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In 10 years covering San Diego politics, including the one where Bob Filner was mayor, I have never seen a more bizarre political scandal than the one surrounding Carl DeMaio’s congressional campaign over the last few weeks.
We decided to pull back and lay out everything we know — and don’t — about what has happened.
Here’s how different perspectives on the scandal evolved over time. First, we have to start with a minor media controversy nobody could have imagined we’d still be talking about.
May 12, 2014: The Plagiarized Report
This was a classic DeMaio media play, complete with a villain, eye-popping facts and his preferred typeface.
But National Journal quickly protested. It looked like the report was cut and pasted from the Washington D.C. publication.
By the end of the day, DeMaio apologized to the magazine. He said staffers had produced the report, and he wasn’t aware of the plagiarism. But he also took responsibility.
“I don’t throw my staff under the bus,” he said.
That did not last long.
May 14, 2014: The Staffer
On May 14, two days after the plagiarism mess erupted, U-T San Diego ran a letter to the editor about the disputed report from a Del Mar resident named Todd Bosnich.
Bosnich is this guy (pic via Twitter):
He was the political director of the campaign, known to fight with liberals and the media on Twitter. His letter to the editor was a mistake — the product of the campaign trying to put on a public opinion show about its preferred topics. Staffers are supposed to find supporters in the community to sign their names to letters to the editor — not have their own names appear.
More importantly for this exercise, the letter is evidence that Bosnich was still on DeMaio’s team after the plagiarism incident.
According to emails obtained by the Washington Examiner, Bosnich was getting assignments as late as May 15. And Bosnich’s lawyer says he was fired on May 19, a week after the plagiarism incident.
Yet DeMaio’s team remains firm that he was fired for the plagiarism incident alone.
DeMaio’s spokesman Dave McCulloch said the letter to the editor wasn’t something Bosnich was supposed to do, but it was not the reason he was fired.
“As we have been very clear, Todd Bosnich was terminated for plagiarism,” McCulloch said.
That’s a crucial part of DeMaio’s story.
May 28, 2014: The Break-In
The DeMaio campaign reported a break-in at its campaign headquarters only days before the primary election on May 28.
DeMaio’s spokesperson clarified that it was mostly very damaging vandalism.
Here’s how McCulloch described the damange to NBC 7 San Diego: “Almost every cord inside the entire office – phone cords, communications, network cords, power cords – appears to have been cut.”
He also said the perpetrator poured water on laptops, printers and copiers and stole gas cards. Gas cards, in fact, were the only thing McCulloch or anyone from the campaign said was stolen.
DeMaio went on Fox News three days after the break-in and described his suspicions (emphasis added):
I don’t want to speculate but the San Diego police believe that this is politically motivated. The intruders didn’t take anything of economic value. They didn’t take computers out. What they did was they cut every single cord in the office. In this day and age, campaigns have become very technology-dependent. We have a sophisticated data system, a computer system that tracks every voter, whether they’re supporting, what issue is important to them. Of course, we have our entire communications system that is based on computerized phones. They came in and destroyed everything. They wiped us out entirely, took us off the internet. It was designed to silence the campaign very clearly.
Note the bolded line. Two things: They did report that several hundred dollars of gas cards were stolen. Perhaps he meant “significant economic value.” But secondly, this seems intended to both drive home that it wasn’t a property crime but a political one, while leaving open the door to another type of theft.
That explanation would later evolve.
The Fox News anchor asked DeMaio whether the break-in happened because he is a gay man. “Who knows?” DeMaio responded.
10News’ Steve Fiorina reported that the entry point came from an adjoining office. A file cabinet, with files inside, was untouched, while another was stripped of several hundred dollars worth of gasoline debit cards.
“Whoever broke in had some knowledge about the office,” Fiorina said.
Again, nothing other than the gas cards were reported stolen to the public.
Many months later, in front of TV cameras during a debate, DeMaio would claim that something else — something sacred to the campaign — was stolen as well. We’ll get to that in a minute.
June 2, 2014: The Silent Interview
Bosnich gave a 27-minute interview to Mike Slater, a conservative radio host for KFMB.
He detailed how, over several months, he said DeMaio would pressure him sexually, touch him inappropriately and then how the behavior peaked in one terrible encounter April 30 when DeMaio called him to his office and Bosnich found him masturbating.
He also described how the campaign manager, Tommy Knepper, had offered him $50,000 if he would sign a non-disclosure agreement and leave quietly. Bosnich also described one incident that helped him decide to come forward: His mother, he said, had received an anonymous, threatening email.
The interview did not air.
But CNN got a hold of it. (And it’s posted here thanks to CityBeat.)
Aug. 29, 2014: The Inside Job Theory
After a relatively quiet summer, the break-in breaks back into the news.
