A trip down Memory Lane with McCain’s state director
Aaron Sheinin published an article this morning about anonymous letters and emails targeting Mitt Romney in Spartanburg for tonight’s straws poll.
One email titled “Mitt Romney has a family secret he doesn’t want you to know” said:
“Those dark suspicions you hide deep inside yourself about Mormonism are trying to tell you something. Trust your instincts! The light of truth will burn through the smoke and mirrors of Mitt Romney’s movie star looks and crafty words!”
Although neither Sheinin nor the Romney camp placed blame on the McCain camp, Sheinin did note that McCain’s state campaign manager Trey Walker was once investigated by SLED and nearly prosecuted for the same type of anonymous emails during Henry McMaster’s 2002 campaign for Attorney General:
“In June 2002, McCain’s current S.C. campaign manager, Trey Walker, was working on Henry McMaster’s attorney general campaign when he sent party loyalists a copy of an article from The State that accused a McMaster rival of accepting a bribe. Walker admitted he made the e-mail appear to have come from an opponent’s campaign.
The State Law Enforcement Division investigated, but Walker was not prosecuted.”
Well, that was a long time ago and we couldn’t remember all the details, so we did a quick archive search on The State and here are the first three articles we found:
GOP E-MAIL PROBED
State, The (Columbia, SC)
July 12, 2002
A former top GOP strategist and the state’s foremost Republican political consulting firm face a fraud investigation.
Trey Walker and Richard Quinn & Associates may have committed computer and election fraud in a June 10 computer message, 5th Circuit Solicitor Barney Giese said Thursday.
The State Law Enforcement Division is investigating. No charges have been filed, and Giese said others could be investigated.
Walker, 35, admits he sent the e-mail from the Quinn firm’s offices on Gervais Street to about 2,300 party activists from a personal list.
He e-mailed a copy of a May 18 State newspaper article about Republican attorney general candidate Larry Richter. The article said Richter had accepted $55,000 from a man later convicted of drug trafficking.
Walker worked for Henry McMaster, who defeated Richter in a June 25 runoff.
Walker said he intended the e-mail as a “harmless practical joke” directed at Richter’s political strategist, Rod Shealy. Walker said he’s known Shealy for about 12 years.
“I’m embarrassed about it,” Walker said. “I’ve embarassed my family, my friends, my employer, my clients. It was stupid and silly.”
Walker, the Republican party’s executive director from 1993 to 1999, has hired a lawyer to help “sort things out.”
On Monday, Walker told SLED agents he sent the e-mail under the computer address “OpLeader.” That address belongs to Shealy’s tabloid, S.C. Opinion Leader.
Shealy considers the e-mail matter closed and he won’t discuss it. Giese said Shealy filed a complaint before he knew who sent the message.
Richter, a Charleston lawyer, wants SLED to pursue the case. “This victimized me,” he said. “I’m against these kinds of tactics. They’re slimy.”
He said Walker has not apologized to him.
Quinn, Walker’s boss and president of the firm, has managed campaigns for many of the state’s top Republican officeholders. He said Walker told him about the e-mail less than a week ago. “I certainly didn’t authorize it, wasn’t aware of it,” he said.
The e-mail was “juvenile,” but it’s being overblown, Quinn said.
Quinn and Walker say Shealy wants to drop the matter, but Giese is going ahead with the case because he considers it a very serious matter.
McMaster said he doesn’t condone the e-mail but has no plans to fire Walker, who he called “one of the finest political thinkers and consultants in the United States.”
Democrats are linking the e-mail probe with other investigations of the state’s Republicans
The Federal Election Commission is investigating allegations that the party mishandled financial matters, and the party’s new executive director, Ed Matricardi, is under federal review for eavesdropping on Democrats in Virginia.
“It’s a crime wave of Republican politics out there,” said Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian.
Harpootlian called on leading Republican candidates Lindsey Graham and Mark Sanford to fire the Quinn firm and clean up the party. Sanford, who is running for governor, could not be reached for comment.
Graham – seeking Sen. Strom Thurmond’s U.S. Senate seat – won’t act until he knows more, said his spokesman, Kevin Bishop. “Needless to say, he believes people should follow the rules,” Bishop said.
“We’re back to Nixon. This is the Plumbers,” Harpootlian said, referring to the Watergate term for ex-President Nixon’s 1972 fund-raisers.
That’s typical gut-punching politics by Harpootlian, Walker said. “I would expect him to try to take advantage of my misfortune for political gain.”
Staff writers Rick Brundrett and Lee Bandy contributed to this report.
