Politico - Hodes zeroes in on Ayotte e-mails
By: David Catanese
October 12, 2010
With polls showing him finally closing within single digits in the New Hampshire Senate contest, Rep. Paul Hodes is returning to a familiar target in his race against Republican Kelly Ayotte: her e-mail account.
Hodes is seizing on an e-mail exchange between Ayotte and her political adviser Rob Varsalone four years ago that he says shows their politicization of a murder case as they discussed her Senate ambitions.
In an initial e-mail with the subject line, “Get Ready to Run,” Varsalone explains to Ayotte the political landscape in the Granite State’s 2nd Congressional District, predicting that Rep. Charlie Bass would likely lose to Hodes.
“Have you been following the last 2 weeks?,” Ayotte responded to Varsalone on Oct. 27, 2006. “A police officer was killed and I announced that I would seek the death penalty?”
Replying the next morning to Ayotte’s state e-mail account, Varsalone wrote, “I know, I read about it. Where does AG Ayotte stand on the Death Penalty? BY THE SWITCH.”
Hodes brought up the e-mail exchange in a debate with Ayotte Monday, and asked whether she thought it was wrong to discuss the death of Manchester police officer Michael Briggs in a political context.
Ayotte said she handled the case with the “utmost integrity” and explained that deciding whether to seek the death penalty in the case of a police officer was one of the most serious decisions she ever made as attorney general.
“E-mails that were sent back and forth from someone who I have known for a long time, who is a friend, who I don’t necessarily agree with everything he wrote in the e-mail, but I can tell you that to me, the 30,000 e-mails that were produced of the time that I have served as attorney general, I’m proud of my record as attorney general,” she said. “I take my duties very seriously, and only base my decisions on the facts of the case, and feel that the appropriate thing to do in that case was how that case was pursued.”
In a post-debate appearance on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” Hodes said it was “stunning” that Ayotte would attempt to use the case of a fallen police officer to further her political ambitions.
“She wasn’t above using a murder case and a death penalty case as a springboard for her personal, political ambitions,” he said. “This is cold, this is ruthless, this is a politician who’s planning to run for years and wants the people of New Hampshire to believe she’s something else.”
The Hodes campaign, which is calling on Ayotte to remove Varsalone from her campaign and plans to continue to hammer the issue, contends the e-mails are even more relevant because Ayotte uses the death penalty case in her television ads to promote her candidacy.
“Justice was done. And Kelly’s the one who did it,” says Briggs’s mother, Maryann Briggs, in an ad that ran in August.
Earlier this summer, the Hodes campaign attempted to make an issue out of other Ayotte e-mails related to Financial Resources Mortgage (FRM), accusing her of failing to detect large-scale fraud involving the company. An open records request for Ayotte’s e-mails and calendars related to the case proved unsuccessful because much of the records were deleted. The legality of deleting e-mails in the state attorney general’s office is now the subject of a state lawsuit.
A Rasmussen Reports survey of 750 likely voters released Monday showed Ayotte holding a 7-point lead over Hodes.