The police began to let some information out about their investigation.
Kevin Mayer, the San Diego Police Department’s spokesman, sent several news organizations a statement: “Based upon our investigation, it appears that a burglary of the DeMaio campaign office did occur.”
And he included this: “Two former staff members were identified by the victim as potential suspects early in the investigation. Both staff members are cooperating with our investigation.”
NBC 7 San Diego was the first to mention that the campaign believed something of value beyond gas cards was taken, citing an unnamed source: “The source says before the burglary and vandalism, two DeMaio staffers were terminated for taking proprietary information from the campaign.”
This is bizarre. Either NBC was wrong, or someone close to the campaign was alleging sensitive campaign information was stolen before the break-in.
Oct. 8, 2014: The Press Conference
Tony Perry, the longtime San Diego beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, showed up to a DeMaio press conference and had a remarkable exchange with the candidate. Here’s the transcript, courtesy of Wendy Fry, from NBC 7.
We had heard rumors but this was the first time many of us heard about Bosnich’s story.
Perry asked DeMaio about an allegation that he had sexually harassed a staffer. And this is where, for the first time, DeMaio blamed that staffer (who we now know is Bosnich) for the burglary of his office.
You know, an individual who is the prime suspect to the break-in in our campaign office would manufacture such an outrageous lie, but again, all the evidence that was collected by the police department clearly indicated this individual was the prime suspect and it’s unfortunate but we will continue to allow the District Attorney to proceed with her case and weighing the case to prosecute for the break-in of our office.
Another reporter at the press conference asked DeMaio to clarify something he had said earlier: Had the police chief called him to assure him the investigation into the break-in and possible criminal sexual harassment charges against him had been closed and he was cleared? This is direct from Fry’s transcript:
DEMAIO: Yes. And she informed me of this in August. And I do know that the case against this individual is has (sic) been proffered to the district attorney and again I do not want to comment on any evidence that was collected and provided regarding the break-in into our office but this is, again, par for the course in politics. If an individual does something wrong, they will continue to make up something. And I think that’s pretty shameful. Our campaign has been very, very confident that this individual will be held accountable for their actions.
That was misplaced confidence.
And the police chief refused to confirm that she called DeMaio.
Oct. 10, 2014: The Bombshell
CNN reporter Chris Frates somehow obtained the interview KFMB’s Mike Slater had done with Bosnich.
In lurid detail, on national TV, Bosnich’s allegations against DeMaio were laid out. Bosnich cooperated with the reporter and went on camera.
Once again, DeMaio said unequivocally that Bosnich had broken into the office, and the harassment allegations were just a story the former staffer made up when confronted about that crime.
This was also the first time DeMaio alleged that Bosnich was the one who had plagiarized the report in May. And it’s the first time that the campaign had informed anyone that he had fired a staffer for the plagiarism incident.
“He was terminated. He admitted that he plagiarized. He apologized for plagiarizing and when we told him he was no longer welcome in the staff and in the campaign office, even as a volunteer, he left. Days later, he broke in,” DeMaio told CNN. His campaign manager, Knepper, repeated the same charge: Bosnich’s claims were completely fabricated to somehow distract from the burglary.
Suddenly this mystery of deceit and violence was a national story.
DeMaio denied the sexual harassment allegations. Bosnich was equally adamant that he did not break in to the office. Someone was lying.
Then DeMaio decided it was time to bring up something else about the break-in.
Oct. 17, 2014: The Bible
Just when we thought the mystery couldn’t get any weirder, it did. During a taping of NBC 7 San Diego’s weekly series “Politically Speaking,” DeMaio endured a series of questions from host Gene Cubbison about whether he would take a lie-detector test about the ordeal. After all, he had done one before, when a nasty allegation surfaced from his former colleague on the City Council, Ben Hueso.
DeMaio demurred but then turned to his rival, Scott Peters, who was standing next to him. Here’s how NBC 7 described what he said:
“And Mr. Peters, I just want to ask a very simple question. Did your campaign come into possession of our strategy book, all of our direct mail pieces in the last five months?” asked DeMaio.
Peters responded with: “In early June, information was forwarded to our campaign, which we immediately turned over to the police.”
What? For the first time since the break-in in May, we learned about a missing “strategy book.” Peters would later refuse to disclose in what form it came to him or who sent it.
The playbook grew in legend. Here’s how DeMaio spokesman McCulloch described it to KUSI (emphasis mine):
“This campaign document, or binder or playbook, is our, we call it our campaign bible because it shows our strategy internally for what we want to do throughout the campaign, and it was shocking, it was outrageous to find out this morning that Mr. Peters had this binder,” said McCulloch.
