Group pushing to open boat-crash files

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The judge who sentenced former state Sen. Greg Barkus for a criminal endangerment charge related to a boat crash on Flathead Lake in 2009 has scheduled an Oct. 23 hearing to consider releasing a pre-sentencing investigation report in the case.

An organization called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is seeking the report for information related to Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., who was badly injured in the crash along with two of his staff members along with Barkus. 

Also interested in the report is the campaign of Sen. Jon Tester, whom Rehberg is challenging in the November election.

Tester’s campaign has issued press releases related to the request for the report, including one on Wednesday with the order from Malta District Judge John McKeon, who presided over Barkus’s case.

Rehberg campaign manager Erik Iverson said the request for the report is a “transparently politically motivated” effort.

“CREW is a known Democratic organization and ally and this happening just a few weeks before an election smacks of desperate, dirty politics,” Iverson said.

In a letter requesting the report, CREW points out that Barkus had a blood alcohol content of .16, twice the legal limit, about an hour and 45 minutes after his boat slammed into the rocky shoreline at Wayfarers State Park on Aug. 27, 2009. The organization says that afterwards, Rehberg said there was no indication that Barkus was impaired at the time of the crash. 

The group said “the public has a strong interest in disclosure of the PSI to understand fully the circumstances of the crash, which will shed light on whether anyone — including Sen. Barkus and Rep. Rehberg — lied about it ... Disclosure of the PSI and its attachments will shed light on the apparent conflicts between the facts presented in the PSI and those asserted by Sen. Barkus and Rep. Rehberg, and reveal the truthfulness of these two elected officials.”

McKeon ordered parties involved with the case to respond to CREW’s request by Oct. 23.

“The parties to this action must now be given the opportunity to show that the demands of individual privacy outweigh the merits of public disclosure,” McKeon wrote. 

CREW is run by a former staffer for Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who allocated millions of dollars getting Tester elected in 2006 when Schumer led the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.

“CREW is trying to shoehorn this in to make it about Denny and it’s not,” Iverson said. “I think it’s important to understand that Denny has absolutely zero control over whether this report is released or not. He was just a witness... Whatever the court decides is fine with Denny. This is between the state of Montana and Greg Barkus.”

Tester campaign communications director Aaron Murphy said the campaign had no role in getting CREW to pursue the matter,  

“We raised questions after CREW sent out a press release about two weeks ago,” Murphy said, adding the campaign does regard the matter as important and relevant.

“This simply is a matter of accountability and making sure that Montanans are aware of exactly what’s happening in this case. They deserve to have leaders who hold themselves accountable... We agree there are unanswered questions in this case,” Murphy said. “One of the things that we point out in the campaign is that some of Congressman Rehberg’s decisions over the last 12 years have hurt Montana.”

 

Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by email at jmann@dailyinterlake.com.

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