Tag Archives: Tom Little

Plausible deniability and the $10,000 envelope

Kudos to Seven Days’ Paul Heintz for a good old-fashioned piece of outrage journalism, a nearly lost art in these days of objectivity fetishism. The object of his scorn: the woefully incomplete “investigation” of Attorney General Bill Sorrell’s demostrably squicky campaign finance shenanigans. (In the interest of self-promotion, here’s a link to my take on the story.)

The whole column is strongly recommended, but I want to highlight one passage — and then It’s Story Time, Kids!

To set this up: In December 2013, Sorrell had dinner with a couple of high-powered lawyers, Mike Messina and Patricia Madrid, who had previously donated to his campaign fund. Take it away, Paul:

“Just before sitting down to dinner, Mike gave me an envelope saying that he and the attorneys from the Texas firm [Baron & Budd] wished to contribute to my campaign for reelection,” Sorrell wrote in the affidavit, which has not been previously disclosed. “I thanked them and accepted the envelope.”

Tucked inside were five checks totaling $10,000 for Sorrell’s reelection campaign.

During the dinner, Sorrell wrote, Messina and his friends “suggested they would come to Vermont at a future date to discuss the possibility of Vermont suing the oil and gas industry, if I was interested.” Baron & Budd has made millions for itself — and the states and municipalities it has represented — by suing the industry over its use of the gasoline additive MTBE.

After Messina handed Sorrell the checks, his clients handed the AG “a folder or manila envelope” containing information about Baron & Budd and a memo touching on “the specifics of relevant Vermont law.” Sorrell trucked it back to his office, gave it to an assistant attorney general and asked him to check with the Agency of Natural Resources to “discuss the possibility” of suing.

Within months, Sorrell’s office had filed suit and hired four firms — including Baron & Budd and Messina — to serve as outside counsel, guaranteeing them a percentage of any money recouped.

The “affidavit” referenced above is a sworn statement provided by Sorrell to independent investigator Tom Little.

Sorrell’s attorney argues that this does “not equate to a quid pro quo arrangement.” Which is downright laughable. But as Heintz notes, Sorrell “practically admitted to the crime” of trading state contracts for political donations.

And now, It’s Story Time.

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Sorrell gets the wet noodle

Scoop of the week award goes to Neal Goswami of the Vermont Press Bureau, for snagging himself an advance copy of the independent investigator’s report on Attorney General Bill Sorrell.

The topline is that Sorrell was exonerated.

The reality is not nearly so simple.

There were six accusations against Sorrell. On two of them, investigator Tom Little found no evidence of wrongdoing. On two others, Little admonished Sorrell for coming uncomfortably close to “crossing the line.”

As for the final two, Little concluded that they were outside the scope of his investigation.


Tom Little was appointed on May 7, 2015. Today is January 22, 2016.

Eight and a half months.

Couldn’t he have told us a bit sooner that he wouldn’t be investigating two of the six counts?   When exactly did he reach that conclusion?

Also, who outlined the scope of Little’s investigation? Well, we know the answer to that: he was appointed by Governor Shumlin. But was it written in a way that excluded certain areas of inquiry?

We were promised a complete investigation of Bill Sorrell’s activities — and that’s not what we got. 

And I think Tom Little, whose investigation was taxpayer-funded, owes us an explanation.

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The Eternal General bows to the inevitable

It only took him about five months to figure it out, but Bill Sorrell finally announced today that he will not seek an eleventy-billionth term as Vermont’s Attorney General.

The end has been obvious to all since the early May appointment of former State Rep. Tom Little to head an independent investigation of Sorrell’s illegal (or at least thoroughly squicky) campaign finance activities.

SorrellZevonReally, the end has been all but obvious since Sorrell’s disastrous decision last March to throw the book at Dean Corren for an insignificant-at-best violation of the public financing law. Sorrell had alienated a lot of people over the years with his overzealous prosecution of campaign finance law and his underzealous pursuit of just about everything else in his purview. L’affaire Corren left him friendless in Montpelier and in Democratic and Progressive circles (he long ago lost the Republicans), with the possible exception of Sorrell’s political godfather, Howard Dean.

Today, the end came not with a bang, but an emailed whimper. Paul Heintz:

For a man who has spent much of his adult life in public service, Sorrell made his announcement in a remarkably low-key fashion. Rather than holding a press conference, he delivered the news in a terse, five-sentence statement emailed to reporters Monday afternoon.

Unsurprisingly, he couldn’t see any advantage to be gained from taking questions at his own political funeral.

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Kremlinology: Sorrell on the outs?

h/t Snoop Dogg.

h/t Snoop Dogg.

Poor, poor Bill Sorrell. Our embattled Attorney General faces an independent investigation by straight shooter Tom Little. His unwarranted crackdown on Dean Corren’s minuscule offense has cost him many a friend at the Statehouse.

Strike that. I don’t think he’s ever had very many “friends.” But lately it’s become acceptable to express one’s disdain for a man who ought to be a pillar of the Vermont Democratic Party by dint of seniority alone. Instead, many Dems are hoping against hope that Chittenden County State’s Attorney TJ Donovan will again challenge Sorrell in the party primary.

Indeed, it may not be too strong to say that Sorrell has become a pariah. Evidence: On two recent occasions, Governor Shumlin has held justice-related media events. In both cases, Donovan was conspicuously close to the Governor.

And in both cases, the state’s top law enforcement official was nowhere to be seen.

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Tom Little: The right choice for the job

I’m sure it’s a coincidence (paging Mr. Coriell), but Governor Shumlin chose today to announce his choice of independent investigator to look into Eternal General Bill Sorrell’s campaign finance activities. On a Friday, and on a Friday when a sitting State Senator did a perp walk after his arraignment on sex-crime charges.

But the hiring is noteworthy, and from all appearances, Shumlin made a fine choice. Tom Little appears to be above reproach in his personal conduct, and even-handed in his political dealings. The only drawback — and to some it’s a very significant one — is that he doesn’t have any experience as a prosecutor. His legal practice has mainly been in corporate and real estate law.

Little served ten years a Republican State Representative. He distinguished himself greatly in the fight for civil unions. In this age of widespread marriage equality, that might seem like ancient history; but it was only 15 years ago, and at the time it was a legal milestone and a red-hot controversy. An August 2000 profile piece by Seven Days’ Kevin Kelley called him “the single most influential figure in steering the [civil unions] legislation to narrow passage.” As chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Kelly writes, he “helped persuade other moderate Republicans to vote on their conscience, not their fears.”

He’s currently a top exec at the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation, and he’s got a list of public service activities as long as your arm. And someone with much more knowledge than I characterizes Little as a “straight shooter, non-corruptible.” But here’s the point where my cynicism threw in the towel: according to a bio I’ve seen, he “currently serves as Chancellor of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont.”

Good grief. Who is this guy, the reincarnation of Jimmy Stewart?

I don’t know Tom Little, never met him. But apart from the lack of prosecutorial experience, it’s very hard to find any fault with the choice. Not bad for a Friday newsdump. (Sorry, Scott.)