House Speaker Chris Donovan maintained he did nothing wrong Sunday during an appearance on WFSB’s “Face the State.” It’s a statement he’s echoed for the past week as he’s faced questions about the federal undercover investigation which led to the arrest of his campaign finance director.
During the approximately 15-minute interview with Dennis House, Donovan talked about how the people he had trusted let him down.
“It was like a punch in the stomach,” he said.
Donovan’s official statement to the media last Sunday came after he fired the people involved including Robert Braddock Jr., the 33 year old finance director who was charged with conspiracy to conceal the names of donors seeking to influence legislation, Josh Nassi, the campaign manager and longtime friend who has been identified as co-conspirator 3, and Sara Waterfall, the deputy finance director, who has not been named or charged in the federal investigation.
“I really can’t talk about the investigation but I was disappointed in people that I placed trust in and I took immediate action to remove them from the campaign,” Donovan said.
Donovan also hired former U.S. Attorney Stanley Twardy to conduct an independent investigation of the campaign’s finances.
Donovan maintained he did not know that some members of his staff were allegedly seeking to trade his influence as speaker for $20,000 in campaign donations. As soon as he discovered it, he said he fired them.
House asked about why he waited until four days after the federal investigation was released to the press to offer an explanation for how something like this could have happened. Republican lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy called on Donovan to offer an explanation.
“I had to right the ship, I had to start an investigation and I had get things back on track,” Donovan said.
He said after last Sunday’s news conference he received a call from Malloy thanking him for holding the press conference.
“He said it was the right thing to do,” Donovan recalled.
But how much Donovan knew and when he knew it has been the subject of endless editorials and opinion columns in newspapers across the state for the past week.
At one point House tried to gauge Donovan’s involvement with the day-to-day operations of the campaign by asking the question, “How many paid employees does the campaign have?”
Donovan: I really don’t have that number right now, but its I don’t know…
House: 5, 10, 20?
Donovan: I’d say 5 to 10. Somewhere in there.
Dennis: So it’s a small group?
Donovan: We have some field staff right now and we have others as well.
House: How involved are you in the day-to-day management of the campaign?
Donovan: I have a campaign manger. My job is to go meet the people, talk to the people. That’s my job.
Donovan Campaign Manager Tom Swan said in a phone interview Sunday that’s exactly the answer he wants to hear from his candidate.
The show is taped on Thursdays and Swan said Donovan would have no idea where Swan was with hiring and firing staff or which person was a vendor, consultant, or volunteer.
“It was a ridiculous question,” Swan said.
He said the campaign has seen major growth over the past few weeks and there could be 100 volunteers in an office at any given time. He said Donovan doesn’t know which ones are being paid and which ones are volunteers.
“It’s a very fluid number,” Swan said.
“The mail vendor, pollster, and media guy are not staff per say and just this week we had two fellows and several interns join the campaign. I wouldn’t necessarily call them staff.”
As far as which positions will be delegated to volunteers and which will go to paid staffers, Swan said it‘s a matter of “form follows function.”
“I may not be running traditional campaign, but I’m not going show mine unless they show theirs,” Swan said unwilling to give away his campaign strategy to Donovan’s opponents in the primary and general election.
Swan said he thinks his candidate did a great job on the show despite some of the “gotcha” line of questioning by House, but he did misspeak at one point saying he hadn’t spoken with U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy when as of Thursday night he had in fact spoken to him. Murphy is running for the U.S. Senate and will face former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz on Aug. 14.
Donovan and Murphy spent time together this weekend too. Both appeared at an AFSCME picnic on Saturday and Netroots Nation, an annual convention of progressive bloggers in Providence, Rhode Island.
House pointed out that neither Murphy or Malloy have endorsed his campaign. Donovan told House that it’s not unusual for that to happen when there’s a primary.
Donovan faces former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty and Dan Roberti in the Aug. 14 Democratic primary. On the Republican side Sen. Andrew Roraback is the endorsed candidate and will primary Lisa Wilson-Foley, Justin Bernier, and Mark Greenberg.