Update 1:45 p.m.: Abercrombie has now apologized.
"I apologize to the late Sen. Inouye, his wife, Irene, his family, friends, and former staff for the comments I made concerning the letter," Abercrombie said in a statement. "I regret that my comments were interpreted as hurtful and disrespectful to them. That was certainly not my intent. Sen. Inouye was, without a doubt, one of the finest leaders in Hawaii's history, and a mentor to me.”
The original post follows:
It's the biggest subplot in one of the most interesting Senate primaries in the country: Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), on his deathbed after the 2012 election, writing a letter stating that he wanted Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) to succeed him in the Senate.
But Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) had other ideas, and he appointed his lieutenant governor to fill the U.S. Senate seat, Brian Schatz, against Inouye's last wishes. Hanabusa is now challenging Schatz in the Democratic primary.
Now Abercrombie is casting doubt on that whole storyline, suggesting Inouye wasn't quite so insistent about Hanabusa.
He questioned whether Inouye even wrote the letter, marked “personal” and dispatched just before he died, seeking Hanabusa’s appointment. And he said that, in more than one conversation, the late senator stated his preference for Hanabusa but made it clear that the decision ultimately was Abercrombie's.
“I received that letter, ostensibly coming from Sen. Inouye himself, a half an hour before he died in Washington, D.C. Literally,” Abercrombie said in a lengthy interview Thursday. “Whether or not this could be construed as Sen. Inouye’s dying wish — let me put it this way — is problematic.”
Later he elaborated, saying the circumstances were “far from the drama … with which it’s been characterized.”
“I think it was kind of created,” Abercrombie said. “ I don’t dispute for a second it represented his thinking, but it’s far from being a dying wish, sent from Washington and signed and sealed … by Sen. Inouye in Washington.”
Abercrombie's questioning of the letter, written about a year and a half ago, will likely start a new dialogue about Inouye's actual wishes. Inouye was a hugely popular force in Hawaii politics, and his dying wishes -- and Abercrombie's apparent decision to discard them -- have played in both the Senate primary and Abercrombie's own gubernatorial primary, in which he faces state Sen. David Ige (D).
Update 12:32 p.m. Monday: A little twist in this drama.
In a statement to the Washington Post, Schatz says he doesn't share Abercrombie's suspicions about the letter: "I do not question the authenticity of Senator Inouye’s letter.”
Originally posted at 11:43 a.m. Monday.