Gilda Werner Reed and her son Robert say they have been sitting on information putting House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) at a 2002 event hosted by a white nationalist group founded by the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke for about seven years.
Now it is finally getting the play that they had feared it might never see.
In phone interviews with TPM Tuesday, Gilda and Robert outlined what they knew — and didn’t know — about Scalise’s appearance at the event and how the information ended up in the hands of Louisiana blogger Lamar White, who broke the story Sunday and sent the national press chasing his scoop.
“It’s he-said, she-said. That’s why the story has never been reported,” Gilda, a psychology instructor at the University of New Orleans, said. “Everybody down here, everybody in this district … they know that there are ties. It’s no secret. In fact that wins you more votes. That’s what (Scalise) ran on.”
It started with Gilda’s campaign as the Democratic candidate against Scalise in the 2008 special election for the congressional seat left open when Bobby Jindal was elected governor. They were approached by a source — whom Gilda and Robert both refused to identify, but described as “very credible,” someone who is not a politician and no longer lives in Louisiana.
The source told them a photograph of Scalise appearing at an event hosted by the European-American Unity and Rights Organization existed. This week, after White reported on forum posts on a white supremacist website that said Scalise was there, Scalise has acknowledged publicly that he appeared at the group’s 2002 meeting in Metairie, La. He apologized and said he had never supported its ideological agenda.
There was more damning information against Scalise, Robert said, but his mother refused to go negative or use any of it in their campaign. “I desperately wanted to use it,” Robert, who was her campaign manager, told TPM.
The state and national Democratic parties didn’t heavily invest in the race, and Scalise beat Gilda, 75 percent to 23 percent, in the May 3, 2008, election.
After that, the story faded — until Scalise was elected House Majority Whip in June and then re-elected to the post for a full two-year stint in November. After that re-election, Robert approached White, a liberal blogger who had earned some national attention this year after he appeared with Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis and broke a scandalous story about Senator-elect Bill Cassidy (R-LA).
“I want justice to be done. I don’t like liars,” Robert said. “I don’t like people who misrepresent themselves or people who pander to neo-Nazi groups.”
“I could have let the nation know,” he added of possessing the information in the 2008 race, “and I didn’t.”
From their accounts to TPM, Robert shared the general information — that Scalise had spoken at the event of the Duke-backed group — but could not offer any more substantive evidence. The source apparently deleted the implicating photograph or otherwise could not recover it. White never spoke directly with the source; the Reeds served as a go-between.
With that tip, though, White pored through forums of the white supremacist website Stormfront and found the posts that placed Scalise at the event. Those served as the basis for his initial report, which in turn led to Scalise confirming his appearance after the story was picked up by the Washington Post, Politico and other major national news outlets.
Scalise has said this week that the appearance was “a mistake I regret” and condemned the views espoused by EURO and Duke. (Duke himself, for what it’s worth, told Fusion in an interview he’d met with Scalise several times.)
Though his confirmation would seem to vindicate the Reeds’ source, they both said the person still refuses to be publicly identified. The source fears for their family’s safety, Gilda said, referencing a suspicious fire in November at a New Orleans political operative’s home.
“I know it seems like it borders on paranoia,” she said. “It’s not a stretch.”
“I don’t have factual proof of it,” Robert said, but he and his mother stated their belief that Scalise and the Republican Party had worked diligently since the congressman’s rise in national politics to erase any references of any previous affiliation with Duke or EURO. Robert pointed out that the EURO website, whitecivilrights.com, had expired.
Asked about those who might question that an avowed political opponent of Scalise had been the one to push this story so doggedly, Gilda replied: “Facts are facts.” She said she hoped he would step down from House leadership, but didn’t think it was realistic that he would resign. Other House leaders have said that they support Scalise.
As for White, whose work has been cited by the biggest publications in the United States, he emphasized that he is a reporter, not a political operative or partisan henchman, as some have alleged since the story broke.
“I am a liberal,” he told TPM. “But I’m for good government, accountability, those buzzwords.”