After boat crash, Rehberg called his campaign manager… before his wife

Transcript of Erik Iverson’s call with reporters

The first phone call that Congressman Dennis Rehberg made after his 2009 boat crash on Flathead Lake was to his current campaign manager.

Days after the crash, Jan Rehberg told reporters that her husband called Erik Iverson before her.

“He’s in a little bit of trouble,” Jan Rehberg told the Great Falls Tribune, referring to her husband.  “He doesn’t know it yet, he called Erik first and then me.” [Great Falls Tribune, 8/30/09]

Earlier this month Montanans for Tester released a transcript of a conference call Rehberg held two weeks after his crash.  A fresh look at the transcript raises more questions than answers.

The Montana Lowdown blog, run by Great Falls Tribune reporter John Adams, also archived a recording of Iverson’s conference call with reporters on August 28—the afternoon after the crash, which injured everyone on board.

The call was hosted by Iverson—who was not working for Rehberg at the time—to update reporters on the Congressman’s condition and the conditions of the two staff members he brought on the boat.

Now that a Montana judge has ordered parties to make a case about whether to unseal key documents in the crash, we feel it’s necessary for Montanans to have all the known facts about the incident.

Below is a transcript of Iverson’s conference call.


Erik Iverson’s conference call with reporters

August 28, 2009

JED LINK [Congressman Rehberg’s official spokesperson]: “…probably going to have some other calls rolling in here. First of all, I just wanted to say I’m not in Kalispell, unfortunately. I can tell you that Congressman Rehberg’s wife Jan is en route from Billings right now and Erik Iverson, who many of you know and who is a close personal friend of the family, is there.  So what I would like to do is just hand the phone off to him.  He can bring you up to speed and answer any questions that you have from Kalispell.

ERIK IVERSON: Thanks Jed. As many of you know, I’ve been a close friend of the Rehbergs for years, and Jan asked me to hold a brief call to give you all a brief update on Denny’s condition. As you know, last night, Denny and two members of his staff were passengers in a boat that was involved in an accident right outside of Bigfork. I saw Denny briefly this morning.  He’s in stable condition and he’s doing well. Denny’s currently undergoing surgery to repair a broken ankle and he’s expected to make a full recovery. If anyone has questions, I’ll—questions now.

REPORTER: Erik, this is Matt Gouras with the AP. I understand that Dustin Frost and Kristin Smith, his staffers, how are—can you say that they were passengers, and how are they doing?

IVERSON: They were the passengers. I can’t speak to anyone else in the accident as to their medical condition. According to hospital officials, all of the others are in stable condition. We’re obviously closely monitoring the situation and we’ll keep you updated as we know more.

REPORTER: This time, Erik, how long does Denny expect to be in the hospital?

IVERSON: It’s too early to tell at this point. I spoke with Denny briefly before his surgery.  He’s doing well. He has a broken ankle, he’s got some cuts and bruises, his ribs are pretty sore, he took quite a bump on the head. But he was in good spirits.  But really was primarily concerned about how everybody else was doing. He had a lot of questions that frankly I didn’t have answers to this morning and still don’t. As to how everyone else is doing—other than that everyone else is in stable condition.

REPORTER: Did he talk at all about how the accident occurred?

IVERSON: He didn’t, he didn’t. We just briefly had a chance to, just kind of, get caught up. I had a chance to ask him how he was doing, and we weren’t given a whole lot of time as there were people in and out of his room, and doctors coming in and out. He’s actually—he’s in surgery right now, we expect him to be out shortly, and when he’s out we’ll give you an update on his condition after we talk to the doctor.

REPORTER: Do you expect that update to come later this evening?

IVERSON: I—yeah. I expect the update later this evening. Like I say, he’ll be out of surgery, you know, fairly shortly.  And then there’s going to be a significant recovery time, and then as soon as we get the update from the doctor, we’ll get that all out to all of you, either on the form of getting on another call, or we can get you a statement from the doctor, something like that. We want to keep you updated, as soon as we learn things; we want to make sure you all learn at the same time.

REPORTER: Whose boat was it—

REPORTER: —Tom Lutey at the Billings Gazette. Did Denny mention at all if alcohol was a factor in this wreck?

IVERSON: He didn’t. I can’t say for certain one way or another; I was only able to talk with him briefly this morning. I would say again that Congressman Rehberg was a passenger on a boat and he was not driving. But I can’t say for certain one way or another.

REPORTER: Whose boat was it?

IVERSON: I don’t know the answer to that.

REPORTER: And who was driving?