This seems a little odd. First, to see it described as a bible. But more interesting was McCulloch’s claim that DeMaio only found out that morning, during the show, that Peters had received it. Seems like he knew pretty well when he turned to ask Peters about it in front of cameras.
But back to the bible. The Republican Party of San Diego’s leader, Tony Krvaric, chimed in on Twitter, claiming he had seen it.
Five inches with draft mail pieces, polling and budgets? Would mail pieces for the election in November be done in May, when this was supposedly stolen?
Krvaric and Republican activists began demanding that Peters reveal how he got a hold of this bible.
DeMaio’s campaign also went on the offensive against Peters. In this U-T San Diego piece, they claimed he and his campaign were actively promoting Bosnich’s accusations.
“While Carl is trying to focus on fixing Washington’s broken political system, Scott Peters continues to use push polls, buy ads, and pitch reporters on this vile and unsubstantiated smear that straight politicians seldom have to endure,” McCulloch said. “Peters is resorting to no less than a 1950s homophobic campaign to imply a gay man is a sexual deviant.”
Peters’ team responded that it was DeMaio’s own former staffer, the accuser himself, fueling the story.
Bosnich also held that this wasn’t about helping Peters:
“I am, and have always been, a proud gay man and Republican. It was a dream to have the opportunity to help seat the first gay Republican to the United States Congress. I wanted to be a part of that. Unfortunately, I have since learned that dream was naïve,” he said in a press release.
Now, undoubtedly originating from Bosnich, extremely embarrassing internal emails from DeMaio’s campaign began appearing in the media. One, from the campaign manager Tommy Knepper, outlined how campaign workers might spot spies in their midst. If a person was black, he said, it was a “red flag.” He apologized.
Oct. 20, 2014: The Authorities
Almost five months after a break-in at DeMaio’s campaign headquarters and almost two weeks after news broke that a former staffer was alleging DeMaio sexually harassed him, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis announced that she was declining to prosecute in both cases because of insufficient evidence.
Sexual harassment is usually a workplace and civil issue. Criminal harassment or battery is a higher bar, which we explained last year.
DeMaio had said he was certain of Bosnich’s guilt in the burglary.
What’s more, the chief of police, Shelley Zimmerman, refused to clarify whether she had, as DeMaio claimed, called to tell him charges against him were put to rest.
Instead, she issued this statement.
Both the alleged burglary to Carl DeMaio’s campaign office and the allegations of sexual misconduct against Carl DeMaio were taken seriously and investigated thoroughly by the San Diego Police Department. The highest level of confidentially was maintained during the entire investigative process, and will continue to be maintained, to protect the integrity of each investigation.
The police department spokesman had earlier said that it appeared a burglary had, indeed, occurred. But now, Zimmerman was calling it an “alleged” burglary.
The spokesman told NBC 7’s Fry, when she asked for clarification, to read the statement closely line by line.
Present: The Outstanding Questions
Only more questions have arisen now that the DA and police have indicated they can’t press charges. Here are the big ones:
I. If police aren’t going to charge Bosnich, who broke into DeMaio’s office? It seems like, had it been really been him, and had they confronted him, they’d have squeezed it out of him easily. And if it really was an inside job, as it seems to have been, then who did it?
II. What the heck is this campaign bible? I’ve surveyed many local campaigners. Some say it’s common, others say it’s absurd to imagine: A campaign printing out all its strategy, budgets, direct mail pieces, voter universes and polls into one five-inch binder? And this is all relevant strategy even many months before the final contest with the incumbent?
And how did Peters’ campaign obtain this sacred little book? Was it delivered in person? Sent by mail? Put inside a birthday cake on their doorstep? Why won’t Peters say?
And why did DeMaio wait until now to reveal it had been stolen, especially since he was making the case in May that the burglary was a political attack? Wouldn’t this have helped prove that? How did he know Peters had obtained it? Why did his campaign say they only found out when Peters responded to DeMaio’s question that day?
III. Why is the chief of police being so coy about DeMaio’s claim that she called him and told him he was in the clear? She’s obviously trying to communicate that’s not the full story. Why can’t she just say, “No, I didn’t call him”? Or “Yes, but it wasn’t how he put it”?
And what’s the deal with “alleged” burglary in the chief’s statement? Is there some doubt a burglary occurred?
IV. DeMaio’s team claims Bosnich was fired for authoring the plagiarized report and no other reason. If so, why was he kept on staff for a week after the controversy?
V: The big question is simpler. Bosnich says he was harassed, fired and offered money to stay quiet. He didn’t take it and started talking, first to KFMB and then to CNN. DeMaio says he’s the victim of a disgruntled ex-employee who has fabricated an elaborate tale after being investigated for a burglary.
But the DA decided not to prosecute the break-in and we’re back to the basics of the mystery: One of them is lying, profusely. Who?
Liam Dillon contributed to this report.