Washington Babylon — October 8, 2008, 2:41 pm

When Challenged on Ethics, Sen. Coleman and Rep. Keller Blame the Bloggers

October 8: In a stellar display of political weaselry, Cullen Sheehan, campaign manager for Senator Norm Coleman, tells reporters that he will not “respond to unnamed sources on a blog,” then refuses to answer direct questions asking him whether another man paid for Senator Coleman’s suits—repeating “the Senator has reported every gift he has ever received” at least eight times.

Two of my stories for this blog have become issues in current congressional campaigns. One story was about Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman and his close relationship with political donors, including a businessman named Nasser Kazeminy. The story raised the possibility, based on two confidential sources, that Kazeminy has helped underwrite Coleman’s wardrobe, specifically with purchases at Neiman Marcus.

The second story, which ran last November, reported that “Family Values” Congressman Ric Keller of Florida had, after winning office,

divorced his wife and married a young woman who worked on his congressional staff. I spoke with four people, each of whom would only speak with me on condition of anonymity, and each of whom told me that Keller’s relationship with the staffer began while he was still married.

I reported then that House disclosure records showed that Keller and his staffer (and future bride) traveled together on his campaign’s dime, during the same month in 2002 that he separated from his wife, and that she was his only staffer that year to receive a year-end bonus. Now Keller’s opponent has apparently sent out my story as a campaign flyer.

Both Coleman and Keller have denounced the stories–apparently because I published them online in this weblog. “There are very awful things that are said about people on the blogs,” Coleman told one reporter. And Keller issued a statement saying that the story I had written was all “innuendo” and that I was a “discredited blogger” who had previously reported that Hillary Clinton was a lesbian. That is, very simply, a lie, as anyone can see if they bother to read postings I wrote earlier this year making fun of the dumb rumors about Hillary’s alleged “Sapphic excursions.”

In other words, neither Coleman nor Keller wants to discuss the issues raised by the stories; both prefer instead to shift the topic and rail against “bloggers.” What’s particularly striking is that I gave both Coleman and Keller ample opportunity to comment before the stories were published. Both posts were based on interviews, public documents, and published accounts, and were reviewed by an editor before publication. Keller’s office refused to comment at all, whereas Coleman’s office refused to provide a simple “yes” or “no” answer to the question about his clothing purchases. (I reproduced those emails in my post.)

Politicians do this all the time: instead of answering questions, no matter how specific and direct, they hope a “no comment” or dissembling will kill a story. And it often works. I spent significant time on both the Coleman and Keller stories, and I reported what I knew to be true. I made clear in the specific case of Coleman’s wardrobe that I did not have all the details confirmed, but that the accounts I had were highly detailed and credible. And instead of replying, Coleman was, and remains, evasive. If he ever gives a straight answer, I’ll be happy to report it. But blaming “bloggers” should not be a substitute for elected officials replying to specific, detailed questions.

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