Now, Abercrombie claims that appointing Hanabusa was merely Inouye's preference, and that he told the Governor that the decision was ultimately his.
"I received that letter, ostensibly coming from Sen. Inouye himself, a half an hour before he died in Washington, D.C. Literally," Abercrombie told the Associated Press in an interview Thursday. "Whether or not this could be construed as Sen. Inouye's dying wish — let me put it this way — is problematic."
Abercrombie told the AP that the "drama" about Inouye's wishes has been overplayed.
"I think it was kind of created," he said. "I don't dispute for a second it represented his thinking, but it's far from being a dying wish, sent from Washington and signed and sealed by Sen. Inouye in Washington."
A spokesman for Hanabusa, however, disputes Abercrombie's claims, and said that Inouye made it clear he wanted Hanabusa to succeed him.
"Obviously he didn't sit at the computer and type it up, but he dictated the contents of that letter in the week leading up," Peter Boylan, communications director for Hanabusa's campaign, told the AP.
Abercrombie also said that when Hawaiian officials were discussing replacements for former Sen. Daniel Akaka if he decided to retire early, Inouye said he supported appointing Hanabusa, but told the governor that the decision was up to him. Ultimately Akaka served through the end of his term and now-Sen. Mazie Hirono (D) won the seat.