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Has Montana’s #MeToo Moment Finally Arrived?

by Matthew Monforton Read Profile arrow_right_alt

The #MeToo tsunami triggered by Harvey Weinstein, part-time movie mogul and full-time rapist, has crashed far beyond Hollywood and drowned celebrities and public officials in every corner of the nation.

Well…almost every corner.  A Montanan contemplating a 2020 presidential run has so far dodged the waves.

But Governor Steve Bullock (D-MT)’s luck might be running out.

The exchanges between Bullock and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio in the New York Times in recent days provide enough material for Chris Hansen to do a remake of his Dateline NBC’s “To Catch a Predator.”  Hansen could certainly use a big payday, or at least $13,000 to keep his creditors at bay.

Kevin O’Brien could also use a payday.  He’s now out of a job.  Again.

O’Brien scored a really good one when de Blasio hired him as deputy chief of staff in January 2016.  When O’Brien applied for the job, the Mayor assigned New York’s Department of Investigation (NYDOI) to do the vetting, which consisted of a phone call to the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) and the State of Montana, O’Brien’s prior employers – both of which gave him a thumbs up. 

De Blasio should have hired Chris Hansen’s collection agents – they’d have done more due diligence then NYDOI. Public records available when de Blasio was vetting O’Brien showed that, in December 2014, Gov. Bullock had O’Brien transferred from Helena, Montana, to a DGA position in Washington D.C.

Other publicly available records revealed a possible explanation.

Days before he shipped O’Brien out of Montana, Bullock was confronted by his lieutenant governor, Angela McLean, during a private meeting in December 2014. Neither has publicly discussed the meeting, but McLean’s subsequent emails make clear it did not go well.  In an email to Bullock about his plans to dump her from the ticket, McLean wrote:

From what I understand this goes back to our conversation in December [2014]…I guess I am learning ambition is a funny thing and realizing the full consequences of standing up for what you believe is right.

In another email, McLean acknowledged that “I created sides with my December [2014] conversation.” Hers was not the winner. Bullock and his lackeys shunned her and cut off her social media accounts.  Despite McLean’s insistence that she would complete her term, she was out by the end of 2015.

A competent investigator from de Blasio’s office would have asked whether Bullock’s confrontation with McLean had something to do with Bullock’s decision days later to ship O’Brien to the other side of the country.  Anything short of a definitive and substantiated denial would have raised a red flag and spared de Blasio’s office from what followed.

Upon leaving Montana for D.C. in December 2014, O’Brien claimed that “Anna and I are excited about new opportunities.” Kevin proved the more excitable of the pair, and his “new opportunities” probably weren’t ones Anna had pined for.  Within months, a woman employed by the DGA accused O’Brien of sexual harassment, an accusation supported by an investigation.  The DGA then quietly terminated O’Brien.

Bullock knew all this, but didn’t warn de Blasio when O’Brien successfully applied to work for the mayor in 2016. 

By February 2018, at least two female employees in the mayor’s office had filed sexual harassment complaints against O’Brien.  Like the allegations by the DGA employee, these were fully investigated and substantiated. And they were doosies. Though he avoided details, de Blasio described how O’Brien’s “misconduct in this case literally makes me sick to my stomach” and was “egregious.” Other sexual harassment cases, de Blasio insisted, were “nothing like this incident.”

Bear in mind these remarks came from a mayor marinated in New York’s caligulian morals, a mayor who arrived at Gracie Mansion by beating the pants – and shirt – off of this guy.

O’Brien’s ability to compete in Anthony Weiner’s league required more than garden-variety harassment. It required predation.

Bullock claims to have believed that, after the DGA termination in 2015, O’Brien had gotten it out of his system. And Bullock insists that he hadn’t seen any red flags before 2015 concerning O’Brien. Nobody believes that, other than Montana GOP legislators like these who think Bullock would be a great POTUS.  O’Brien didn’t live the first 30+ years of his life as a kiss-on-the-hand-only gent with his true nature suddenly triggered in 2015.  That’s not how the predator thing works.

So why would Bullock, an aspiring Democratic presidential candidate, risk alienating the most powerful Democratic mayor in the nation by not warning him about O’Brien?

One explanation is pure recklessness. But Bullock has been meticulously plotting his path to the White House since he was a student at Claremont McKenna College. It’s hard to believe he would knowingly endanger his political career by keeping silent about O’Brien.

Unless Bullock didn’t have a choice.  As we’ve learned from the Catholic Church, sometimes the higher-ups who shipped off predator priests rather than report them to authorities did so because the priests knew a thing or two about the higher-ups. 

When Bullock was elected as Montana’s attorney general in 2008, he made O’Brien his communications director.  In 2012, Bullock made O’Brien the campaign manager for his 2012 gubernatorial race. After that Bullock made O’Brien his deputy chief of staff.

Bullock might have transferred O’Brien because O’Brien was too big to fail.  Putting it slightly differently, O’Brien, described by Bullock as an “adviser, confident, and close friend,” may have been too dangerous to fire because he knew too much.

Like the topic of that meeting between Bullock and McLean in December 2014 – a meeting that followed months of Bullock and one of his cabinet appointees, Meg O’Leary, using state-owned aircraft to attend, inter alia, various non-state functions, such as a Paul McCartney concert – without Mrs. Bullock in tow.

Or perhaps O’Brien had some insight into the curious spike in settlement agreements between the state and its employees since Bullock was elected governor in 2012, as noted by the Legislative Auditor’s office:

Such a spike would be quite an accomplishment for one dude, even one as spritely as O’Brien.  A more plausible explanation is that O’Brien has not been the only predator lurking in Helena during the Bullock years – and that Bullock has doled out tax dollars to camouflage that fact.  

But the spotlight has a way of shining on sexual misconduct at the most inopportune times – as Chris Hansen’s unwitting guests discovered to their horror each week on Dateline.  So too with #MeToo.  Kevin O’Brien just had his turn in the spotlight. A 2020 presidential candidate may soon have his.

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