Ever since the story about Rep. Michele Bachmann’s headaches surfaced, Right Turn and other media outlets have questioned whether Tim Pawlenty’s campaign had any role in the matter. In a long phone conversation, Pawlenty spokesman Alex Conant denied to me repeatedly that the campaign had any role in revealing Bachmann’s health information. He also revealed that Pawlenty questioned his senior staff as to whether anyone had a role in the story, but he dismissed the need to question and distance himself from Ron Carey, a vocal supporter of Pawlenty who was Bachmann’s chief of staff (and therefore would have had access to her schedule), and whose name has been mentioned in press accounts. Carey left Bachmann’s office in the summer of 2010 (which is the last headache incident cited in the Daily Caller story) and has since issued blistering statements about her fitness to serve.
I asked Conant about this account from RealClearPolitics:
Pressed about the extent to which he was certain that the story had not come from anyone connected with his campaign, Pawlenty said that he had spoken to aides “in the senior positions” but noted that he had not checked with any former Bachmann staffers who are working on his behalf.
“I haven’t talked to them directly, but I think the story is pretty clearly sourced,” he said. “Her former staff people are named in her story.”
The Minnesota Independent reported in March that former Bachmann Chief of Staff Ron Carey was one of three ex-staffers for the congresswoman who were publicly lending their support to Pawlenty for the GOP nomination.
“He’s a supporter, but he doesn’t work for our campaign,” Pawlenty said of Carey. “He’s a volunteer for our campaign. I haven’t spoken to him, but the story’s not sourced to him. It’s sourced to her former staff.”
Told that the Daily Caller did not, in fact, name its sources, Pawlenty said, “Anyway, they’re not people associated with my campaign.”
Doesn’t this suggest that Pawlenty let the cat out of the bag by offering up Carey’s name? Spokesman Alex Conant insisted that Pawlenty brought up Carey’s name only because the reporter characterized him as a Pawlenty staffer, which he is not.
I asked if Pawlenty or his staff had anything to do with the story. No, he answered. Did Pawlenty or his staff know that the story was going to run in the Daily Caller? No. Has the campaign asked Carey if he has been involved? No. Why not? “We have nothing to do with it.” But wouldn’t he want to disassociate himself from Carey if he was behind the leaks? “No, we have no interest in the story.” But the governor has talked about it repeatedly, right? “Because reporters ask about it.” When pressed as to why the campaign hadn’t made statement disassociating the candidate from anyone connected with the story, Conant said that he had not spoken to Carey in five years, and the campaign had no control over him. Conant said that, as to the people Pawlenty does employ, Pawlenty grilled senior staff and was told there was no involvement in the story.
Now that the doctor’s comments are out, is Pawlenty satisfied Bachmann is healthy? Conant said, “As far as he is concerned the matter is closed.” He stressed that this is not an issue Pawlenty wants to talk about.
Repeated calls to Carey have not been returned, so it remains unclear whether Carey was the source or one of the sources of the story. Carey, unlike supporters like Vin Weber who closely consult with Pawlenty, has not been in contact with the campaign or been in the headquarters.
Now, certainly, defenders of Palwenty will argue that, had the Pawlenty campaign wanted to drop this bomb, it likely would not have chosen a week when Pawlenty faced scrum after scrum of reporters. If the Pawlenty campaign wanted to avoid suspicion, arguably Pawlenty’s responses would have been better scripted.
It would seem impossible to believe that the campaign was not aware of rumors swirling around Minnesota from former Bachmann staffers, and indeed the campaign at no point denied ignorance about the issue (as opposed t the story). But those close to the campaign insist Pawlenty did not want to go down that road or associate the campaign with ex-staffers peddling stories about Bachmann.
Nevertheless, the Pawlenty campaign contributed to the feeding frenzy by not emphatically denying involvement with the story as other campaigns did. Pawlenty compounded the problem by offering the line both to reporters in Iowa and to Greta van Susteren that “candidates are going to have to be able to demonstrate they can do all of the job, all of the time.”
The RealClearPolitics story has now fed the storyline that somehow Pawlenty is involved in the attacks on Bachmann. A Republican operative commented to me, “The way I read it the reporters asking never offered a staffer name but [Pawlenty] did.”
In essence, the campaign’s defense is that they let the press run with a story without effectively rebutting it. If that is the case, and there is no definitive proof at this point to suggest otherwise, this will only multiply concerns thatPawlenty’s campaign is not firing on all cylinders. In any event, the issue has now created another worrisome distraction for Pawlenty, who has failed to make a dent in the polls and needs to finish near the top of the pack in Ames.