Nonpartisan ethics watchdog questions Rehberg’s Flathead Lake boat crash

Nonpartisan ethics watchdog questions Rehberg’s Flathead Lake boat crash

Citing unanswered questions, CREW asks judge to unseal documents

Public has right to know the facts, organization says

BILLINGS, Mont. – Citing unanswered questions, a nonpartisan ethics watchdog organization is formally asking a judge to unseal key documents about an alcohol-related boat crash involving Congressman Dennis Rehberg.

The 2009 boat crash on Montana’s Flathead Lake severely injured Rehberg and two of his employees—one of whom spent days in a coma. The forceful nighttime crash launched the speedboat completely out of the water and into a rocky shore, where nearby campers came to the rescue.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) this week sent a four-page letter to the Flathead County Clerk, asking a judge to unseal information in the case currently hidden from the public.

Since the sentencing of the boat’s driver, state senator Greg Barkus, Montanans have never seen key information, including witness reports or a reconstruction report of the August 27, 2009 crash. CREW says Montanans have “only a one-sided view of the circumstances of the crash.”

Rehberg spoke with a handful of Montana reporters several days after the incident, claiming he saw “no signs of impairment.” But records later showed Barkus’ blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit.

Many other important records, however, are still sealed in a vault.

“The true story behind the very serious boat crash involving two public officials has never been revealed,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan in a press release. “Further, it seems Sen. Barkus and Rep. Rehberg may not have been honest when questioned by investigators. While Sen. Barkus has retired, Rep. Rehberg remains in office and the public has the right to know whether his account of that evening matches up with the facts.”

CREW on Tuesday noted that while Barkus was given a four-year deferred sentence and fined $29,000, “neither he nor Rep. Rehberg have been held accountable for misleading the public.”

“Legitimate questions can be raised about the honesty and integrity of government officials who distort the facts in the course of a criminal inquiry,” CREW wrote in a blog post Tuesday. “The public deserves to know whether two of Montana’s elected representatives told the whole truth about what transpired that fateful night on Flathead Lake and the chance to judge them accordingly.”