Mead left his job as "director of legislative outreach" after a Concord Monitor story reported that he was using his time to recruit Republicans to run for the House.
Speaker staff chief Greg Moore says he knew only that Mead was doing "Republican outreach."
Oh, that clears it up.
But O'Brien now has bigger problems. His Majority Leader, D.J. Bettencourt, has resigned in disgrace after lying about his supposed law degree. While it is unclear just what the Speaker knew about this fiasco and when, he might do his party and the House a favor by reflecting on his own future as a leader.
What a breathtaking and outrageous series of events at the New Hampshire House.
On Friday, D.J. Bettencourt, the second-ranking member of the House leadership, abruptly announced plans to resign in early June, citing family and career obligations.
On Saturday, Chichester Rep. Brandon Giuda told reporters Bettencourt's explanation was a fabrication. In fact, he said, Bettencourt had been pressured into quitting after Giuda confronted him over falsifying reports about a law school internship that he never actually performed - intending to get fraudulent credit toward graduation from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and, presumably, become a member of the New Hampshire Bar.
By noon on Sunday, Bettencourt acquiesced to Giuda's demand that he quit the House immediately - or risk Giuda's making public Bettencourt's fraudulent reports. Bettencourt admitted that he had misrepresented his work and, finally, apologized for it.
Bettencourt's swift public disgrace is all the more astonishing when you consider that this young leader had spent much of his brief tenure schooling others on matters of legal rectitude, civility and purportedly high-minded ethics. (Earlier this month, Bettencourt questioned attorney Jim Bassett's qualifications for the state Supreme Court. And just last week, no doubt while trying mightily to tamp down the looming scandal, he rounded up dozens of state lawmakers to join him in righteously denouncing a newspaper cartoon.)
Ironies abound but, more important, so do questions - chiefly for House Speaker Bill O'Brien. It may well be too late for him to hold onto his leadership perch after the next election. If he has any hope of regaining order in the House, let alone the respect of the legislators who put him in charge, he will need to speak clearly, quickly and honestly about what he knew and when he knew it. Specifically:
- Was Bettencourt's pending job at the New Hampshire Legal Rights Foundation, a nonprofit legal advocacy group founded by O'Brien, arranged before O'Brien learned of Bettencourt's lies - or after the fact?
- It appears that O'Brien heard Giuda explain Bettencourt's fraud and was nonetheless willing to go along with the ruse that Bettencourt was leaving to take a job with the foundation. Was this an attempt to shield legislators and voters from the truth?
- Why didn't O'Brien demand an immediate resignation from Bettencourt?
- And when O'Brien heard Bettencourt's initial public explanation, was he troubled? If Giuda hadn't blown the whistle, would Bettencourt have avoided public scrutiny?
- Will the legal foundation continue to employ Bettencourt?
There are questions, too, for Dean John Broderick at the law school. Academic records and disciplinary proceedings are typically confidential, yet Broderick must find a way to address the scandal. Somehow the school managed to take Bettencourt's word for it that he had completed an 11-week internship with Giuda's law office. Is there no verification process? Had Giuda not been suspicious, would Bettencourt have gotten away with it?
Even without the faked internship reports, Bettencourt hadn't finished the required credits he needed to graduate - and yet he was allowed to appear to be graduating. Is that kosher? Will Bettencourt get a second chance - or has he forfeited his chance for a degree?
Bettencourt has long seemed like a young man in far too much of a hurry. Arrogant and full of partisan bluster, he and O'Brien have run roughshod over the most basic traditions of the House: respect for minority opinions, respect for the committee process, respect for the rules of parliamentary procedure.
This transgression is of an entirely different dimension. Already, O'Brien's foes are characterizing it as part of a pattern of corruption. As young journalists are often taught, the cover-up is often worse than the crime. The House and the public deserve answers quickly.
The first thing that struck the Portsmouth Herald editorial board last week when disgraced House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt came in with Speaker Bill O'Brien for a meeting was his youth.
At 28, he was the youngest House majority leader in the state's history and he looks his age. The most memorable comment he made was that he was graduating from the University of New Hampshire School of Law with $140,000 in debt.
Our overall impression was that he and Speaker O'Brien told the Herald editorial board a lot of half truths and that both simply refused to take responsibility for leading the House's turn to the ideological right wing of the GOP.
Given his combination of youth, debt and an inability to tell the truth, it is not surprising that Bettencourt has fallen hard after just a short time in power. And we expect that O'Brien will be tumbling after him following this November's general election. People who exercise dictatorial authority can quickly rise to power, but their falls are as inevitable as they are spectacular.
For those of you who might have been camping and unplugged from the news over Memorial Day weekend, Bettencourt announced Sunday that he will resign from the House immediately, after falsifying academic records submitted to the UNH School of Law.
Bettencourt had approached a fellow Republican lawmaker, Brandon Giuda, and told him he didn't have enough credits to graduate and needed an internship. Giuda gave him that internship but Betterncourt proved a no show, then lied about it to UNH. "I will never cover for a dishonest person," Giuda said.
Speaker O'Brien is trying his best to control the damage.
In an e-mail to the Republican Caucus sent at 10:57 p.m. Sunday, O'Brien wrote: "Now we are left with the consequences of this event. There will be those that say that D.J.'s failure and his resignation characterize our current majority. Others will say it characterizes the leadership of our caucus. Neither is true."
Actually, both are true.
They've lied about why they really cut the cigarette tax and lied about the $10 million financial hit the state has taken.
They lied about New Hampshire needing Right-To-Work legislation to improve the state's business climate even though no one in the state has asked for it. At the same time, they've had the audacity to take credit for the state's near-national best employment rate.
They lied about bullying State Rep. Susan Emerson and lied about the eyewitnesses who saw them do it.
They lied about legislative efforts to gut public education by taking tax dollars from the public schools and giving them as vouchers - which they deceptively call scholarships - to families sending students to private and parochial schools.
They lied about some particularly loony Republican representatives threatening and intimidating Assistant Attorney General Matthew Mavrogeorge at a "birther" Ballot Law Commission hearing in November 2011.
They lied about needing to cut funding to the University System of New Hampshire system by 50 percent because, they claim, university leaders refuse to collaborate with them on real ways to have the university run more efficiently. We know this is not true.
They refused to tell the truth about their hands-on leadership of efforts to take away a woman's legal right to an abortion.
They lied about emptying the House gallery of pro-union forces during the state budget debate, stating they were concerned for representatives' safety, then passed a law allowing anyone to carry a handgun into the gallery. Some concerns about safety!
They lied about working collaboratively with the governor and Democrats on important issues such as the education funding constitutional amendment. Frankly, we'll take Gov. John Lynch's word on this over O'Brien's any day of the week.
They've lied and they've lied and they've lied, and now Bettencourt has fallen. Because when you tell enough lies, inevitably, you get caught.