Gibbons: Rumors versus reality

“Governor, don’t you think, if the Democrats could get good coverage out of the Wall Street Journal by paying for it, they might spend the money on a little higher-value target than the Governor of Nevada?”
—MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann

First there’s the absurd Reno Gazette-Journal story regarding Gov. Jim Gibbon’s loony theories about Wall Street Journal reporters in cahoots with Democrats. Then there’s the cynical response: The Wall Street Journal wouldn’t take money from Democrats because the paper leans to the pro-business right.

“I find it hard to imagine that anyone paid the Wall Street Journal to fabricate stories about the governor,” Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, a Vegas Democrat, told the RG-J’s Ray Hagar. “The Wall Street Journal is generally considered a conservative newspaper, perhaps run by Republicans and not Democrats.”

I guess readers now expect that reporters at respectable newspapers are on the take or have allegiances other than to truthful public discourse. How sad.

The idea of a newspaper reporter taking bribes for stories, whether from businesses, political parties or federal government agencies, repulses me. Perhaps that’s because I know people who’ve chosen to be journalists—doggedly pursuing facts—when they could have quintupled their incomes by going into P.R. or advertising.

Call me an idealist, but I still appreciate good old muckraking when I see it. Whether it’s the Los Angeles Times digging up Sen. Harry Reid’s conflicts of interest in 2003—or the Wall Street Journal’s intrepid reporter John R. Wilke on Gibbons’ trail.

With Gibbons, there’s plenty to report. In November, Wilke wrote about Gibbon’s relationship with software entrepreneur and former junk-bond trader Warren Trepp, whose Reno firm eTreppid gets millions of dollars of taxpayer money. During five terms in the House, Gibbons served on the Intelligence and Armed Services committees, using his influence to award several contracts to Trepp’s company, according to records and court documents.

Perhaps there’s no harm in using an elected office to help friends get millions in no-bid federal contracts. Perhaps it’s OK for that friend to give a bit back as campaign contributions. Trepp, who made his fortune at the right hand of junk bond king Michael Milken, gave Gibbons several times Nevada’s $10,000 limit. Contribution limits were side-stepped by creating smaller entities and partnerships, each of which gave Gibbons the maximum amount on the same day in 2005 for a total of $90,000.

That’s not all. Trepp’s former business partner has testified under oath that Gibbons also took about $100,000 in suspicious undisclosed gifts of cash and casino chips from Trepp.

Two e-mails in court filings are revealing. From eTreppid exec Len Glogauer to Trepp in September 2003 (after Gibbons had helped with a contract): “Jim really hit the ground running on that one. We need to take care of him like we discussed.”

And March 2005, days before Trepp and his wife Jale embarked on a Caribbean cruise with Gibbons and wife, Dawn, Jale e-mailed her hubbie: “Please don’t forget to bring the money you promised Jim and Dawn.”

Trepp’s response: “Don’t you ever send this kind of message to me! Erase this message from your computer right now!”

Gibbons is clearly in trouble, not from Democrats but from a federal probe that’s uncovering more ugliness than fits in this column. Gibbons has hired defense attorney Abbe Lowell, who recently defended lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is in prison for fraud.

Wilke’s reporting isn’t based on rumors or innuendo. His fact-checked stories are based on congressional records, court documents and sworn testimony. The resulting stories exemplify hard work—not partisan hackery.