Earlier today, Montana’s House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on an important bill that, alas, has zero chance of being signed by Governor Steve Bullock. Rep. Derek Skees’ bill, HB 340, would eliminate the office of Commissioner of Political Practices (COPP) and assign its duties to the Attorney General and the Secretary of State. The premise of the bill is that COPP has too much unfettered power which inevitably leads to abuse of that power by the commissioner.
Commissioner Jonathan Motl testified and was soon asked by Rep. Theresa Manzella about Exhibit A showing his unfitness for office. Five days before Election Day, Motl accused Rep. Brad Tschida of criminal misconduct, and did so in an interview on KGVO radio, which was broadcast into Tschida’s district. (a transcript of the interview is here, and an audio recording is here)
Caught flatfooted, Motl responded by lying: “I don’t think I accused him of a crime.” Unfortunately for him, Manzella came armed with a copy of the transcript.
Motl’s slander against Tschida was the culmination of a long running disagreement Tschida has had with Bullock’s misuse of state-owned aircraft to facilitate his relationship with former Commerce Director Meg O’Leary. Tschida filed an ethics complaint against both of them with Motl’s office in September. Motl, of course, attempted to bury the ethics complaint until after Election Day.
For his part, Bullock illegally relied upon Andrew Huff, a government-paid attorney, to defend him against the ethics complaint.
Confronted with this cover-up, Tschida sent a copy of the ethics complaint to senators contemplating a special committee to investigate Bullock’s corruption.
A day later, Motl declared on KGVO radio that Tschida’s disclosure of the ethics complaint occurred “in the last days of a campaign, which I think magnifies the seriousness of what he did,” and “it’s just outrageous that he did what he did at the time that he did it.” Motl also accused Tschida of having “personal responsibility for his actions; and so he’ll need to deal with the consequences of breaking state law.” The following colloquy then occurred between him and an interviewer for KGVO:
Interviewer: And what are those consequences?
Motl: There’s, uh, the main consequence that befalls an official who, um, violates a mandatory duty is official misconduct.
Interviewer: And that would be a charge in civil court?
Motl: No, it’s criminal court.
Interviewer: It’s a criminal court charge?
So after Motl finished explaining how indignant he was about Tschida disclosing the ethics complaint against Bullock before the election, he then slandered Tschida by accusing him of a crime.
During a radio interview broadcast into Tschida’s district.
Five days before the election.
It gets better.
The crime of official misconduct is in Title 45 of the Montana Code Annotated, an area of law over which Motl has no jurisdiction. The gag rule in 2-2-136, MCA, that Tschida supposedly violated, by contrast, imposes only civil fines for its violation.
Yet Motl accused him of a crime.
And it was a lie. The day after Election Day, Motl admitted in a sworn statement that he no intention of seeking a criminal prosecution against Tschida. Motl’s false accusation of criminal conduct was intended to silence Tschida’s criticism of Bullock during the final, crucial days of the campaign. Motl’s lie had no other purpose.
When confronted with his misconduct earlier today in House Judiciary, Motl claimed he didn’t accuse Tschida of a crime.
Take another look at the transcript. Motl lied yet again.
Committee Democrats were indignant about Manzella’s questions “not being on the bill.” Their objections were the kind of obstructionism attorneys in a courtroom try screaming out when they know their witness is getting worked. Motl’s conversion of his office into an adjunct of the Democratic Party has everything to do with Skees bill, and his slander against Tschida five days before the election is Exhibit A in a stack of proof showing why his office should be shut down, locked up, and fumigated.
The silence of the “GOP” House “leadership” in response to Motl’s threats and slander against Tschida, as well as its silence regarding the overall abuse by Motl of his office, has been disgraceful.
Tschida had the courage to expose Bullock’s corruption before Election Day. Manzella (and, to a lesser extent, Alan Doane, Seth Berglee, and Barry Usher) had the courage to confront Motl today. So now we know that the 59-member “Republican” House caucus has at least five members worthy of the title.
Skees’ bill comes up for executive action (probably next week) and a floor vote after that – assuming that the other House Judiciary Republicans have the kind of courage Manzella exhibited today.
Are there any other Tschidas and Manzellas in the House GOP caucus? We’ll soon find out.