GRAND JURY MIGHT PROBE POLITICAL PLOYS
State, The (Columbia, SC)
September 21, 2002
Richland County prosecutors said Friday they want the state grand jury to decide whether what happened in the Republican primary for attorney general was just politics or a crime.
Fifth Circuit Solicitor Barney Giese asked the attorney general to have the grand jury investigate whether a Richland County councilman and the former executive director of the state GOP committed voter fraud.
Attorney General Charlie Condon said he may widen the investigation to include attack advertisements in other races and across party lines.
Condon, who admits he has a conflict of interest in the case, said he might wait until after the November election for the larger investigation.
Before the June 11 primary, councilman Buddy Meetze mailed postcards to about 2,000 Richland County Republicans linking Charleston lawyer Larry Richter, a candidate for attorney general, to Dick Harpootlian, the Democrats’ party chairman and an arch enemy of the GOP.
Meetze failed to clearly identify who sent the postcards, violating state law, Giese said.
Richter was Henry McMaster’s biggest challenger. McMaster, longtime chairman of the state GOP, beat Richter in a runoff.
Harpootlian and Richter, both lawyers, have been friends for years despite being polar opposites in their political lives.
Meetze is the council’s ranking Republican and is unopposed as he seeks a third term in the fall. Meetze could not be reached for comment.
SLED agents found Meetze’s postcards while investigating an e-mail sent by Trey Walker, the Republican party’s top staffer from 1993 to 1999.
Walker admits he e-mailed a copy of a May 18 article in The State reporting that Richter once accepted $55,000 in cash from a man later convicted of drug trafficking.
Walker, 35, said he made the e-mail appear as though it had been sent by Richter’s strategist, Rod Shealy. The e-mail went to about 2,300 party activists the day before the primary.
Walker said the e-mail was a “harmless practical joke” aimed at Shealy, whom he’s known for about 12 years. Walker termed his action “stupid and silly.”
Giese’s not laughing, even though the offenses would be misdemeanors.
“The question that we have to answer is: ‘What kind of campaigning are we going to allow in South Carolina? Where do you draw the line? Is it dirty tricks or is it a violation of the law?'” Giese said.
In a letter Friday, Giese asked Condon to allow the solicitor’s office to oversee the grand jury case. State law requires the attorney general and the chief of the State Law Enforcement Division to agree on which cases should go to the grand jurors.
SLED Chief Robert Stewart said Friday he will sign off on the probe and endorsed letting Giese’s office run the investigation, a task usually handled by the attorney general’s office.
Giese’s letter to Condon addresses the attorney general’s conflict of interest. “It would be unfair to you, and to all parties involved in this matter to have allegations of favoritism or political vindictiveness cloud what should certainly be a fair and impartial review of the facts.”
Walker works for Richard Quinn & Associates, the foremost Republican political consulting firm in the state. The Quinn firm helped run Condon’s unsuccessful race for governor in the June primary.
The Quinn firm also is working on U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham’s race for U.S. Senate and helps manage McMaster’s race to succeed Condon.
Walker and Quinn say the case is overblown and blamed Richter.
“The crux of this is Larry Richter trying to do damage to Henry McMaster by going after one of his political consultants,” Quinn said.
Walker also blamed Richter. “We are 46 days from the election. In politics there is no such thing as coincidence.”
They stopped short of accusing Giese of being political.
Richter shot back: “That’s an insane comment by desperate men and impugns the integrity of (Giese’s office), which made legitimate prosecutorial decisions. Let the chips fall.”
Quinn said Meetze made his mailing mistake out of ignorance. “If anyone had wanted to hide, they would have used (postage) stamps.”
Meetze used a mail permit registered to Mail Marketing Strategies, a company owned by Quinn’s son, Rick Quinn, the S.C. House majority leader.
Richter doesn’t buy it. “These guys, all of them, are well-seasoned political people. They just got caught.”
He said Condon’s plan to delay an investigation until after the election is “dead wrong. I’m a victim, and he’s the chief prosecutor, and I expect him to act like a prosecutor.”
Condon bristles at the idea he’s trying to sweep the investigation under the rug. “I don’t know how they could say that because the allegations are all of the same types.”
He wants to go after third-party attack ads against GOP gubernatorial nominee Mark Sanford.
Kevin Geddings, who used to be Gov. Jim Hodges chief of staff, said he worked on one of the ads.
Sanford also complained about a mail-out that his staff said it traced to a consultant for Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler. Peeler lost to Sanford in a runoff.
Condon said he might ask SLED to investigate those tactics and attack ads that Condon said hurt his campaign. He got 16 percent of the vote.
