In which Vance Opperman tells a tale

Vance Opperman is an extraordinarily wealthy Minneapolis businessman and former practicing attorney. He’s also an active Democrat whose financial contributions would be more than sufficient to secure him an ambassadorship to the country of his choice, though he pleads that he “will trade lutefisk for ambassadorship.” (Humor isn’t his strong point.)

City Pages reports that in 2014 he was Minnesota’s top Super PAC donor, contributing $260,000 to the WIN Minnesota Federal PAC along with such fellow advocates of good government as the American Federation of Teachers ($50,000), the Laborers Union ($80,000), and Bette Midler ($7,500). Opperman’s need to oversee his business interests may have deterred his pursuit of the ambassadorial line of work.

Twin Cities Business is a monthly magazine that Opperman holds in his MSP Communications stable. Exercising the privileges of ownership, he writes a column for the magazine. In the current (January) issue, he criticizes Senator Tom Cotton for placing a hold on the appointment of (his friend) Minneapolis attorney Sam Heins as the ambassador to Norway. Opperman depicts Senator Cotton as “the Grinch who stole the ambassador to Norway.” Why would Senator Cotton do that?

One has to bear with Opperman’s humorous musings for a while to discover why: “Senator Cotton has explained his hold to the D.C. media as attempting to force the White House to require the Justice Department to initiate criminal proceedings against the Secret Service for allegedly leaking a personnel file about a particular congressman [who was investigating the agency]. The Secretary of Homeland Security has already denied these allegations. The White House has indicated that it has no interest in seeking criminal prosecution for the very people who defend the president’s life.” Opperman concludes with a call to “all right-thinking Norwegian-Americans from Minnesota [to] start delivering to the office of Sen. Cotton (124 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510) a pound of lutefisk every day until he lifts his hold.”

Opperman, incidentally, is a vocal supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union because of its supposed devotion to civil liberties. You’d think the leaking of a congressman’s personnel file for ulterior purposes by the Secret Service would arouse his indignation, but if the authorities say it didn’t happen — a big if in this case — that is good enough for Opperman. Good enough for him in his work as a columnist for his own magazine anyway.

Opperman to the contrary notwithstanding, however, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson apologized to Chaffetz in April at the time of the incident.

Opperman to the contrary notwithstanding, the White House conceded that “significant concerns” had been raised by reports that scores of Secret Service employees accessed the Chaffetz’s unsuccessful job application in connection with his investigation of Secret Service scandals.

Opperman to the contrary notwithstanding, the DHS Inspector General subsequently confirmed the incident and found the Secret Service’s behavior to be illegal. The wrongdoing was wide and deep. The IG report detailed the Secret Service’s improper behavior and harshly criticized the agency for violating the Privacy Act of 1974. The IG report is accessible online here.

Opperman to the contrary notwithstanding, the head of the Secret Service has apologized to Rep. Chaffetz for the agency’s wrongdoing.

Opperman to the contrary notwithstanding, Jeh Johnson apologized a second time to Chaffetz for the Secret Service’s wrongdoing at the time the IG report was released.

NBC News and others reported on the release of the IG report this past October. The head of the Secret Service has “revised his account” of his role in the case. In its story, NBC News includes a link to “A long list of breaches and scandals for Secret Service under Obama.”

Hey, the job of the Secret Service is to defend the president’s life. Does Vance Opperman know about this?

Opperman simply omits the backdrop to the Chaffetz incident and the findings that confirm the scandal. The Secret Service sought to trash Chaffetz because he heads up the House Oversight Committee, which was tasked with investigating allegations (among others) that two senior Secret Service agents had spent several hours drinking before (literally) crashing into a “suspicious package” investigation being conducted in their absence on a street near the White House.

If you want to understand the story Opperman purports to address in his column, you apparently have to go to a news source like FOX News or the Washington Post or, well, Techdirt. Opperman’s implication that Senator Cotton is undermining the Secret Service in its mission to protect the president is a joke.

As I say, Opperman’s column appears in the current (January) issue of the magazine. On November 30 of last year, however, Senator Cotton lifted his hold on Heins’s appointment:

Sen. Tom Cotton said Monday that he is lifting holds on two Obama nominations, citing progress from the administration on responding to a Secret Service scandal involving a key House critic of the agency.

“The White House reached out to my office and made clear that the president understood the gravity of the violations that occurred. And in the past month the Obama administration has finally begun to take action,” the Arkansas Republican said.

Cotton’s remarks come after he said earlier this year he would block three ambassador nominations over a report that the Secrete Service leaked information about Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

The senator then placed holds on Cassandra Butts’s nomination to be ambassador to the Bahamas, Azita Raji’s nomination to be ambassador to Sweden and Samuel Heins’s nomination to be ambassador to Norway.

But he announced Monday that he is lifting his hold on Raji and Heins, saying that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had issued “disciplinary proposals” for the suspension of more than 40 lower-level officials, with proposals being prepared for senior-level officials.

“I believe both [nominees] are qualified … and we have significant interests in Scandinavia. My hope is that both nominees receive a vote in the Senate sooner rather than later,” he added.

But Cotton warned that he will continue to block Butts’s nomination because the Department of Justice has not launched a criminal investigation into the “unauthorized access and dissemination” of Chaffetz’s records.

He added that he would place additional holds on Obama nominees if the department doesn’t launch a criminal probe, if the proposed discipline of senior officials isn’t severe enough or to “again remind the White House of the seriousness of this matter.”

November 30 must have been too late to pull or revise a column set for the magazine’s January issue. And the White House must disagree with Opperman’s assessment of the situation. It apparently concedes that something happened and that a wrong has been done to Chaffetz. Indeed, Jeh Johnson apologized for it when the incident occurred and then again a second time at the time the IG report was released.

Another piece of the background to Heins’s languishing appointment is the failed nomination of George Tsunis. Now that was almost funny. Ben Whitney is an old friend and former ambassador to Norway who helped us break a story or two on Power Line when he served as Norm Coleman’s campaign manager in the fall of 2002. Ben explained in the Star Tribune:

Blame for this situation is deep, wide and bipartisan. To replace its able prior ambassador Barry White, the Obama administration senselessly [sic] nominated businessman George Tsunis, who managed in his Senate hearing to demonstrate complete ignorance of Norway and directly insult about 20 percent of Norwegian voters plus half of its ministers. Tsunis lacked the grace to abandon his appointment despite overwhelming bipartisan opposition (including most of the Minnesota congressional delegation), and the administration lacked the courage to push him out.

After an entire year, Tsunis finally threw in the towel and the administration nominated a distinguished and well-qualified Minnesota attorney and community leader in Sam Heins….

All in all, the story opens a revealing window on the Obama administration. So there is a story here, though it isn’t exactly the one Opperman chooses to tell.

This isn’t the end of the story. Heins’s appointment remains in limbo along with several others as Republican senators avail themselves of “one of the last weapons the Senate GOP can use to hit back at the administration with Democrats able to filibuster legislation and President Barack Obama wielding his veto pen.” It’s part of a larger story that is not the business of Twin Cities Business.