Let’s talk about the latest issue of Kentucky Roll Call (Warning: External PDF Link) because Jamie Comer is in the news again. Note: If you aren’t familiar with KRC, it’s something political nerds have read for a long time. In the age of internetting and tweeting and all of that hullabaloo, it’s something most of us turn to for something more than a hot take. It’s good, old fashioned Kentucky politicking whether you like it or not. It’s 100% worth the $12-$15 a month.
And this time it’s all about Jamie’s failed gubernatorial campaign strategy. Or, more specifically, the failure of Comer’s lawyer/lobbyist/adviser to — let’s just call it what it is — slut shame Marilyn Thomas.
This is a story of how an ex-girlfriend of a candidate for governor in the 2015 Republican primary altered the destiny of the commonwealth. The story is based on confidential interviews that Kentucky Roll Call conduct- ed over the past two months with credible sources close to the campaigns of Jamie Comer and Hal Heiner.
The lifespan of the story might have been about three days had it not been for what happened next. After read- ing Comer’s denials in the Herald-Leader, Thomas made a decision to tell her side to reporter Joe Gerth of The Courier-Journal in a 1,700-word letter. Her decision launched The Story of the election, and it was the tipping point of Comer’s campaign.
Apparently after a phone call Thomas received from an unidentified source to inform her that Youngman was working on a story about her former relationship with Comer, that’s when she composed the letter, apparently completing it, before Youngman’s story ran.
But after reading Comer’s blanket denials, which made her out to be a liar, Thomas broke her silence and sent the letter to Gerth…
But the media stories that sprung from the allegedly stolen e-mails hobbled Comer and Heiner enough to allow Matt Bevin to win the primary.
Actually, it was the Comer campaign that leaked the the e-mails to the Herald-Leader. A source in a position to know told Kentucky Roll Call that leaking the e-mails was a “calculated decision…that went wrong.”
Comer’s “calculated deci- sion” to leak the e-mails arguably led to his defeat, as the eagle contributed the feather for the arrow that killed it.
The way the story was written, readers were left with an impression that there might be a wicked collusion between Adams, Crosbie and the Heiner campaign —to damage Comer by some dark means.
Although Youngman’s story was primarily about Heiner, he presented no proof that Heiner—who carries an earned, sterling reputation card—was ever involved in any kind of smearing of an opponent during his political career. The story did not say or imply that Heiner’s running mate was involved, or that she brought anything back to the camp—only that her husband was encouraging an anti-Comer blogger.
Yet, the headline of Youngman’s story read: “Exclusive: Heiner apologizes to Comer over campaign’s communication with controversial blogger.”
That made it seem that Adams had confessed to being in collusion with the Heiner camp and that he did something immoral, underhanded or awful enough that Heiner apologized. Adams did not acknowledge or con- fess wrong-doing to Youngman and Stamper.
Further, of the first 11 paragraphs in the story, 10 were about Heiner.
The Comer campaign gave the ill-gotten e-mails to Youngman, anticipating Youngman would bring Heiner into the story in a way that would discredit Heiner.
Unwittingly, Youngman participated in that political scheme.
This story came to our attention and prompted our research when a Republican source on the inner circle of one of the candidates told me he had reasons to believe that Danny Briscoe, the Democratic guru of strategy in Kentucky politics, actually orchestrated— through GOP operatives he outwitted—the leak of the e-mails in order to clear the path for Matt Bevin, who the Democrats wanted to win the primary: the tea party aligned Bevin, they figured, would be the easiest Republican for the Democrats to beat in November.
Briscoe had a political but not personal relationship with Riggs Lewis, the lawyer-lobbyist who was the Jefferson County coordinator for Comer, and the alleged carrier of the leaked e-mails to the Lexington Herald- Leader.
While it shouldn’t be ruled out that Adams’ computer was hacked, most of the speculation is on a computer server in Scott Crosbie’s former law office.
On April 30, the day after Youngman’s story ran in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Adams posted on his blog that another blogger, Jake Payne, editor of Page One, had written that Comer was aware that allegations about him assaulting Marilyn Thomas had been circu- lating at least a year before the election, and that Comer tasked Riggs Lewis to find out about it.
Payne knew that to be a fact, according to Adams, because Payne had posted: “I helped them [Comer and Lewis] get to the bottom of it…And, according to Lewis, there’s evidence to suggest members of the Heiner campaign are sources of the information.”