PROSECUTOR TO PROBE CAMPAIGN ALLEGATIONS
CLIF LeBLANC, Staff Writer
State, The (Columbia, SC)
September 24, 2002
An Orangeburg prosecutor will decide whether two Richland County Republicans and political strategists in the governor’s race broke the law in June’s primary.
Attorney General Charlie Condon asked Walter Bailey, 1st Circuit solicitor, to investigate a county councilman and a campaign strategist.
Condon said coupling the attorney general’s campaign and the governor’s race and giving them to Bailey will eliminate conflicts of interest for him and for 5th Circuit Solicitor Barney Giese, both Republicans.
In a letter Friday, Giese asked for a state grand jury investigation of County Councilman Buddy Meetze and Trey Walker, who is working on Henry McMaster’s campaign for attorney general.
Meetze and Walker are under investigation for possible campaign violations against McMaster’s opponent, Larry Richter.
Meetze, unopposed for a third term, said Monday he might file an ethics complaint against Giese because of the letter Giese wrote to Condon.
Condon has not accused Giese of misconduct, but questions Giese’s objectivity and timing. Giese was trying “to put Mr. McMaster’s campaign on trial six weeks before an election,” Condon said.
“When you add all these objective facts up, you’ve got at the very least a concern that you ought to have another prosecutor, and I’m including myself, in this.”
Giese said the timing of his letter was based on when the alleged violations occurred and on the pace of a SLED investigation. “We were deliberate. We handled it in the normal course of business as we do all sensitive matters.”
Giese said he asked for a state grand jury because it can force testimony to learn “who knew what and when they knew it.”
Grand jury prosecutors likely would question some employees of Richard Quinn & Associates and Mail Marketing Strategies, Giese said. Walker works for Quinn & Associates, which is running McMaster’s campaign; Meetze mailed postcards using a permit from the mailing company owned by Rick Quinn, majority leader of the state House and son of Richard Quinn.
Walker admits that on the day before the June 11 primary, he e-mailed a State newspaper article critical of Richter and made it seem as though one of Richter’s key people, Rod Shealy, sent it. Walker termed it a “harmless practical joke” aimed at Shealy, whom he has known for about 12 years.
Meetze is under investigation for mailing postcards to 2,000 Richland County Republicans in the primary’s waning days. They pointed out Richter was a close friend of arch-Republican foe Dick Harpootlian – the Democratic Party’s state chairman.
State law requires that political literature identify the person or group circulating it. The postcards had only a Mail Marketing Strategies mail permit.
Meetze could be fined $5,000 and/or sentenced to a year in prison if found guilty of the misdemeanor of failing to put identification on the postcards. The e-mail likely would be a misdemeanor computer crime punishable by a fine of up to $200 and/or 30 days in jail.
Giese’s letter doesn’t name Meetze, but Condon and Richard Quinn said Meetze was the person who sent the postcards.
Meetze, council’s ranking Republican, accused Giese of “gross misconduct,” but declined to discuss the mailing.
In a statement, Meetze said: “The very fact his letter was given to the newspaper before anyone involved was informed shows that this is nothing more than a political effort to hurt Henry McMaster’s campaign.”
Giese said McMaster is not targeted in the investigation.
The State obtained Giese’s letter to Condon through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Condon decided on Monday that Bailey should investigate what Condon called several campaign “dirty tricks.”
On Friday, Condon said he wanted to widen the investigation to include attack advertisements in the GOP governor’s race – including those against him – and across party lines.
Gov. Jim Hodges’ former chief of staff, Kevin Geddings, has admitted he was part of a third-party attack ad aimed at Mark Sanford, Hodges’ opponent.
Sanford also has complained about critical campaign literature that Sanford’s staff said it traced to Walter Whetsell, a consultant for Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler. Peeler lost to Sanford in a runoff.
Condon said Bailey has a number of options:
* Ask for a state grand jury investigation;
* Turn the cases over to a county grand jury;
* Ask the state Ethics Commission to investigate;
* Dismiss the accusations.
“I will make a decision on the facts and not politics,” said Bailey, a Republican, whose circuit includes Dorchester, Orangeburg and Calhoun counties. He declined to discuss specifics of the cases.
Condon went to Bailey although a state law allows the judge who presides over the grand jury to settle conflicts of interest. But Condon said that provision applies only when a case has been turned over to the grand jury.
State law requires the attorney general and the SLED chief to agree on which cases should go to the grand juries.
Giese had asked Condon to approve a grand jury investigations of Meetze and Walker and to step aside to allow Giese’s prosecutors to oversee the investigations.
SLED Chief Robert Stewart said Friday he had approved both of Giese’s requests.
Staff Writer Rick Brundrett contributed to this article.