October 31, 2012

Newly Released Report Reveals Rep. Rehberg Lied — and Cover-Up Likely

By Anne Weismann

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT)

Washington, D.C. Today, in response to a request by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a Montana court released the presentence investigation report (PSI) regarding State Sen. Gregory Barkus.  In 2009, Sen. Barkus pleaded guilty to felony charges for recklessly piloting and crashing a speedboat while under the influence of alcohol.  All four passengers were injured in the crash, including Rep. Dennis Rehberg (R-MT). Another wound up in a coma for 10 days. 

Read the Montana court's presentence investigation (PSI)

CREW sought the report to see if Rep. Rehberg told the truth when he claimed he’d seen no indication Sen. Barkus had been drinking at the time of the crash and he didn’t think Sen. Barkus was impaired.  In contrast, based on the PSI, the sentencing court found Sen. Barkus’ high blood alcohol level and reckless speeding caused the accident, not a faulty GPS device as Sen. Barkus argued.

In evaluating CREW’s request for the PSI, the court agreed with our argument that under the Montana state constitution, the public has the right to learn the details of a crash involving elected leaders.  Out of concern for privacy, the court ordered some material be redacted, such as Sen. Barkus’ home address, his health and financial profile, personal information about the victims, witnesses, and investigators, three victim impact statements, letters submitted in support of Sen. Barkus, and personal information about a consultant.

The PSI, obtained by CREW, reveals that one of the first responders to the scene learned that Sen. Barkus had at least one “hard liquor” beverage as well as wine before getting into the boat.  A game warden at the scene, Nathan Reiner, reported that rescue personnel had told him they were able to “smell alcohol while attending to [Barkus’] injuries."  Three months later, Mr. Reiner wrote a memo stating that he had recently been informed that no first responders admitted to smelling alcohol on Sen. Barkus.  Mr. Reiner reported that he went to the Big Fork Fire Station to learn why personnel on the scene had “changed their statement.”  The Fire Chief, Chuck Harris, was unable to explain the change, other than to say it was “possible that some did not want to get involved . . .”

In addition, Game Warden Sergeant Jon Obst interviewed Rep. Rehberg in the hospital shortly after the accident and at that time, Rep. Rehberg admitted that the entire party “had drinks” at Lakeside Dock, where they also ate that evening.  Oddly, it does not appear, however, that Sgt. Obst specifically asked Rep. Rehberg if Sen. Barkus had been drinking alcohol.  

All of the evidence demonstrates Sen. Barkus had been drinking for some time before the accident — while in the company of Rep. Rehberg and the other boat passengers.  So, when Rep. Rehberg told reporters Sen. Barkus was not intoxicated, it appears he lied.  Shockingly, the report also suggests there was an effort to cover up the drinking that had clearly taken place that evening and that some of the first responders participated in that cover-up.


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