Note the phrase “are sources of ” in the above para- graph. That’s different than saying, “the source of.” The former may be interpreted as saying people in the Heiner campaign heard and took part in gossip at rallies and dinners on the road, which is likely, given the nature of rumors and political gatherings — that’s what they do, exchange political talk. But the wording, “are sources of,” is broad and runs short of saying outright that Heiner’s campaign created the allegations, but it infers they did.
On May 1, the day after Adams’ post, Payne wrote on his blog, “The emails apparently came from the email server of Scott Crosbie’s old law firm.”
In a later posting, Payne reported that Riggs Lewis gave the e-mails to Sam Youngman.
Michael Adams says someone pretending to be him created a fake Yahoo e-mail account using the name michaeljadams00@yahoo. com. Through that faux identity, they sent an e-mail to Riggs Lewis and blind copied Thomas and Adams.
Someone hired an international private-eye firm, Guidepost Solutions LLC, headquartered in New York City, to investigate Thomas.
Somebody paid big bucks to have Thomas investigat- ed. And it was likely paid for with private funds to avoid it showing up on a campaign finance report.
Be sure you go read it all. And buy Lowell’s stuff. Subscribe. Do all the things.
The mysterious “Republican operative” sounds surprisingly like Riggs Lewis. He’s told countless people the same stories, myself included, about Danny Briscoe. About how he attended parties involving Briscoe and others in the political set. About how folks told him early on that there was Marilyn-related dirt on Jamie.
I know the entire campaign was aware in the beginning stages and so does everyone else. It was all people could talk about behind the scenes. It was all I spoke about to the Comer folks, Holly Harris included, because it was so unbelievable in the beginning. Until we all started to realize that Jamie had pulled the wool over peoples’ eyes (not just Thomas-related) and that he had misled, backtracked, flip-flopped and manipulated in ways he promised never to do.
Riggs leaked those emails to the paper. He’s not slick enough to cover his tracks. He likely obtained those emails indirectly from Scott Crosbie’s former firm. At least that’s what the Comer folks tell me. You know who I know. It’s not a secret. And it’s what Riggs told me during the same phone call wherein he explained what was going on. I published what was going on at the time — even included screenshots of some other emails sent to Comer’s running mate — and it all turned out to be true.
When we (not just me at that time) said “sources”? That’s plural. Meaning multiple people. Multiple people from the Conway camp and folks in the Heiner camp.
Riggs knows who hired the private investigator because I had conversations with him about it. He even had folks sit outside Michael Adams’ home to watch him. He can deny it all he wants but he told me he had people in NYC checking Marilyn out. Some enterprising journalist should dig into the Super PAC that was supporting Comer because I’m confident they’d find something fascinating on that front.
Riggs and another lobbyist also convinced a few reporters to dig deep into Marilyn Thomas’ background in Kentucky. Long after the meat had been picked from the bone. People traveled to her hometown to meet with relatives and former boyfriends. Two reporters spent countless hours trying to talk to people at her former high school. One met with relatives of a deceased former boyfriend the Comer folks concocted some bizarre story about. It was desperate. They still want to shame her, blame her and drag her through the mud. They’ll keep trying to exact revenge.
After the scandal had broken wide open and Joe Gerth had published everything, one Lexington reporter spent weeks sending hateful, drunken (? had to be because they were awful), extreme text messages to Comer folks who jumped ship. Accused them of being plants the whole time, of concocting a scheme to take down Jamie out of jealousy (wtf), of leaving Jamie in the dust for money. The reporter used talking points that I’d seen and heard before, unsurprisingly. From Riggs Lewis and another lobbyist. They tried to feed the same lines to me until they were called on the carpet.
The TL;DR? Read KCR. It’s fairly accurate. As close to accurate as any one person is going to get when it comes to the Comer scandal. Ignore the Comer supporters who try to dismiss it.
It won’t be going away. It’ll impact Jamie during his campaign to replace Floridian Ed Whitfield in congress. And his shitty campaign advisers will continue to try the same stunts over and over.
The Democratic Party could finally win back Western Kentucky if they were competent enough to get all their ducks in a row.
I hate doing these Comer brain dumps and wish he’d just go away. Kentucky deserves better.
Oh, and Lowell? Come on with this:
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Excerpting, as we have done, is wholly acceptable and legal. It’s 2015. That’s how the internet and the rest of the world works. No one is going to steal your material. Heck, I’d even consider giving you free advertising if you’d make your content more readily available because it’s good stuff.