HELENA - U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg and Sen. Conrad Burns assembled the troops for a Washington, D.C., reporter this week in an attempt to refute an anonymous e-mail's allegations that Rehberg was drunk and behaved boorishly during a May congressional trip to Kazakhstan.
Nine people, including staffers for the two Montana Republicans, a Marine colonel who was on the trip and two Kazakh embassy aides, sat down with a reporter from Roll Call, a Capital Hill publication, in Burns' office on Tuesday. Rehberg and Burns weren't there. No Washington-based reporters for Montana news organizations were invited.
Roll Call's earlier coverage of the e-mail, as reported in its "Heard on the Hill" column, was reported by the Montana news media.
They were seeking to rebut allegations made in an anonymous e-mail sent by someone claiming ties to the U.S. embassy in Kazakhstan. The e-mail accused Rehberg of tossing back 20 shots of vodka at a ceremonial meal before he dashed into the woods, only to return riding a horse. The e-mail said Rehberg fell over drunk and was trampled by another horse. It accused Rehberg of poking fun at the natives' traditional dress by doing a beeping Conehead routine from "Saturday Night Live."
The nine men sitting around the table in Burns' office unanimously agreed that these events this never happened, wrote Roll Call's Mary Ann Akers in her Wednesday column, "Heard on the Hill." Its headline said: "Montana Republicans: Sober in Kazakhstan."
Here is Roll Call's account of the meeting, as furnished by Rehberg's office:
The column quoted Col. Arthur White, the Senate's Marine liaison who accompanied Rehberg and Burns on the trip, denying Rehberg was drunk. White said Rehberg drank "probably had a half dozen" shots over two and a half hours. Added Roll Call parenthetically: "For the record, half a dozen is two more than Rehberg confessed to having; and six more than Rehberg's press secretary first asserted his boss had consumed."
White, who has been on several congressional junkets, told Roll Call, "I'm there to make sure nobody does anything foolish."
His explanation for Rehberg's fall off the horse matched Rehberg's, Roll Call said. Rehberg was unaccustomed to riding a horse where the saddles lack horns. When a Kazakh rider approached Rehberg, an experienced horseman, to help him dismount, "he kind of jostled the congressman's horse … just as the congressman was stepping down," White told Roll Call. Rehberg was underneath the other horse when it stepped on him, the colonel said.
Although the e-mail said Rehberg broke three ribs from the horse accident, Rehberg said he broke one, while White said he cracked three, Roll Call said.
White denied that Rehberg had poked fun at the Kazakh national costume by performing a Conehead skit and repeatedly beeping. The colonel told Roll Call: "Never happened."
Roll Call reported Kanat Saudabayev, the Kazakh ambassador to the United States, issued a statement saying the Republic of Kazakhstan is "pleased" with the results of Rehberg and Burns visit.
"At the same time, we repudiate completely anonymous accounts of Rep. Rehberg's unfortunate accident," the ambassador wrote. "The accident did indeed take place in the way Rep. Rehberg has described it, and we wish him speedy recovery."
Erik Iverson, Rehberg's chief of staff, criticized the Montana Democratic Party, which through Chairman Bob Ream made a federal Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. State Department seeking the complete records and details of the Rehberg and Burns trip. Iverson predicted it would lead to a backlash against Democrats in November.
In response, Democratic Chairman Ream said, "We haven't been pushing the story. We simply filed a Freedom of Information Act request, and that was it."
Rehberg and his staff "really went to extremes to put across their story," Ream said. "They're the ones who are extending the story. If he really wanted to stop the story, he'd quit calling press conferences about it."
Added Ream: "Paraphrasing Shakespeare, 'Methinks they do protest too much.' "