeatedly assured" of the opposite by Winder.
Winder told BW on Thursday that the quote in question was "an error in the article," and wasn't intended to refer to Raney--yet again (someone please let Raney know that he appears to have a "John Doe" sign pinned to the back of his uniform). Winder said it was meant to convey his remaining suspicion of Vaughn Killeen, the former Ada County Sheriff who was running against Winder, Bieter and Max Mohammadi in the mayoral election.
Winder said he thinks the deposition was circulated by Longeteig in an attempt to distract the public from the court case, and that local media, including BW, had "played into their hands"--a charge Longeteig doesn't deny, telling BW that his circulating the deposition "doesn't affect the case," but was done "to show that Winder tells different stories at different times."
"The real issue is they violated the election laws, and they're trying to change everyone's focus," Winder countered. Winder has also said in the past he doesn't believe Maxwell alone could have orchestrated the calls, and that as the city process "moves forward," he's still confident "we'll find out who these people are."
Killeen, as in past interviews, told BW on December 21 that he had no involvement in the phone campaign. He said he had heard that Winder had "recanted" his statement about the lunch date being a "Doe."
Winder's statement to BW was the exact opposite--that the accusation was "their [the Statesman's] editorial opinion." As explanation of how that opinion was formed, he offered, "Sometimes, stories can get legs on them that aren't necessarily what happened."
So who's lying: The newspaper who, in an editorial chest-beating session 10 months ago, appears to have incorrectly called "sleazy" (among numerous other digs in other editorials and columns) the man who later turned out to be the sheriff? Or the jilted candidate who is on the record for throwing the sheriff under the bus in an explicit attempt to smoke out his enemies?
Barring an uncharacteristic show of contrition by either the Statesman or Winder, the answer will remain up for speculation. Meanwhile, both Longeteig and Colianni have asked 4th District Judge Kathryn Sticklen to issue a summary judgment on the civil case, which has crept forward inconclusively for most of this year.
This article was originally published online at www.boiseweekly.com last Friday, December 23, due to our early holiday deadlines.