Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Mitch McConnell's Family Values: Lying to Voters, Discrediting Sick Kids. It's Time to Ditch Mitch in 08 Kentucky.
McConnell knew of e-mails about boy
TV interview included denial
By James R. Carroll
WASHINGTON -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell knew last week -- at a time when he was denying it -- that his staff had sent e-mails encouraging reporters to look into the background of a 12-year-old boy used by Democrats to support expansion of a health-care program.
In an interview Friday with WHAS-TV reporter Mark Hebert, the Kentucky Republican said his staff had not been involved in trying to push reporters to look into the financial situation of the boy's family.
But McConnell's communications director, Don Stewart, said in an interview Monday with The Courier-Journal that he had told McConnell about the Oct. 8 e-mails sometime around Thursday, the day before the interview with Hebert.
Stewart also said, however, that he had told the senator he had sent follow-up e-mails within a matter of hours warning reporters off of the story because "the family is legit."
McConnell declined to comment on the matter last night.
Stewart's comments to The C-J on Monday were the first detailed explanation of how McConnell's office was involved in the controversy. It came after nearly a week of speculation and claims by some groups that the office had been involved.
The initial e-mails sent by Stewart were aimed at alerting reporters that bloggers were raising questions about the boy, Graeme Frost of Baltimore, and his family's financial circumstances. He backed off that claim in his subsequent e-mails, he said, based on a report from a blogger whom he respected.
Stewart said he informed McConnell of his personal role in the matter around Thursday.
The next day, Friday, Hebert asked McConnell about the e-mails. The exchange was broadcast Sunday night and again last evening.
Hebert asked the senator whether his office was attempting to get reporters to look into Frost's background.
"No," McConnell answered.
The senator was then asked, "What was the deal with the e-mail from your staffer?"
McConnell replied: "There was no involvement whatsoever."
The boy and his family's circumstances became an issue after he was recruited by the Democrats to respond to President Bush's Sept. 29 radio address regarding the expanded health program, which Bush vetoed Oct. 3.
Graeme and his sister, Gemma, suffered severe injuries in a 2004 car crash and were beneficiaries of the insurance program.
Stewart said yesterday that McConnell's office was "not trying to get reporters to dig into this."
He added: "This is what I told McConnell: They said we tried to get this story started with the blogs. We did not. And part two, we spiked the story. Those are the two things I told him. Which is what he responded to. No, we didn't start the story and that we spiked it.
"I told him that we spiked it, so his answer would make sense to him, that no, we didn't try to get reporters to dig into this," Stewart said.
Stewart said the first blogs, questioning whether the Frosts qualified financially for the State Children's Health Insurance Program, appeared Oct. 6, two days before he sent out his first e-mail to reporters.
In that e-mail, Stewart wrote that "bloggers have done a little digging and turned up that the Dad owns his own business (and the building it's in) seems to have some commercial rental income and Graeme and a sister go to a private school that, according to its Web site, costs about $20k a year -- for each kid -- despite the news profiles reporting a family income of only $45k for the Frosts."
"Could the Dems really have done that bad of a job vetting this family?" Stewart asked in the e-mail.
Hours later, he said, he sent two follow-up e-mails waving reporters off.
"Forgive me if I already told you this, but a blogger that I trust (and who hadn't written anything on this issue yet) tells me that after spending a lot of time on this, they now believe there's no story there, that the family is legit," Stewart wrote in one e-mail, according to the text he provided to The Courier-Journal. "So I'm passing that along to the folks I wrote to this morning. Fair is fair."
In the other follow-up e-mail, Stewart wrote, according to the text he provided: "I just heard from a blogger I know who did some research. Says it's not a story, they're the real deal."
McConnell has opposed bipartisan legislation expanding the program, which passed the House and Senate but was vetoed by Bush.
McConnell believes the measure goes beyond the original intent of the program and is a step toward government-run universal health care.
Newspaper columnists, Web sites, bloggers and politicians have been discussing and debating how the Frost family was handled, and Stewart's acknowledgement that McConnell's office sent e-mails fanned the furor on the Internet yesterday.
In a follow-up e-mail last night, Stewart reiterated that McConnell's answer to WHAS that "there was 'no involvement whatsoever' " was accurate."
"The blogs started this story on Oct. 6 -- two days before I pointed it out and spiked it. This story started and ended in the blogs," Stewart wrote. "I told reporters there was 'no story.' I told Sen. McConnell that I spiked the story. That is 100 percent accurate."
Reporter James R. Carroll can be reached at (202) 906-8141.