Sorrell caves (updated)

I can explain everything

I can explain everything

It’s rare when a journalist can draw a straight line from his/her news story to a significant event. Such is the case today for Seven Days’ Paul Heintz, whose reporting on Attorney General Bill Sorrell started the ball rolling — with ever-quickening speed — to today’s events. Because after several days of blithe assurances that there was no need for an independent investigation of Bill Sorrell because Bill Sorrell had looked into Bill Sorrell’s activities and determined that Bill Sorrell did nothing wrong, Bill Sorrell reversed course today.

It’s hard to imagine this would have ever come to pass without Heintz’ stories about sloppy campaign finance reporting by Sorrell, questions about a big out-of-state donation that helped him win the 2012 Democratic primary, and questionably cozy relationships between Sorrell and some big national law firms that do business with the state.

Throughout last week, Sorrell denied he’d done anything wrong and insisted an investigation would be a waste of money. Today, in a statement to the Senate Government Operations Committee, he acknowledged the need for an independent probe. Further, he heartily endorsed the creation of an independent commission to oversee election law, which would remove that authority from his own office.

When asked about his change of heart, he said:

What I realized was that this was a distraction here in the building and certainly a distraction in my office. I didn’t want the appearance that I had something to hide, so even though it will cost money, the integrity of the office of Attorney General and my personal integrity are too important. If we have to spend some taxpayer moneys to clear my name — or see that justice is done, either way — it’s worth it.

Nice stick save, General.

Must have been an interesting few days chez Sorrell, because not only did he do a 180 on an independent probe, and not only did he quickly amend his statement that the probe would “clear my name,” he went so far as to distance himself from the mere act of choosing an investigator.

I was prepared to follow the request and appoint independent, respected, great integrity legal counsel to conduct the inquiry. What I got back was that it would be questioned by some that anyone, no matter how esteemed or respected, you appoint is going to be, maybe something untoward. So it’s a no-win situation for me.

It’s a pretty amazing turnaround for a guy who considered himself bulletproof until today. Heintz’ reporting didn’t create the situation; they acted as a catalyst for all those around state government and the Democratic Party who’d come to dislike Sorrell. For some, it goes all the way back to the unseemly maneuvers by then-Gov. Howard Dean that parachuted him into the Attorney General’s office. For some, it’s one instance or another when Sorrell went all holier-than-thou. For many, it’s the slow steady drip-drip-drip of Sorrell’s outsized opinion of himself.

Today, he made a desperate attempt to run to the front of the parade and claim leadership. It might save his ass for the time being — the actual allegations are less damaging than his smug denials — but this affair has exposed a stark truth: politically speaking Bill Sorrell is a man without a country. It he decides to run for re-election next year, he’ll be ripe for the picking.

He did leave the Government Operations Committee facing something of a conundrum with his refusal to appoint an independent counsel; the law provided no clear way forward, and various ideas were bruited about. In the end, the panel decided to write a letter to Governor Shumlin requesting that he do the appointing, which the law gives him the authority to do. Last week, during the Final Days of Denial, Shumlin averred that he had no time for anything to do with Sorrell, and wouldn’t until after the Legislature adjourns.

Well, with a Senate committee devoting a full afternoon to the issue — and considering an overhaul of election law basically on the fly — he can’t get away with that excuse anymore.

Ball’s in your court, Governor.

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