Rand Paul was on the verge of becoming a powerful senator and the nation's leading libertarian. His neighbor was a successful doctor and Kennedy-style Democrat who favored nationalized medicine. BOWLING GREEN, Ky. —
They might have sparred over health care or taxes, but an acquaintance of both said they stood in their yards roughly a decade ago shouting at each other over the grass clippings that Paul's lawn mower had shot onto Rene Boucher's property.
" 'I ask him, I tell him and he won't pay attention,' " the acquaintance, Bill Goodwin, recalls Boucher saying after the argument. " 'One of these days.' "
That day might have come last month, when Boucher's attorney said in an interview that his client attacked Paul over long-simmering disagreements between the two about the care of grass, trees and other landscaping on their adjacent properties in a gated community.
The account marks the first time either side has offered a reason for one of the nation's most talked-about political mysteries: What sparked the worst attack on a sitting senator in decades?
The assault left Paul, 54, with six cracked ribs and a case of pneumonia, and it briefly sidelined the Republican senator during a crucial debate over a tax overhaul in Washington. Boucher, 59, has pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge in the case and could yet face more serious consequences.
Federal prosecutors said they are investigating the case. Boucher could be charged under several federal statutes, including one rarely used provision that bars assaults on members of Congress and other high-ranking government officials.
Intrigue has deepened in the weeks since the Nov. 3 assault as Paul and Boucher have remained largely quiet about what prompted it. Neither would comment for this article.
Into the vacuum, competing theories for the assault have been floated, like so many Washington trial balloons. They range from the mundane, such as bad blood over spoiled views of a lake, to the outlandish — an antifa plot.
Some conservative media outlets have suggested that the attack might have been motivated by Boucher's liberal politics. Paul appeared to endorse that idea by retweeting links to the articles. Boucher, a registered Democrat, was critical of President Trump on his now-deleted Facebook page.
Paul, who gave his first television interview about the attack last week on Fox News, said he had not talked to Boucher in 10 years but did not say what caused the assault. He said it was beside the point.
"After my ribs were broken, then he said things to me to try to indicate why he was unhappy, but I think the — I guess, to me, the bottom line is it isn't so important. If someone mugs you, is it really justified for any reason?" Paul said.
Kelley Paul, the senator's wife, also wrote an op-ed for CNN, casting doubt on the idea that landscaping or anything else Paul did had prompted the attack. She said any dispute existed only in Boucher's "troubled mind."
"It is incredibly hurtful that some news outlets have victimized Rand a second time as he struggles to recover," Kelley Paul wrote.
But so far, interviews with friends and area residents who would talk — and a review of court files and police records that have been made public — reveal only the type of small-time neighborly conflict that has vexed many a suburban relationship.
"There is absolutely no political motivation behind this," said Boucher's attorney Matthew J. Baker. "It all stems from maintenance, or lack of it, at these two neighboring properties."
Boucher, who employed professional landscapers, didn't see eye-to-eye with the senator, who delighted in doing his own yard work and had an independent streak about the care of his property, in keeping with his libertarian beliefs.
"Rene is meticulous about a lot of items in life. He's neat. It's the doctor in him. Everything had to be just right. The yard was one of them," Goodwin said. "It's been a running feud."
For more than a month, the heavy wrought-iron gates of the Rivergreen community have concealed the bizarre saga. With a buzz, they slowly swung open on a recent Sunday.
Despite calls to dozens of residents, just one was interested in taking a reporter near the scene of the assault. Jim Skaggs, the co-developer of Rivergreen and a local Republican politico, said the attack has divided residents and left them scratching their heads.
"I'm dumbfounded," Skaggs said, echoing the sentiments of others in the neighborhood. "You have two wealthy, very accomplished doctors. It's difficult to understand this level of action arising from a property dispute."
As Skaggs talked, he steered his SUV past the large custom homes of doctors, lawyers and bankers. The properties are nestled on rolling green lots around a sparkling, 16-acre man-made lake.
Skaggs came to a stop between Boucher's and Paul's homes. Boucher, a retired and divorced anesthesiologist, and Paul, an ophthalmologist, have been neighbors for 17 years and once worked at the same hospital.