IVERSON: I don’t know the answer to that either. I know that there is an investigation ongoing and I’m sure all of those details will be forthcoming as officials begin to put together their investigation. I just, I don’t want to speculate, I don’t think you want me to speculate. And I think that the proper answer to those questions are going to have to come to the authorities.

REPORTER: And which entities are investigating?

IVERSON: Well, to my understanding that since it was on the lake, it was FWP (Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks) jurisdiction. And I know that those are the folks that have been, at least, more routinely cited in press stories at this point.

REPORTER: Erik, was the Congressman ejected from the boat?

IVERSON: I don’t know the answer to that either. Again, this is all under investigation by the FWP service.

REPORTER: Can you say which ankle he broke?

IVERSON: His left ankle.

REPORTER: His left ankle, okay.

REPORTER: Was he the most seriously hurt?

IVERSON: I don’t know the answer to that. You know, we—I can’t speak to the condition of anyone else. According to hospital officials, they’re all in stable conditions. I can tell you that Denny was awake and alert and concerned about how everyone else was doing. He was in good spirits. As soon as I walked in the room, he cracked a joke about how I probably never seen him look better. So I don’t know the answer to that and I don’t want to speculate at this point, but obviously as we learn things, we’ll get that information out to all of you.

REPORTER: When is he supposed to be back?

IVERSON: Well Congress gets back into session right after Labor Day, so I guess it’d be a week from this coming Tuesday is when Congress would be back in session.

REPORTER: Erik, stable as a medical term usually means that he’s just no better or no worse. Is he in critical condition, serious condition?

IVERSON: He’s in stable condition. I mean, that’s the answer that hospital officials have given me. You know, I’m not a doctor either. All I know is I got a chance to talk to him for a few minutes today, and he’s got some cuts and bruises, he’s got a broken ankle, he took quite a bump on his head.  But he was conversing with me and asking about how other people were doing and all of that. So again, those sorts of questions are probably better left for hospital officials. And once I have to talk to the doctor after the surgery, and Denny’s been through recovery, I can give you much more complete much more, you know, complete medical information as to what all of this means—

REPORTER: Erik, can you—can you speak towards his relationship with Mr. Barkus? Are they—

IVERSON: Yeah, longtime friends and colleagues. Both personally and professionally. Greg and Denny have been friends for years and years.

REPORTER: Do you know if he lost consciousness when he hit his head?

IVERSON: I don’t know the answer to that, no.

REPORTER: Did he have a CAT scan? You mentioned he had a pretty serious bump on his head.

IVERSON: I don’t know. I have not been told that he had a CAT scan. I don’t know that—that’s most has happened…the night. I got here early this morning. And he was up, awake, alert and talking at that point in time, so, I don’t know the answer to that.

REPORTER: Cuts and bruises—are they on his face? So he looks like he’s been in a prize fight?

IVERSON: [Laughs] Yeah, he’s got cuts and bruises definitely. He’s got some cuts and bruising on his face.

REPORTER: Do you know what—get the bump on his head?

IVERSON: Do I know what he hit?

REPORTER: Was it the windshield, or…?

IVERSON: No, I don’t really think anybody knows at this point. It was dark, and like I said the authorities are still investigating the crash scene and all of that, so it’s too early to speculate as to what anyone may hit their head on.

REPORTER: —One of those transported via helicopter?

IVERSON: He was not, no.

REPORTER: Did he speak about the accident at all? What he tell you—react at all?

IVERSON: He didn’t really have—he didn’t have a lot of detail. We didn’t get into detail about the accident at all. It was more concern. I was asking him how he was doing, how he felt. There were people coming in and out of the room, so we couldn’t have a real sustained conversation. He was—he was alert, engaged, and he was really trying to ask me questions and doctors as they came in questions about how everybody else was doing, and there just wasn’t a lot of information that they could provide to us. So I didn’t get a lot of detail from him about what happened at the accident at all.

IVERSON: What’s that?

REPORTER: Has he talked to a lawyer about potential legal charges?

IVERSON: No, of course not. No, Denny’s concern right now is with everybody else that was on the boat, and he’s obviously—he’s obviously got some of his own medical issues.  He’s, you know, having surgery to repair his broken ankle. So that’s sort of the primary concern at this point. We want to get through the day and make sure that everybody who was involved in this is going to be okay at the end of the day, and that’s really where the focus is. Jan Rehberg, Denny’s wife, was in Billings at the time. She and Denny’s father are on their way to Kalispell now. And as are other family members of folks who were involved.

REPORTER: Have you spoken to family members of any of the other victims?

IVERSON: I have not. I’ve spoken obviously with Jan Rehberg. And I know that some family members of other people involved are here at the hospital. And I haven’t had a chance to visit in-depth with anyone other than to just say hello and let them know, you know, your thoughts are with them. That’s about all you can do at this point.

REPORTER: Any bigwigs from Washington call to check on him?

IVERSON: I do know that Senator Baucus has reached out and tried to get in touch with Denny. Obviously it hasn’t been able to occur yet, because Denny’s in surgery. But yeah, absolutely, Senator Baucus was one of the first to call. And obviously Jan and the family really appreciate that.

REPORTER: You know where they were going?

IVERSON: They were heading back toward Bigfork.  I don’t know exactly where they were [inaudible] investigation unfolds to figure out exactly what happened and how it happened. That’s going to certainly be a part of it.

REPORTER: What time did the accident happen?

IVERSON: I don’t know. I’m learning that from you guys at this point. I’ve seen press reports saying it happened between 11 and 12. But I don’t know any of that with certainty. Again, a lot of these details are unfolding as the investigation unfolds, which is not something that anybody [inaudible] is primarily concerned about. I can tell you the looks on the faces of family members that are here, everybody’s just thinking about their loved ones at this point in time, and not a lot of discussion about details and where and how and why and everybody’s just concerned about what’s going on here.

REPORTER: Are all of the passengers conscious at this point?

IVERSON:  I don’t know that, Jennifer. I can only speak to Denny. He’s the only one I’ve had the chance to visit with.

REPORTER: Was this just a pleasure outing or was there some business going on the boat?

IVERSON: I don’t know the answer to that. I mean, Denny and Greg have been friends for years; they’ve been colleagues for years. You know, anytime they’re around there’s always going to be discussion of politics and all of that, but they’re good friends, they’re good colleagues.

REPORTER: –have the investigators come by the hospital to talk to the Congressman or his staffers today?

IVERSON: It’s my understanding that Denny gave a statement to authorities this morning, but I don’t know what was contained in that statement.

REPORTER: You mentioned he was joking with you earlier in the day.  Does he seem like the same guy?

IVERSON: Yeah. I mean, obviously, you know, tired. He was pretty sore. But definitely the same guy. He was, you know, he was asking questions.  He was making jokes.  He was complaining that the battery in his Blackberry was running down, and I was trying to get him to say—you can just kind of relax here a little bit, you don’t have to work.

REPORTER: What are you going to do about the listening sessions that were scheduled for next week? Are those pretty much—

IVERSON: Well obviously, [inaudible] Cut Bank and Shelby today were cancelled. And, you know, most of his schedule for the next few days will be put on hold as the doctors assess his recovery. And as that unfolds, as we know his schedule, we’ll get you an updated schedule. But as of now, over the course of the next few days, his planned events have been cancelled as everybody assesses his recovery.

REPORTER: Are there concerns beyond his ankle injury? I mean, if he’s going to be in the hospital for a couple days, does that suggest he sustained an injury beyond a broken ankle?

IVERSON: There’s nothing to suggest that at this point that I’ve been told. But again, once the surgery’s over and I have a chance to talk to the doctor—and hopefully we can give you all some direct information from the doctor once I get a chance to visit with him, and Jan gets a chance to visit with him. We’ll get, you know—as we get this information on his condition, we’re going to get it out to you as soon as we have it. So what I’ve been told now, at this point, as of when I saw Denny this morning and the last time I talked to hospital administrators about his condition, was that the ankle is the primary concern and they’re going to get that fixed up today.

REPORTER: Erik, how badly broken is the ankle? Is this a compound fracture?  Is it broken in more than one spot?

IVERSON: I don’t know. The only diagnosis I got on the ankle was sort of a lay diagnosis from Denny, when he said, you know, “it hurts like hell.” That’s about it. So we’ll hopefully get a little more detail from the doctor, but you know, he’s having surgery to repair a broken ankle.

REPORTER: He’s in surgery right now?

IVERSON: He is in surgery right now. You know, I expect him—I expect him out really, probably within the next 15 minutes to half an hour. And they’re saying there’ll be a couple of hours of recovery time before he’s ready to sort of visit with me or anyone else.

REPORTER: Do you know the surgeon’s name?

IVERSON: I do not. But that’s all information we can get to you. Again, hopefully we can give you some more specifics from the surgeon himself after the surgery’s over.

REPORTER: Does he plan on making any statement soon?

IVERSON: Who’s that? Denny?


IVERSON: I don’t know. I have not talked to him about that. You know, again, this is sort of the farthest thing from his mind this morning was anything other than—the paramount thing in his mind was how everyone else was doing. So he’ll definitely want to—I’m sure visit with folks just as soon as he’s able and he’s up and around and all that. But at this point, it’s just too early. I didn’t even have a chance to visit with him about that.

REPORTER: Would you describe the mood at the hospital among the family members as somber or positive, or—?

IVERSON: Um, I guess I would describe most of it as positive. You know, I think everyone’s very hopeful that their loved ones are going to be okay. You know, it’s subdued, but positive.  I think that would be the way to best describe it. I can tell you that the hospital staff here and administrators have just been incredible. Just above and beyond professional and courteous and I’ve been nothing but impressed with the facility here.

REPORTER: Erik, is there any chance you’ll have [inaudible] condition or status of the staffers?

IVERSON: You know, I don’t—that’s really not in my ability to talk about their medical condition. I mean Jan wanted and asked me to give everyone an update on Denny’s condition. So I can’t speak for anyone else that was involved in the accident. We’re obviously monitoring all this and as we get information, we’ll keep you all updated as we learn more.

REPORTER: What time did he enter surgery this afternoon?

IVERSON: I got that written down here somewhere. It was somewhere between 12:30 and 1:00 if I recall.

REPORTER: That’s a long procedure.

IVERSON: And I just got a note here saying he was supposed to be out of surgery between 3:00 and 3:30, so he may be out now. You know, always it’s kind of an approximation time-wise. So it may be that the surgery has wrapped up now and he’s into recovery, but when I started the call I was told he was still in surgery.

REPORTER: Erik, can you describe your relationship with him?

IVERSON: I’m sorry, somebody asked me about my relationship—what was that?

REPORTER: How would you describe your relationship—family friend, or longtime friend, or—?

IVERSON: Yeah, longtime family friend, longtime friend of Denny’s. I was his Chief of Staff for seven years. So I have known Denny and Jan for many, many years.

REPORTER: Erik, can you tell me again who the two staffers were?

IVERSON: Dustin Frost and Kristin Smith. As has been reported by I guess by the Associated Press.

REPORTER: And no name on the fifth person in the boat?

IVERSON: I don’t have any information on that, no.

REPORTER: Do we confirm though that there were five adults in the boat?

IVERSON: That’s what I’ve read in media reports. I have no way to confirm that.

REPORTER: Erik, have the other staffers undergone surgery?

IVERSON: I don’t know the answer to that.

REPORTER: What did Dustin and Kristin do for the Congressman?

IVERSON: Dustin is the Congressman’s state director. And Kristin is his, primarily his health care policy advisor. She’s the Deputy Chief of Staff and health care policy advisor.

REPORTER: How long had he been up in the Flathead Lake area? Just a day, or he—he was down in Great Falls?

IVERSON: Yeah. Just a day, if I’m recalling back through what his schedule looked [inaudible] I believe he was in Missoula—gosh, what day is it today—today is Friday. I think he was in Missoula Wednesday and so it would’ve put him up here in the Flathead area yesterday, Thursday.


IVERSON: And he was set to go to, I believe, Cut Bank and Shelby for listening sessions today.

REPORTER: And any word on whether those sessions will be just cancelled or rescheduled?

IVERSON: Well I think, you know, Denny would prefer I’m sure to reschedule them and do them, because—he visits all 56 counties each congressional term, so it’s important for him to make sure that he gets to all the counties every term, so I’m sure he’ll want to reschedule those. So for right now, I think it’s safe to say they’re postponed.


REPORTER: Are doctors thinking that he’ll be able to walk fairly soon after the surgery?

IVERSON: You know, I don’t—I don’t know, Jennifer. Hopefully we’ll be able to have an answer to that this afternoon when they kind of, you know, know what happened when doctors got in there and repaired it.

REPORTER: How are you going to re-get this information out to us later today? Are you going to send an email, or [inaudible]?

IVERSON: Probably—probably, I’m guessing we’ll email something out to you, once we get it from the doctor. But you know, some of that’s going to depend upon the hospital. I’m not sure what their preferred mode of getting, you know, direct information out from their physicians is but, you know, certainly via email—I would think would be—would probably be the most expeditious way for anybody.

REPORTER: And as far as you know, are there any other of Congressman Rehberg’s injuries that have planned surgery?

IVERSON: As far as I know, no, just the ankle. [long pause] Okay.

LINK: Very good.

IVERSON: Thanks everybody.