About That Steve Scalise Story: Oops, Never Mind? [Updated]

As you undoubtedly know, liberal politicians and pundits have been hailing the claim that House Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana attended a meeting of a white supremacist group in 2002 as the biggest story since Bridgegate. Scalise himself said that he had no recollection of addressing such a meeting, but if he did it was an error in judgment for which he apologizes.

Now it turns out that the alleged incident may never have happened at all. To back up: the claim is that Scalise addressed a meeting of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO) at the Landmark Best Western Hotel in Metairie, Louisiana in 2002. EURO was a tiny group associated with David Duke, who by 2002 was political poison. (He pled guilty to tax evasion and mail fraud in December 2002 and served time in prison.) At the time, Scalise was a state legislator and was going around speaking to various local civic groups about a tax proposal in Louisiana’s legislature.

The man who arranged Scalise’s appearance at the Metairie Hotel now says that the report is simply wrong. Scalise didn’t address the EURO conference, but rather an equally small meeting of the Jefferson Heights Civic Association that was held in the same hotel conference room, earlier in the day:

[Kenny] Knight said he rented and paid for the hotel conference room for the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, a group founded by Duke. Since he had already paid for the space, Knight said, he decided to also hold his local civic association meeting at the Metairie hotel. He stressed that the two gatherings were not connected.

“Steve Scalise did not address a EURO conference. … The conference was two-and-a-half hours later,” Knight said. …

Knight said Scalise, then a state representative, spoke to the civic association and was probably unaware the EURO conference was being held in the same room later that day. Knight and Scalise primarily knew each other as neighbors and not through politics necessarily, Knight said.

“The conference wasn’t going to start until 1 p.m., so I decided to have the members of the civic association there Saturday morning,” he said, “My relationship with Steve Scalise was as a neighbor. I don’t know that Steve Scalise and I ever talked about politics.”

Knight said about 18 members of the civic association showed up for the meeting, where Scalise spoke on a piece of tax legislation working its way through the Louisiana Legislature. A few people who arrived early for the EURO conference were also in the room and may have made the forum post that White discovered, Knight said. A member of the local Red Cross also spoke at the local civic association meeting that day, Knight said.

“There were not (EURO) signs. There were not banners” at the civic association meeting, Knight said.

Knight said he was not a member of EURO and did not arrange for any speakers at the 2002 conference, he said. He only booked and paid for the room as a favor to Duke, a personal friend whose campaigns he had worked on in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Knight’s then-girlfriend Barbara Noble, who was present at the event, agrees that Scalise spoke to the Jefferson Heights Civic Association, not EURO.

It remains to be seen how this will play out, but the facts that have emerged highlight how silly the whole controversy is. Politicians address all kinds of organizations; their staffers–at the time, Scalise had a single aide–line up engagements for them. It is conceivable that Scalise could have been scheduled to give a talk on a local tax proposal to a group that turned out to be unsavory, but so what? That is akin to President Obama having his photograph taken with a convicted child molester. It makes for a fun “gotcha,” but doesn’t tell us anything about Scalise or Obama. No one claims that Scalise was a member of EURO or has ever expressed any “white supremacist” views; in fact, any such claim would be as absurd as the assertion that Obama approves of child molestation.

It is no surprise that Democrats in Congress and the media, reeling from November’s election, tried to make a major story out of Scalise’s 2002 speech. It is more concerning, in my view, that some conservatives have seized on the story to attack John Boehner. The next two years are shaping up as a critical time for conservatives, and the last thing we need is a circular firing squad.

UPDATE: EURO put out a press release the day before the “workshop” that listed scheduled speakers. Scalise was not one of them. It appears that the Scalise “scandal” is going the way of the University of Virginia rape story.

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