Ken Mehlman Interviewed about Phone Jamming

Heidi Collins, sitting in for Wolf Blitzer, interviewed RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman today, and hit him with a few questions about the New Hampshire phone jamming case.

About the RNC’s decision to cover James Tobin’s legal bills, Mehlman says, “A decision was made in the past, before I was chairman, that in this case that was going to happen based on assurances he made. I believed it was right to honor that decision.”

Transcript* below the fold:COLLINS: We’re back in THE SITUATION ROOM with Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman. He’s now facing some serious questions about a phone-jamming scheme to keep New Hampshire Democrats from voting back in 2002.

According to court documents introduced this week, key figures in the scheme had regular contact with the White House and the Republican Party as the plan was unfolding. Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean has sent a letter to Mehlman, asking him whether the White House or the national GOP authorized that plan. Mehlman was White House political director in 2002.

So, were you involved?

MEHLMAN: I was not. And I have made that clear to Chairman Dean.

And it’s disappointing that he brought that up. I have to tell you, as anybody who has ever worked in politics knows, that, when you are the White House political director, and when you have a deputy, which I did, for the Northeast, their responsibility leading up to an election and on Election Day is to talk to campaigns.

One of the closest and most contested campaigns was the New Hampshire Senate race. And my deputy was in touch with them repeatedly about all kinds of questions on that day. In no time ever, did she or I discuss the phone-jamming situation.

Here is what disappointing about this. When…

COLLINS: You can understand the question, though.

MEHLMAN: I actually can’t. Here’s why.


MEHLMAN: When I got this job and Chairman Dean got this job, I called him up and I said, let’s keep it to the issues. And he said, you bet. Let’s keep it to the issues.

And the fact is, I’m a lawyer. I was a lawyer, and, one day, I will be a lawyer again. I have tremendous respect with the law. I disagree with Howard Dean on the issues, but I would never imply that, because he was somewhere where a telephone call was made, he somehow was involved in what is an illegal scheme.

He shouldn’t do that about me either. And he shouldn’t do it about one of my employees. And the fact is, the American people expect better from party leaders.

COLLINS: But what…

MEHLMAN: And they deserve better from party leaders.

COLLINS: What about the party paying for James Tobin’s legal bills?

MEHLMAN: The fact is that a decision was made in the past, before I was chairman, that, in this case, that was going to happen, based on assurances he made. I believed it was right to honor that decision.

But for anyone to suggest — people know me across the political aisle.

COLLINS: But when you lump — pardon me, but when you lump the two together…

MEHLMAN: I think that it…

COLLINS: … the question comes up.

MEHLMAN: I understand the question. But I have answered the question repeatedly.

And it’s disappointing that Chairman Dean and others, who know me and know — may disagree on the issues, but they know I’m an ethical person, would continue this drumbeat of making up a story, when there’s none there.

COLLINS: I think they call it stonewalling.

MEHLMAN: Well, I don’t — they may call it stonewalling on that side. They don’t from our side, because we have been very clear that no one was in any way involved in it.

COLLINS: Ken Mehlman, we appreciate you being here today.

MEHLMAN: Thanks a lot. Thanks.

COLLINS: And I think we will probably see you again, from what I hear.

MEHLMAN: Absolutely.

*We’ve replaced the rush transcript we ran earlier with the final version.