Former House Speaker Lawerence Denney says he believes the reopening of an Idaho State Police investigation into his wifes conduct as a state employee was motivated by Gov. Butch Otters desire to see Denney ousted from his position.
To my way of thinking, only the governor would be able to do that, Denney said Tuesday. But thats my opinion. I think it was for political purposes.
Otter countered that he suggested reviving the criminal investigation in July 2012 to make sure that police interviewed Denneys wife, Donna.
When the case was reopened, Denney, R-Midvale, was fighting to continue his six-year reign as speaker, challenged by then-Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley. Denney was a powerful opponent of Otters plan to ask lawmakers to approve a state-run health insurance exchange; Bedke was an Otter ally.
In January 2012, after a nine-month investigation, ISP Detective Bret Kessinger had closed the inquiry into Donna Denneys moonlighting job while she was a full-time employee of the Idaho Commission on Aging.
Kessinger had found no evidence that she committed a crime and failed to accumulate enough evidence to reach some minimal threshold of probable cause to apply for a search warrant for Donna Denneys personal computer, he wrote in a July 25, 2012, follow-up report.
Donna Denney wasnt interviewed, Kessinger wrote, due to the fact that the only thing I could conclusively prove was that she held a second job while working for the state.
In July 2012, Kessinger was ordered by Col. Jerry Russell, Otters appointee as director of the Idaho State Police, to re-examine the case and interview Donna Denney. Russell also told Kessinger to write a memo describing his inquiry. Kessinger later called Russells orders a real head-scratcher and said hed never been asked to do something of the sort in his 16-year career.
Kessingers report, released to the Idaho Statesman under Idahos Public Records Act, was a key document in a full-page story in Sundays newspaper.
LETTING DONNA DENNEY SPEAK
Told of Lawerence Denneys statement Tuesday, Otter said his aim was to ensure that Donna Denney was treated fairly.
If youre accused of something, you need to be able to say, Well, no, that isnt exactly right, this is right, and heres my evidence to show my innocence, Otter said Tuesday.
Otter said he read Kessingers 2011 incident report and then gave it to the lawyers the governors legal counsel, Tom Perry, and Chief of Staff David Hensley, also a lawyer.
They read it and they said, Well, wheres the interview with Donna? Otter recalled.
After Hensley communicated with Russell and learned that there was no Denney interview, Otter said Hensley told Russell, Well, you gotta interview her. Shes got to be able to defend herself.
Rep. Denney said he has trouble buying Otters explanation.
I dont know why she would want a chance to talk when the case was closed, he said.
Russell said Tuesday that he was in contact with Hensley but felt no pressure whatsoever from the governors office about reopening the investigation.
My concern was she needed to be contacted, Russell told the Statesman. Just to dot the is and cross the ts.
Donna Denney was never interviewed; instead, she submitted affidavits with the assistance of her lawyer, former Attorney General David Leroy.
Leroy took five months to reply to questions from ISP, finally responding a month after Denney was defeated in the speakers race.
Shortly after receiving the affidavits, the police closed the case a second time.
In 2012, the Statesman made initial inquiries about the Donna Denney investigation but didnt publish a story. After Rep. Denney announced his candidacy for secretary of state in October, the ISP investigation resurfaced, prompting the newspaper to take another look.
Russell, who retired in January 2013, said Tuesday that undercutting Denney was not a factor at ISP.
I am not involved in any of the politics whatsoever, he said.
Rep. Denney said he believes that Otter intervened in July 2012 probably for the speakers race in support of Bedke, who defeated Denney in a vote of the GOP caucus in December 2012.
Now in a four-way GOP primary to become Idahos chief elections officer, Denney declined to comment on where his support lies for governor Otters bid for a third term or the challenge from Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher.
Of his relationship with Otter, Denney said: Im not angry about it. Im going to run my race.
Denney said that he was pleased with Sundays Statesman story, which also covered the role of Kim Toryanski, Donna Denneys supervisor at the Commission on Aging and the wife of one of Denneys primary opponents, former Sen. Mitch Toryanski.
Kim Toryanski asked the state police to investigate after Donna Denny left the agency in 2010.
In my personal observation, after multiple interviews with (Kim) Toryanski, it appears that this case may have sprung from a relationship of mutual distaste one for another between (Kim) Toryanski and (Donna) Denney, Kessinger wrote in July 2012.
Im happy that thats out there because there were rumors flying around here, Rep. Denney said Tuesday. And, basically, I think the police report just said that there was nothing there.
Denney said he has no reason to suspect Bedke had any influence on the investigation.
Only Otter, Denney said, had the power to press Russell to reopen the case. No one else could have asked them to do it and have them do it, Denney said. So, no, I dont think (Bedke) had anything to do with it.
Bedke said Tuesday that he was unaware the case was reopened in the summer of 2012, which was when he was traveling the state to convince GOP lawmakers to help him become the first challenger to unseat a sitting speaker since at least the 1920s.
Bedke said he played no role in pressing the investigation. Unequivocally, no, he said.
Cynthia Sewell contributed to this report.
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics