UNANSWERED QUESTIONS: Rehberg’s boat crash


TO:         Political Reporters

FROM:  Aaron Murphy, Communications Director

October 3, 2012

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS: Rehberg’s boat crash

Three years later, transcript raises more questions than answers

On September 9, 2009, two weeks after his involvement in an infamous alcohol-involved boat crash on Flathead Lake that left one of his top staffers in a coma, Congressman Dennis Rehberg held a conference call with a small number of Montana reporters.

The Montana Lowdown blog, maintained by Great Falls Tribune reporter John Adams, posted this recording of the entire conference call.  The blog post noted that Rehberg “saw no signs of impairment” of the boat’s driver.

But the driver, state senator Greg Barkus, had a blood-alcohol level twice the legal limit.

Rehberg’s 2009 conference call with reporters is transcribed in its entirety below, and it’s a must read for reporters covering this critical race.

Much information about the case is hidden from the public.  As the organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) asks the Flathead County Clerk to unseal documents in the case, we took a new look at this transcript.  And it raises more questions than answers:

  • Rehberg claims that night “was a planned evening off.”  But later, he claims it “was a working evening” and his staff was “working.”
  • Congressman Rehberg admits his two staffers, Dustin Frost and Kristen Smith, were staffing him at the time of the accident.  So who paid their hospital bills?  Workers compensation?  If not, who?
  • If it was a “working” night, did Congressman Rehberg direct his staffers to accompany him on a boat piloted by a drunk driver?  Was there any talk of calling a designated driver?
  • Rehberg claims Kristen Smith was “was the most cognizant” of the victims and “was directing people” to help them.  But a witness said Smith was “sitting on the rocks screaming… She knew her name, but she had no idea what was going on. She kept saying,’What happened? What happened?’”
  • Rehberg claims Dustin Frost was “right on the edge between the water and the rocks” after the crash.  But a witness said Frost was “face-down” and unconscious in the water.
  • Rehberg said: “I got myself out of the boat into the water and onto the shore and there I sat until they came and dealt with me.”  But moments later, he said: “I stayed in the boat and the other three were out.”
  • According to Congressman Rehberg, there was “a little cooler” of margarita on the boat.  Were passengers drinking it on the boat?  Was there anything else?  The question has never been answered.
  • Congressman Rehberg says he struck up a long conversation with a DJ at The Docks restaurant prior to the crash.  Has anyone identified or talked to that DJ?  What about the bartender?
  • Congressman Rehberg says he was at the restaurant for nearly four hours.  And during that time he only consumed one-and-a-half beers?  That seems like a slow pace for someone who was still legally drunk hours after the crash.
  • What time exactly was Congressman Rehberg’s blood-alcohol level tested?  Exactly how long had it been since the crash itself?

As Congressman Rehberg tells Montanans he deserves to be a U.S. Senator, it’s time to get to the bottom of this story.

Below is the full transcript.

Congressman Dennis Rehberg

Conference Call with Montana Reporters

September 9, 2009

11 a.m. EDT


  • John Adams, Great Falls Tribune
  • Matt Gouras, The Associated Press
  • Michael Jamison, Missoulian
  • Jon Stepanek, KTVQ
  • Nancy Kimball, Kalispell Daily Inter Lake
  • Dan Testa, Flathead Beacon
  • (Unknown female reporter)

REP. DENNIS REHBERG:  Good morning, all.  Okay, I’ve got a list of all that are on: John, Matt, Michael, Stepanek, Joel, Jim and Dan.

KIMBALL:  And Nancy.

REHBERG:  And Nancy instead of Jim, or both of you?

KIMBALL:  No, Jim is not on.

REHBERG:  Okay, all right.  Why don’t we get started then and you’ve got questions. I arrived yesterday.  The Amtrak was a little bit late. I might point out that if you have the opportunity to take Amtrak sometime, do it.  That’s my first time to get a room and all that kind of stuff.  It was phenomenal.  It was really fun because a number of years ago I had won the Golden Spike Award, which is the passenger rail recognition of the advocate in Congress for the year.  And it was Senator Durbin in the Senate and myself in the House, and it was all support I did in Congress, but never having ridden overnight on an Amtrak, and I couldn’t have been more pleased.  They were nice, it was clean, the food was great and I came back to Washington well rested.  So I arrived about 2 o’clock yesterday afternoon and we started voting at 6:30 last night and I was here for that, and we are up and running today—kind of awaiting the President’s message.  So I am at my desk in Rayburn House Office Building, ready to go to work today.  So why don’t I open it up to questions you might have.

ADAMS:  Congressman, this is John Adams at the Tribune. Can you tell us what you remember from of the night of the accident starting with the party you were at earlier that night, or the dinner?

REHBERG:  Sure, let me back up a little bit.  And that is of course over the course of August, we decided not to take any time off and I had done 16 town hall meetings—been to six different hospitals—and in fact that day went to Saint Joe’s (Hospital) in Polson, and then also went to visited with the Salish-Kootenai (Tribe) on their new center they were building in Polson.  It needed American perspective.  So we had a pretty busy August with it and we were going to do about eight more town hall meetings: Anaconda, Phillipsburg, places like that—Butte.  And had some other meetings planned.  And I had planned this weeks and weeks in advance. I knew our schedule was going to be pretty, pretty intense, so I had talked to Greg [Barkus] at the Governor’s Cup up in Kalispell weeks before, saying there may be an opportunity for us to take the evening off on Thursday evening: “Would you be interested in getting together? Maybe we could just hang out at Bigfork or whatever.”  So it was a planned evening off.   We were just going to kind of rest up, because the next day we had to get up and have listening sessions in Cut Bank, Shelby, finish up in East Glacier, and then drive back to Billings and then pick up the schedule the following week back around Plains and  Thompson Falls and Superior.  So, in the evening, I called Greg and he said he was at the—out at the lake.   They have a place on the lake over on the West Shore.  And originally—that was about 4 o’clock or 3 o’clock—sometime in the afternoon.  And I suggested that we were ready to go anytime.  So he asked Kathy [Barkus] what time she’d be available and he said we’ll pick us up at five and as things happen it wasn’t five.  We were sitting on the dock waiting, and I think they got there at about 5:30.  It was a family dinner that was coordinated, or organized, by the folks over on the essentially the West Shore of the lake.  They all have houses—some are from Montana, some are from out of state.  And they just bring all the kids. I sat next to the kid table—we can talk about that a little bit later.  But they rolled in there about 5:30 and we jumped on the boat and we had a few extra minutes, and Greg had asked if I had been up Flathead River, and I had not.  And he said, “Well, let’s just take a run up there and we’ll show you around a little bit.”  And so we went up there.  Had some friends at Eagle Bend that have a house there, who’ve retired.  He’s a movie producer who did Schindler’s List and some other movies.  And he said, “Let’s just stop in and see if they’re there.”  So we did.  We called them ahead of time and we motored up the Flathead River and stopped off at Eagle Bend first and went through the [5:00] gate there and kind of went right up onto their lawn and he stepped out and talked to us for a little while.  And his wife came out and talked to us.  And then we got back in the boat and headed over to the dinner which was on the West Side—the Lakeside shore.  It’s called The Docks, I think.  I had not been there before.  And the way it was set up was there were tables—some tables of 10, some of five, some of four, some of 15.  And they had a table reserved for us.  And it was all just—everybody, some people knew each other.  Others did not.  It was kind of an add-on thing.  So we rolled in there about 6:30 and eventually—dinner was very slow—I don’t know if that’s just the way it has to be there because everybody just  kind of comes at once.  But they [phone dings] outside out for this dinner party and it was just a bunch of families that had either come up for the summer or come up for part of the summer.  And it was just kind of the final close-down weekend which happens in a place like Kalispell around Flathead Lake.  And so, that’s essentially what it was.  Greg had suggested we didn’t have to go if we didn’t want to, but he thought it would be a good opportunity for me to meet people that I have not met before—some Montanans, others that spend an extended period of time in Montana.  There was one individual there I was hoping to see because he has kind of been a good friend, in a way.  I met him before September 11th on the plane.  His first name is Herman and he owns Jelly Bellies—that’s the family that owns them.  That was made famous by Ronald Reagan.  And we’ve featured Jelly Bellies on our front desk, on the counter, for all of our guests since 2001—including all through September 11th and beyond.  They have these little packets of Jelly Bellies, and it is just something we can have in a bowl up on it.  I heard he was going to be there and I had not seen him since 2001 when I first met him, and I was kind of looking forward to doing that.  But it turned out he and his wife flew out earlier in the day.  His office manager—of the visitor center that was there—and I spent quite a bit of time talking to her and telling her how much we appreciated the Jelly Bellies and how influential they became because whenever I had an amendment in the Appropriations Committee, I would make sure that each of the tables of members—Republicans and Democrats alike—got their share of Jelly Bellies to keep ‘em happy while they were voting on the  all the various amendments over the course of the day—‘cause our Appropriations Committee meetings literally  last all day long.   We had a lot of fun and I had taken her card and I’m going to make contact with him and just retell that story ‘cause it’s been fun to have a connection with Jelly Bellies.  So, let’s see, that takes us up to—we arrived at about 6:30, Greg would introduce me to someone, then he’d walk off.  It was a working dinner for me; they were there to socialize, I was there to meet people—which is kind of what, I guess, what a politician does—and talk the issues.  They all had concerns about things like health care and Cap-and-Trade and taxes and such.  And so I pretty much was out on my own.  Kristin [Smith] and Dustin [Frost] were off doing their own thing—just the two of them.  And there was a DJ there, and I spent quite a bit of time talking to him.  Delightful fellow—single with a teenage child.  And I talked about those years, teenage years.  And we just kind of joked—of the 150 people that were there, he was probably the only registered Montana voter.  So I probably stood and talked to him for 15 or 20 minutes.  Actually, when they kicked back up, (he) dedicated a song to me on his DJ-dom—whatever you call that.  It was kind of a funny song.  But it was just, “Wan to thank the Congressman for being here.”  And (he) played the song and we all laughed about that.  Eventually people kind of sat down and ate on their own—it wasn’t an organized thing, where you had a banquet or a speaker or anything—so we eventually sat down and ordered off the menu.  They had a menu sitting on the table.  It was limited—I think there were like three or four different items.  I ordered steak and potatoes, as I always do.  And again, people wanted to talk to me, so during dinner I would set my fork down, stand up, talk to somebody, sit down, go over and introduce myself to somebody, sit down.  Eventually finished dinner and as soon as we  were finished with dinner—which literally took probably from 6:30 till about 10 o’clock—that’s how slow it was—food was great.  Just took a long time for them to cook everything.  We said, “Well enough of this.”  We want to call it a night because we had to get up in Bigfork and drive all the way to Cut Bank for a 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. listening session over in Cut Bank—it was Shelby, I’m sorry, Shelby was first.  [10:00] We decided to call it an early evening and got on the boat and headed back to Bigfork.  So, that was essentially dinner.

ADAMS:  What do you remember of the events on the water, from the time you got in the boat to the time that the crash happened?

REHBERG:  It was fairly cool out.  I wouldn’t say it was cold.  But when you’re on the road as long as we were for an extended period of time—it is hard to know what to pack for in Montana ‘cause the weather can change so much.  So, somebody there kindly offered us some coats.  I had a coat on but it clearly wasn’t going to be enough to stay real warm.  And so we got on the boat and as soon as we got on the boat, Greg asked Dustin to get into the side pocket of the boat, down by the driver’s side and find the light.  And the light looked to be about a three-or-four-foot rod with a light at the end of it, attached to the back of the boat, so that he would have a light on the back. I guess you don’t leave it up or during the day, or when you’re parked or whatever.  I don’t know why it was stored, but he rummaged around, he found it.  Greg put it in and then he checked all the lights.  He said, “That’s working.”  He asked Dustin to look up front.  He says, “Is there a green and a red light up front?”  And Dustin said yep, there is one on each side.  So our lights were working.  We took off.  And as we were motoring across, one of the things that we always found interesting, all of us, is there in Flathead, you just assume everything is as deep as everywhere else, and it’s not.  We didn’t really know there were like underwater trees and things.  And Greg was explaining to us the different levels of the lake—that in some areas there’s underwater trees and in other areas there’s—he was showing us the GPS and pointing to it, and saying, “Here it’s 180 feet deep and here it’s four feet deep, and here-there’s trees he was pointing out.   And he said, “Remember earlier when we saw the fishermen on this reef?  That’s right here where they were fishing.”  So he was explaining it to us and he was also explaining the channel, ‘cause I didn’t realize you actually had to be in a channel.  I thought you could go anywhere and he was explaining—no, he said, you know, forgive me if I get this wrong but it was like, “Right, red, return.”  And he was pointing out the poles that are painted or something with a red on one side.  And he said that’s how seamen remember how to get back through the channel that they’ve gone through.  You’ve got to keep the right, the red pole on your right side when you’re returning.  And so he was talking to us and such, but it was cold so Greg’s standing and driving and watching, looking and reading his GPS.  Kathy’s sitting in the—on the steps going into the little cabin-ish area where they had two chairs.  It’s not very big.  It’s just kind of to protect yourself from the elements, I suppose, because they have a door on the front, a door on the back—before you go out into the sun area on the front of the boat.  She was sitting on the steps.  I was sitting in the passenger’s seat.  Kristin and Dustin were in back. Kristin got cold and said, “I’m going to move forward.”  So she did, and moved up next to me in the passenger area.  And [phone rings] ten seconds later, excuse me, I need to cut that off—ten seconds later—yeah it was about ten seconds later—we hit the rock.

ADAMS:  How fast would you say the boat was going?

REHBERG:  You know, I had seen reports in the newspaper of 40 miles an hour, and I don’t think that’s correct.  In my statements to the Fish and Wildlife Service—or Fish and Wildlife and Parks, (I said) I didn’t think we were going that fast.  I mean, I’m no judge because I was not paying attention and there is nothing really to gauge it by, but to me, I’ve water skied at 30 to 40 miles an hour and I wouldn’t suggest this was water skiing speed because it would have been a lot colder.  Your hair would have been flipping around a lot more.  You would have felt it on your face and honestly, I don’t know where they came up with the 40 mile-an-hour figure.  I assume somebody is going to go back and investigate that and figure out if there is a way of doing that.  That’s beyond me.  That’s a physics thing.  But I would in no way say that I thought we were going 40 miles an hour.  It sure seemed like it was 25 or something like that.

ADAMS:  Did you guys know you were anywhere near the shore until just before impact?

REHBERG:  No, because that was what was odd about it.  Greg was saying this doesn’t seem right.  There should be—and he was looking at his GPS and he said, you know, that “It just doesn’t seem right.  It’s so dark over there.” [15:00] And we’re looking around.  And since that time, Fish, Wildlife and Parks has suggested there was supposed to be a light on some dock over there, giving an indication where the shoreline was.  And I’ll swear that I did not see a light over there.  There was—as far as I could tell—I couldn’t see it.

GOURAS:  So there was some indication Greg was—that the terrain didn’t match up with his GPS or something like that? What he was seeing on his GPS didn’t match up with the terrain—he didn’t know exactly where he was? Is that what you’re talking about?

REHBERG:  Yeah.  Yeah, that it wasn’t matching up.  He—I looked over and he scrolled to a different picture on the GPS, and was just commenting that, you know, “This is where we came from and this is where we’re going to.”  And it was right about that time we hit the rock.

JAMISON:  Congressman, when you were talking about some of the submerged structure in the lake and you were referencing GPS?  Are we talking about GPS and are we talking about a depth finder?

REHBERG:  Well he referred to it as GPS.  I’m not technically savvy enough to—I—you got me there.  I don’t know the difference between a depth finder and a GPS. I would have assumed that those units tell both depth and direction.  You got me. I just don’t know that. I don’t have a GPS nor a depth finder, so I don’t know.

GOURAS:  Congressman, was there any indication that you could tell if Senator Barkus was impaired at all?

REHBERG:  No.  Absolutely not.  It would be like me talking to you right now.  Yeah, and I have no idea what anybody else felt, I mean we can go through and second-guess ourselves forever on this thing, but as far as I can tell I saw no signs of impairment at all.  None.

ADAMS:  Congressman, you said it was sort of a working dinner for you.  You had two of your staff there.  Were they on the clock?  Were they there as—was this a leisure thing for them, or were they there in their capacity as—as your staff members?  And then if so, does workers comp come into play here at all in terms of their medical bills?

REHBERG:  Yea, that—they were staffing me.  They staff me all the time.  Whether it’s something that I would have ordered them to do or not, I mean—we all get along so well that when we had a few hours off, we thought it’d be real fun to have Greg come and pick us up—and Kathy.  I hadn’t seen Greg and Kathy in a long time.  We used to do a lot more with them when Kathy worked for me.  I initially hired Kathy back in 1989 to run the Kalispell office for Senator Burns, and that’s when I got to know Kathy.  And so she and I worked together for years.  And then over the years as I became Lieutenant Governor and in Congress, there was just less opportunity to spend time with and around them.  And so—this was an opportunity for Kristin and Dustin to get to know Greg and Kathy.  I don’t know if they really had an opportunity to know them very well.  And so while it was social, it was a working evening.  I don’t essentially take nights off, where you just do that—unless I’m with Jan and the kids.  And then it truly is a night off and usually at home.  Because when I end up going to a fundraiser or at a hospital, people want to talk issues.  And I knew, going into this, that people there who would want to talk issues.  Usually you pick up a case where somebody’s having difficulty with Social Security or some other issue, and Dustin—being my state director—he’s my go-to-guy. I’m always looking for him, because somebody will say, “Well, we need help on this.”  I’ll look over at Dustin.  He’ll come over and hand them a card, make a connection.  He’ll get their phone numbers and such.  And Kristin is my health care person and also my appropriations person.  She’s my Deputy Chief of Staff.  So she’s number two in my entire operation—Dustin’s boss.  And this essentially—this August break—while we didn’t necessarily intend it to be all about health care, because people wanted to talk about other issues like Cap-and-Trade and appropriations and spending and stimulus and bailouts and such.  The gist of it has been health care, and she was there helping me answer questions about specifics in the House version and then trying to guess what was in the [20:00] Baucus bill and such.  And so, they were working.

ADAMS:  So are they—are their medical bills going to be covered by workers comp, then?

REHBERG:  Well, currently there are a number of things that can be done.  They’re in the federal health insurance plan, like I am.  We’re all in the same Blue Cross/Blue Shield pool, like any other federal employee.  And then we’ve asked the House of Representatives, what do we do in this case?  And so my chief of staff is Jay Martin.  And Jay has made contact with the House Administration Committee and the leadership within the House to ask that question.  Those are the kind of things that we don’t know.  So we put in a request to answer those kinds of questions.

JAMISON:  Congressman, could you speak a little bit about how things unfolded once the boat ran aground?  Where people ended up and how assistance arrived?

REHBERG:  Yeah.  We have the names of the campers from Wayfarers (State Park).  Interestingly enough, I was at the ribbon-cutting of Wayfarers many years ago as a Lieutenant Governor, when they re-did it, so I’m well familiar with the campground during the day.  But there were campers and—my knowledge of where they were situated and how fast they got there based upon the press reporting and—I thank you guys—you’ve all done a very good and thorough job and I thought very fair as well.  So you’ve pretty much got the gist of what happened, and that is they heard it.  They came running—I was—I did not lose consciousness, although I was rolling around like a rag doll.  So, I am pretty bruised up as far as all over my bod.  But I remember them coming to a rest and it was, kind of, first thing you do is figure out where you are.  I was still in the boat, Kathy was still in the boat.  I got myself out of the boat into the water and onto the shore and there I sat until they came and dealt with me.  And Kristin was the most cognizant.  And she was directing people—as to “That’s Dustin over there, that’s Greg over there, Kathy’s still in the boat, and I’m Kristin.”  And she pointed me out as well.  So they went through their regular progression of activity.  And they took care of the most serious first and that would have been Dustin and Greg.  And then Kristin was next, and then Kathy and I left last.

JAMISON:  And were others in the water at any point?

REHBERG:  Yes, Dustin and Kristin were right on the edge between the water and the rocks.  Dustin and Greg—I’m sorry, I don’t know where Kristin was.  All I know is that Kathy and I stayed in the boat and the other three were out.

GOURAS:  Were they—were Dustin and Greg unconscious?

REHBERG:  Those kinds of questions I can’t answer. I don’t know.

TESTA:  Did someone have to pull Dustin onto the shore from the water?

REHBERG:  I don’t believe so.  But again, I don’t know that.

FEMALE REPORTER:  What were you thinking at that time?

REHBERG:  Well, the first thing that goes through your mind is, “What happened?  Where did the rocks come from?”  Because while I wasn’t necessarily paying attention, nor anyone else, other than Greg.  Because we were talking and hunkered down below the windshield.  You would have thought that we would have seen it.  But it was—we all commented—and Greg mentioned that it was going to be much easier for him to go home because as dark as it was outside—and it was a half moon—and we commented—we looked up at the moon and we commented on it was a half moon.  And he said a couple more nights and it will be a full moon, and this lake will be really lit up at night.  And he says it is a lot easier going back the other way because of all the lights and you can get your bearings.  So he was commenting on how dark it was, and it would be much easier once he dropped us off to turn around and make it home.

ADAMS:  Do you have any indication if he was familiar with that part of the lake at night?  I mean, it sounds like you had gone back a different way than you had left the marina.

REHBERG:  We did.  We went back a different way.  Because when we first went out, we used a channel.  You know, [stammers] other than—I don’t know the lay of the channels, so he might have had to take a channel to get south to go north to up into the river, and then back south and around to get to over to Lakeside.  And when he came back he went south to come north again to get into the Bigfork entrance.  [25:00] So again, I’d have to look at a map to clearly understand what route we took.  But we did not go through, as I had mentioned to you when we came out, we went up the river, we did not retrace that route.  So we did come back a different route.

ADAMS:  Did he think that he was in a channel?  I mean, was he navigating by the channel markers—the buoys?

REHBERG:  I don’t know.  I could not speculate.  I have no idea because again, I’m not—I was not captaining the boat, so I don’t know.  I was just—when I was relaying the story about the right, red, red right, return, right, red, return—I was just commenting to you that he was, you know, teaching us, educating us a little bit about what the poles out there meant because I was intrigued by the channel.  That’s the first time—and I’ve been on the lake before—but that’s the first time I’d ever really realized that there were channels you have to take.  I know there are in the Potomac and other places.  I guess I did not realize there would be the same thing on a lake.  It makes sense.  I just didn’t know it.

KIMBALL:  Can you talk about how you and Dustin and Kristin—and Greg even—are all so close?  Is this on your mind still now that you’re in Washington?  I mean when are you—

REHBERG:  —Well, I didn’t say we were close because I actually didn’t think that—I’m pretty sure that Kristin had never met Greg and Kathy.  I don’t know if Dustin had.  I assume as a result of Dustin working on my various campaigns, and Greg having run for office himself—he knew Greg.  I don’t know how well he knew him and such.  But my concern certainly is the health of everyone involved.  And so it’s on my mind.  Yes, I want everyone to be back full speed ahead, doing what we need to be doing.  And right now, today, it’s dealing with health care reform and the President’s speech this evening.  I had had originally a hearing scheduled for this week for the Crow (Tribe’s) Water Settlement.  Things didn’t really get put together as far as witnesses and such.  And so it’s been scheduled for later on in September.  But I really want to get moving on that as well.  Mary [Heller], in my office, does the Native American issues, water issues, natural resources.  But Kristin’s my health care person and my appropriations person so I need her back, and I need Dustin back behind the wheel and helping me with my state offices.  I have four offices and about eight or nine employees back there that are looking to Dustin to get back and start giving orders.

GOURAS:Do you have any indication that Dustin will be able to come back?  Do you know yet?

REHBERG:  All indications are he will be coming back and I think he is progressing very nicely.  I’ll leave that up to his family to make those kinds of comments.  Because he is in Kalispell and I’m in Washington, D.C.   But (he’s a) great kid: 27 years old, National Guard.  I have to give him a little hard time for being a Grizzly.  But he’s a good kid.  He laughs at all of my same old jokes.  I tell the same ones over and over as [Associated Press correspondent] Matt Gouras can tell you.  And so I don’t get off script very much as far as some of the things I say and do.  And he was just a lot of fun to travel with and I am looking forward to us being back in the car together.  He’s probably not as much looking forward to it.  He used to refer to me as “Driving Miss Denny” ‘cause I can get a little owly in the car.  Everybody said, being in the Guard, he’s healthy, he’s fit, and that works to his advantage.  And in the Guard he’s a chaplain assistant, and it couldn’t hurt to have God on your side, either.

STEPANEK:  How difficult is it getting around the Capitol complex and back to your office?

REHBERG:Well, I got a lot of help.  Got a son living back here.  Jan rode the train back with me.  And, interestingly, my grandmother passed away this year, darn it.  She made it three days from her 100th birthday.  We were all ready to celebrate on January 9th.  She made it to January 6th and so I have confiscated her walker.  And so it kind of reminds me every time I’m out tootling around, I’m pushing on the same one my grandma did for quite a long time.  You know, to make it 100 years old is pretty cool.  So I’ve got a walker for walking and sittin’ on with a little basket.  And I’ve got crutches, except I’ve got three fractured ribs and the crutches kind of make me want to sweat and pant a bit.  But between the crutches and the walker, and all the help I’ve gotten, I can’t complain.  It’s easy being me.

ADAMS:  Have you seen Dustin or Greg since the accident?  Did you visit them in the hospital at all?

REHBERG:[30:00] I said goodbye to both of them as I was being checked out on Monday.  And Kristen as well.  And since that time Kristen’s headed off to her parents’ house to recover.  And sounds like Dustin is doing better.  And I have not talked to Greg lately.  No.

GOURAS:  Congressman, is there any lessons learned from the incident, or any regrets, or do you think there’s nothing that could have been done to avoid the crash?

REHBERG:  You know, it’s one of those accidents happen.  And you think about it, you second guess it, you wonder—and I’m not to that point yet.  I’m mostly thinking about getting myself back to work and getting the rest of these guys recovered and recuperated as soon as possible.  There’ll be plenty of time to be second-guessing things and such, but right now what’s on my mind is getting myself back on track and getting myself, my staff, and friends back on track as well.

ADAMS:  Congressman, you—one of the first things Erik [Iverson] told us in that first press conference the day after the accident was he was—I think it was on Saturday.  He released your blood-alcohol content.  It was .05 (percent) at the time that it was tested.   Can you tell us how much you did have to drink that night? What you were drinking?  And can you talk at all about whether or not you saw Senator Barkus drinking and what you saw him consuming?

REHBERG:  When we got to the event, I went up inside.  There’s a bar there and they had a tap, and I looked at them.  And I like, you know—I’m co-chair of the Small Brewers Caucus here in Washington, D.C., which is fun because I get the opportunity to represent the small brewers from all over the country but Montana, like Big Sky Brewing and such—and they have unique issues from the bigger groups and (Congressman) Peter DeFazio from Oregon and I co-chair that caucus and so I’m always looking for new and unique and creative blends and such.  And so I stood at the bar and I looked at the taps that they had and I saw a Cold Smoke (Scotch Ale) that I had not tried, so I said, “I’d like to try that.”  And so I ordered that beer and that probably lasted me a couple hours because I—you know, it’s more of something to hold in your hand.  It’s social.  And you want to enjoy it.  And so I held it, and somebody brought me another one before I was done with that one.  And so I set it down on a planter that was there and sat there for quite a while and honestly don’t remember if I ever finished that one.  I didn’t order it.  Somebody knew what I had ordered—or asked the bartender or whatever—and that was the second beer so probably over the course of the four to four-and-a-half hours at the event, I probably had one-and-a-half drinks.  Or maybe two.  But I honestly don’t remember finishing it.

ADAMS:  Was that in a can or was that a draft?

REHBERG:  It was a draft.  You know better than that.  If you’re drinking somebody’s brew, you don’t drink it out of a can.  Who asked that dumb question?  You’re awful.  I’m kicking you off the call.

ADAMS:  Hey there, cans are popular.

REHBERG:  It’s got to breathe, man.  You got to smell the aroma.  Geez.  Not going to identify, are ya?

ADAMS:  John Adams.

REHBERG:  God, John, with a name like that you’d think you’d know beer.

ADAMS:  What about Senator Barkus?  Did you see what, if he had been drinking?

REHBERG:  I did not.  I could not honestly tell you if he had a drink or not.  It was, again, you know—I hate to say this this way—it’s all about me.  Because when I’m working I’m paying attention to me.  Because I want toengage the people I’m talking to.  I want to answer their questions thoroughly.  You know, I want to be the social Congressman that is approachable—that people feel comfortable in talking to, asking questions of.  And I was not paying attention to Kathy, Greg or even Dustin, Kristen.  When I’m working, I expect them to kind of be watching me so that if I look over at them and they’re engaged in a conversation with somebody else, they disengage themselves as soon as possible because I wouldn’t be looking at them unless I needed them to come over and give out a card, answer a question, or whatever.  So I think I saw Dustin have a beer.  I think I heard Kristen order a glass of white wine.  And I never did hear Greg or Kathy order or drink anything.

ADAMS:  And there was no alcohol in the boat?

REHBERG: [35:00] There was.  When we first got in the boat, Kathy had a little cooler of about—oh—it looked like I’d 12 inches—12 inches—12 ounces—or less—of margarita.  And that was the extent of what I know was on the boat.  I’m not aware of anything else but Kathy’s little—it was a little shaker thingy in a little six-pack cooler—but there was nothing else in that cooler.  It was just that little—it might not even have been 12 ounces; it might have been eight ounces of the margarita mix.  That’s all I’m aware that was on the boat.  And I know they’re checking that and they’re looking and all that kind of stuff.  But as far as I know, that’s all I saw.

TESTA:  Congressman, when you made the stop on up Flathead River at the movie producer’s house, were there drinks served at that gathering?

REHBERG:  Nope.  No.  In fact, they were on their way to a tea party, which is kind of cute, and we wished them well and told them to have fun.  They were literally on their way—because when we initially called he said, “I don’t know if we’re going to be here much longer.”  And Greg said, “Ah, we’re just right outside the gate.  We’ll be there literally in 30 to 45 seconds.”  And he didn’t tell him it was me in the boat.  I’d met him once before and so he didn’t tell him it was me in the boat.  And so he came running out of the house and he was thrilled to see me again.  That was the second time I had met him, and he just, we just stood there and talked.  There were no drinks.  And his wife came out all dressed up, ready to go, and as soon as we motored off, they jumped in the car and went to that tea party up at the fairgrounds, which I’m sure that (Kalispell Daily Inter Lake reporters) Jim [Mann] and Nancy [Kimball] covered, right Nancy?

KIMBALL:  Every time.

REHBERG:[Laughs] How many people did they end up having?

KIMBALL:  Oh, I didn’t go, no.

REHBERG:  Oh, okay.  But no.  The answer to your question is there were no drinks.

TESTA:  Do you remember any more about the impact?  There have been some reports that the steering wheel was ripped off?  There’s also been some reports that—do you remember like hitting something submerged before you collided with shore—like a tree or a rock? You know, it was not the shore, but prior to hitting the shore? Do you remember anything like th at?

REHBERG:  I do not.  It happened so fast I couldn’t separate a rock from a tree from—anything like that.  For me it was just—we hit something.  I rolled around.  I looked up.  I was still in the boat.  I climbed out.  Flopped into the water and climbed up on shore.

ADAMS:  So the boat—the photos show the boat up on the shore.  When you flopped out of the boat how did you end up in the water?  Did you roll down the rocks into the water?  Or how—can you explain that?

REHBERG:  I went off the back.  And so, by—see my foot was pretty well—the bone was shaved off the bottom of my leg bone and my ankle was dislocated and the bones were kind of crunched up.  And so they said what was really holding my foot on was my cowboy boot.  And of course I’m the only guy in the world, right, that gets on a boat in cowboy boots.  I took a lot of crap for that.  But they said the cowboy boot was holding my foot on, which they were amazed that I had the ability to actually walk or get out on it.  But I knew I needed to get out of the boat.  I didn’t want to stay in the boat and so I went down far enough before I could get my footing that I could get back up on shore.  And so I went off the back and then back up.

GOURAS:  How painful was it?

REHBERG:  Um, well, remember I’m a rancher.  And I refer to myself as a clumsy rancher.  This is not my first rodeo.  I’ve got hit in the head, rolling down a hill one time, fencing on a tree.  And I put an axe into my foot one time.  I sharpened it up really sharp.  And put my foot on a piece of sagebrush to cut it out—to do a little fencing—and it glanced off the sagebrush and went into my foot bone.  And so somebody asked if I’d ever been on crutches before.  I had to remind them I was a gymnast and gymnasts do a lot of dumb things, like I dislocated my knee on the floor routine one time.  So I’ve had a few mishaps in the past.  So as far as pain, I’m a rancher, so you just kind of throw that out of your mind.  Once you’ve got it, doesn’t do you any good to worry about it.   So it probably hurt just like having your impacted teeth taken out, or something else.  I’ve not had appendicitis, but I imagine that kind of hurts your belly.  And interestingly when they went in and did the X-rays in my vertebrae, [40:00] they found four cracked vertebrae from a previous accident that I never knew about.  They—nobody ever told me that I had done that—so I got four breaks from a previous accident that I wasn’t even aware of.

FEMALE REPORTER: How are you greeted in Washington? Are you the talk of the town right now?

REHBERG: Uh, yes and no.  I wouldn’t write this up, because it hasn’t come out yet—but it will—and that is one of our colleagues, (Congresswoman) Jan Schakowsky from Illinois’s son was killed over the holidays.  I guess they were at a birthday party in Mexico or somewhere—I don’t know where—they were all celebrating a 65th wedding—birthday.  And I guess he vomited in his snorkel and ingested it and died.  And so that’s—those are kind of internal things that occur in Congress.  That we’re all one big family.  And Jan used to have the office next to me on the fifth floor of Cannon (House Office Building) when I first came to Congress back in 2001.  And so, you know—remember, we’re a fraternity and sorority of 435 House members and 100 Senate.  And as I was leaving the chamber yesterday, I had the opportunity to say hi and give my condolences to Patrick Kennedy, who is an odd friend of mine.  You would suggest that maybe we’re on opposite ends of the political spectrum.  But I serve on the Appropriations Committee with him and we had a fun story when I first came to Congress.  Taxi cabs could still park in the front of the Capitol, and a taxi came zipping up and he jumps out and he had forgotten his wallet.  And I’m a freshman—I have my freshman badge on—and he says, “I don’t know you—you haven’t met me—could I borrow some money?”  And so the rest of the day I was telling the story all over, that I loaned money to a Kennedy.  And so I had an opportunity to say hi to Patrick and give my condolences.  And so a lot of things happen over the course of a break, where people are injured, people get married, there’s babies, and some people pass away.  And you just have that.  And so my circle of friends all come up and I’ve heard from them—they’ve called.  I’ve heard from Democrats and Republicans alike.  I got a phone call from Nancy Pelosi. I heard from Walt Minnick of Idaho—he called to see if I was okay.  Talked to Grace Napolitano from California. So we’re just, you know, a big family here and people are concerned—they’re glad to see you’re okay.  And life moves on.

[Female reporter starts speaking; inaudible]

REHBERG:I’m having a hard time hearing you.

FEMALE REPORTER: Oh, when people see in the paper your blood-alcohol level, they tend to say “Oh, Denny Rehberg was drinking—why was he drinking on the boat?”  You know—is there something you say to those people—that, you know, you weren’t driving—in your defense?

REHBERG:This is actually probably the first time anybody’s brought it up or asked me that question. So I think I wouldn’t judge people by press people.  You asked those questions, but nobody else has.  They dwell on, mostly, “How is Dustin doing?  How is Kristin doing?  Are you feeling okay? Nice to see you back.  How’d you get here?  Heard you were on Amtrak.”  And such.  So there are certain things that people dwell on, and that hasn’t been one yet.  This is actually the first time it’s come up.

KIMBALL:Have you spoken with Dustin and how is he doing at all?

REHBERG:I’ve asked his father, Rod [Frost], to give me the opportunity at the earliest convenience to talk to Dustin.  I guess he’s got his sense of humor back, because he’s kind of been picking on some of the folks.  When asked questions (like) who does he work for, he knew immediately—“Congressman Denny Rehberg.” And so, I just, you know, our schedule is different because I’m three hours ahead.  So I just suggested to Rod, and he agrees, that whenever it’s convenient for Dustin to talk to me, Dustin would like to as well.  So as soon as I can, I will.  He was out when I left on Monday, so I couldn’t have talked to him when I was in the hospital and in his room visiting and talking to him.  One-way conversation.  He was not awake.  So I have not had that opportunity since.  But at the earliest opportunity I’m going to be able to do that.


KIMBALL:—How is his family getting along?

REHBERG:How is his family getting along?  Well, it’s a great family.  He’s got a wonderful father who teaches at the University of Montana, which is, of course, a negative. But what is teaching anyhow, right, at University of Montana?  I have a new intern, by the way—he comes from Bozeman. [45:00] And (Dustin’s) younger sister is great.  She’s married and spent quite a bit of time.  Dustin has a girlfriend that’s up there as well. So he has a lot of family support.

ADAMS:Congressman, after major reconstructive surgery on an injury such as yours, I know it’s common for doctors to prescribe fairly heavy doses of pain medication.  Are you taking pain medication, and is that making your—if so—is that making your job any more difficult in terms of focusing on the tasks that you have to focus on there?

REHBERG:Nope. Nope. I’m focused on my tasks.  Do I sound goofy?

ADAMS:No, you sound great, actually.

REHBERG:[Laughs] I actually feel pretty good. They gave me some (medication) that I can take if I do feel some irritation in my foot.  You know, it’s an issue of blood clotting, because I’m not as active as I normally am.  So they give me stuff to—you know, some pretty heavy dosage—like baby aspirin.  I get to take two baby aspirin a day for purposes of thinning my blood so that I don’t get a blood clot anywhere in my leg.  And that’s the flying concern—is that being cooped up in an airplane with my foot down—because they really—and I asked the orthopedic surgeon, I said, “What’s the deal with keeping your leg in the air?  Because it’d be nice to have it down, then up, and around and moving kind of like the way you are naturally.”  And they said, “Well, it’s a swelling issue. What you want is you want the blood out so oxygen can get in to fix your foot as fast as possible.”  So now I religiously keep it in the air like I’m supposed to, but then my toes kind of go to sleep, and when I put my foot back down to get on my crutches all the blood rushes down there, and that doesn’t feel so good  So they have given me some pain medication.  If I have any discomfort I can take it, but you know, there’s a period of time where I just didn’t take it because I didn’t feel compelled to want to have to.  It doesn’t affect me at all.  Everybody around here says I’m nicer though.  I think I can fix that, though.  I’m about ready to get crabby again.

KIMBALL:What’s the next vote you have coming up?

REHBERG:We’re voting at two o’clock.  We had votes at 6:30 last night and—or three o’clock—and it’s going to be a pretty light day because they have to do a security sweep of the House of Representatives and make sure it’s safe for all of us to be in there: Senators, Republi—Senators, Representatives, cabinet officials, Supreme Court—and then ultimately the President and the Vice President show up.  I should’ve volunteered to be the one that’s hidden away.  There was always a Congressman and a Senator who are put in a safe room somewhere off-complex in case something happens.  I should’ve volunteered to be the slug—to go out and hide in a room—but we’re going to be voting by three o’clock today.  Light schedule this week because they’re really trying to figure out what to do with health care reform.  I think they did not get the response over the month of August that they were anticipating.  And one of the things that I was suggesting at my 16 listening sessions and elsewhere, is I hope that they would give us the same courtesy, that once the Senate—and if it’s Senator Baucus’s bill—once the Senate bill is introduced, they go and do something as bold as having the bill printed, adjourning Congress for a period of 30 days and allow us the opportunity to read the bill and take the bill out into the public marketplace and have it debated—as the House bill was. I think that would be important because they’ve made the promise they want to have health care reform—whatever that looks like—in place by the First of January.  I’m not suggesting slowing the process down, but the statement has long been made. People don’t care how fast we did something.  They certainly care how well we did something.  I would like to see a national theme created of at least putting it out in the marketplace for a period of 30 days, allowing the public an opportunity to see what’s in the bill.  But so far my national movement is mostly, well, Montana. Nobody has picked up on it yet.  But I’d like them to.

ADAMS: Congressman, is this accident and the events that happened afterwards—in terms of the medical care—has that influenced or changed or have had any sort of impact on your position on health care reform?  What needs to be done?  What you’d like to see in a bill?  Has it had any impact whatsoever at all on your perspective on this debate?

REHBERG: Well, you know, as I mentioned earlier, this is not my first time in the emergency room [50:00] or in intensive care.  I really didn’t advertise the theme of what I was attempting to do over August, although I was going to talk about it in a guest editorial to you all.  And that is that I wanted to have listening sessions.  And I would contrast that to what Obama did in Bozeman—it was more of a talking session.  He did take eight questions, but it was invitation-only—kind of a ticketed event and such.  And mine were more of a open-it-up and listening.  Use Bozeman as an example.  I had one in Bozeman.  I had 600—or 300 people, not 600—600 in Hamilton.  And I opened up the mics, and everybody that stood in line got an opportunity to say their piece or ask a question.  Okay, listening sessions.  Then I did seven hospitals.  And I sat down.  I toured.   I sat down with administrators—hospital administrators.  Then I sat down with the pharmacists, and association (members).  I sat down with heart surgeons, obstetrician/gynecologists.  I sat down with New West (Health Services) and also with the legal counsel for—former legal counsel—of Blue Cross/Blue Shield.  I then attended a clinic in Polson of the Salish-Kootenai, Native-American, Indian health.  I did a critical access (hospital), which is the smaller hospitals.  I did that in Polson—Saint Joe’s.  And then I was going to finish the last week.  And I had eight more listening sessions, plus more hospital visits (planned).  I was going to go to Butte—to the community health center—to get that perspective.  So I was trying to do a well-rounded listening-and-learning opportunity of health care over the month of August.  I didn’t take a family vacation.  I stayed on the road traveling—Dustin and I did—over 3,000 miles in the weeks that we were traveling, doing these listening sessions and these various meetings.  And so by way of answering your question, I’m pretty familiar with the health care system as it’s provided in America because I was on Health and Human Services Appropriations (Committee) as a state legislator. I worked on the family practice and residency program and workers comp as Lieutenant Governor.  And I’m now on the Health Appropriations Subcommittee in Congress, and active member of the Rural Health Caucus.  So this is just a continuation of an educational opportunity on health care, similar to what I’ve been doing literally my entire public administration life.

TESTA: But along those lines, there’s a difference between, obviously, being a legislator and being in a hospital bed with serious injuries.  Does that change that perspective?  Did you ever think, “If I didn’t have health insurance, would I have to be weighing how to pay for this or that?” Or—

REHBERG: —I have never, ever, ever—and I challenge you to find one person in a hospital that will tell you they’ve ever turned anybody away from the emergency room.  That’s my challenge to you.  If we want to talk about access to health care—and there’s a difference between preventive and ongoing and emergency services.  My challenge to you is provide or present one hospital that has ever turned anybody away from their emergency room.

GOURAS: I think his question is more about how—worry about paying though, if you didn’t have—

REHBERG: —No, no.  His—essentially his question was, do I view things differently now having been in an emergency room?  And—and the answer is—I hear from the hospitals about how much care they write off, about how it [stammers] in situations like Medicare, I’ve talked to doctors that say they absolutely cannot perform the kinds of operations on Medicare recipients that they’re supposed to because they lose money doing it, and that’s where the rationing occurs in Medicare.  And until this country comes to grips with the wonderful service that we’re providing our seniors with Medicare, but our wholly inadequate way of paying for it—ironically and interestingly enough—it’s projected now by the experts to go broke in 2017.  And yet, where is the discussion about fixing what’s wrong with Medicare, before we try and replicate or duplicate that same process? With the same number of doctors that are available at this time. [Long pause] Okay, I’ve got to head on out, I’ve got a 12 o’clock (meeting). I appreciate all you joining me today.  And feel free to give me a call if you need some more. Bye-bye.

[ends at 54:58]