Boucher's gabled home sits on a corner lot across a sloping expanse of grass and trees from Paul's redbrick Colonial. It was in that territory that Kentucky State Police said the assault occurred.
Baker said the old tensions over landscaping were triggered Nov. 3 by a fresh incident that he declined to go into detail about.
In his interview with Fox News, Paul said he was blindsided by the attack.
"I was working in my yard with my earmuffs on — you know, to protect my hearing from the mower — and I had gotten off the mower, facing downhill, and the attacker came running full blown," Paul said. "I never saw him, I never had conversation — in fact, the weird thing is, I haven't talked to him in 10 years."
Kentucky State Police said they were called to the scene shortly after 3:20 p.m., according to a police report. Authorities said Boucher admitted going onto Paul's property and tackling him.
After an investigator interviewed both men and left the scene to consult with a prosecutor, Boucher was charged with fourth-degree assault after 8 that night, Baker said.
Police said that Paul initially refused medical care, thinking the injuries were minor, but he eventually was treated as the extent of the damage done by the tackle became more apparent.
"He is profoundly regretful," Baker said of Boucher. "He wishes this had never happened."
Friends and neighbors said both men were similarly driven and devoted to medicine, but with one crucial difference.
Skaggs said Boucher was exacting about the standards for his yard — landscaping bags filled with waste were a common sight on his property. Neighbors said Paul had a reputation for a more relaxed style that some felt didn't always jibe with a community that features gas lamps, Greek statuary and a 13-page packet of rules.
The senator had a pumpkin patch, compost and unraked leaves beneath some of his trees. Goodwin said it annoyed Boucher that Paul did not consistently cut his grass to the same height, and leaves from Paul's trees blew on his property.
Baker, Boucher's attorney, said Paul and his client had stopped speaking for a number of years because of these landscaping issues. He described the silence as a cold war of sorts.
Friends of Paul in the neighborhood said the story rings hollow and that such petty issues would never justify an assault on the senator.
Several said they were unaware of any such problems and said Paul carefully maintained his property. If Boucher had problems with Paul, several current and former representatives of the homeowner's association said, he had not brought them to the board in recent years.
"They're just good neighbors," Gayla Warner said of the Pauls. "We never knew of any conflict."
But Boucher has had disputes over his property before.
Rivergreen residents said Boucher's family had previously had a disagreement with another neighbor over the fate of a tree near the border of their properties. The Bouchers wanted to keep the tree, but the neighbor wanted it removed to clear the way for a house project.
And in 2012, Boucher sued the prospective buyers of his home after they pulled out of a contract, according to court records.
Boucher sued the couple for breach of contract and slander, saying they had spread false stories that Boucher was "untruthful and is engaging in unscrupulous acts" to sell his home. Boucher was worried the comments would affect his reputation as a doctor.
The couple denied the allegations, and the suit was eventually settled. None of the parties involved responded to requests for comment.
The rancor capped a decade or so of difficulty for Boucher.
In 2005, Boucher suffered a severe accident while bicycling that left him unable to work, according to court records. During his recovery, Boucher developed a rice-filled "Therm-a-Vest" that could be heated to help ease neck and back pain. It was sold on the cable TV shopping network QVC and in stores.
Three years later, his wife of 22 years filed for divorce, saying the couple's marriage was "irretrievably broken," according to court records. The pair had two adult children, and divorce records indicate that Boucher was left alone in the family's large home, which he was attempting to sell then as well. Boucher's family members did not respond to requests for comment.
Despite the issues, there was little to presage the violent attack on Paul.
Boucher has no criminal record, and call records from the Warren County Sheriff's Office and Kentucky State Police do not indicate that authorities were previously called to deal with disputes between the senator and his neighbor.
Kentucky State Police are wrapping up their investigation into the incident. State prosecutors will then determine whether the assault rises to the level of a felony charge in Kentucky.
Skaggs said the assault would probably never have occurred if Boucher had his way. Boucher had been trying to sell his home to move closer to his children, Skaggs said. They are out of state.
Danny Renshaw, another neighbor, said the case should give anyone with neighbors pause.
"We never know what our neighbors are thinking — none of us," Renshaw said. "You see stuff that happens in New York or L.A. or Florida and think, that would never happen in our neighborhood. But you just never know what someone will do or what is going on in their mind."