(Updated 3:52 p.m.) The attorney hired by Chris Donovan’s congressional campaign to do an internal investigation concluded Thursday that Donovan did not trade his influence as speaker for campaign donations.
At a press conference at his law offices in downtown Hartford, former U.S. Attorney Stanley Twardy, said his investigation found no evidence of any illegal donations made to the campaign other than the $20,000 that lead to the arrest of Donovan’s former finance director.
Donovan, a Democrat, is vying for the open 5th Congressional District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, who is running for U.S. Senate.
Donovan’s campaign hired Twardy on June 1 to conduct the investigation after learning that Robert Braddock Jr., Donovan’s former campaign finance director, had been arrested by the FBI and charged with concealing the source of $20,000 in campaign donations from donors seeking to influence roll-your-own cigarette legislation. Braddock’s attorney has repeatedly said his client is innocent. A hearing in the case has been postponed until July 20.
As for the internal investigation, Twardy said “there could be a hole” because he was unable to interview everyone involved, but “again based upon many years of experience when you do these internal investigations . . . you generally find that there is widespread wrongdoing.” He said that’s not the case with this investigation.
“Emails have put many, many people in jail. We have no emails that show any conspiracy here,” Twardy told the news media.
It’s possible some emails were missed or the campaign staff was savvy enough not to use email to communicate, but Twardy said “it’s highly unlikely there’s anything else out there.”
“No rock was left unturned on this one,” Twardy said.
He said the delay in the report’s completion came about after they discovered that Google mail accounts will, after certain period of time, abbreviate messages. So they had to go back and make sure they didn’t miss anything.
Twardy interviewed Donovan and 12 former and current campaign aides, but was unable to interview the three individuals fired as a result of the federal investigation. Lawyers for Braddock Jr., the former campaign finance director, Josh Nassi, the former campaign manager, and Sara Waterfall, the former deputy finance director, declined interviews for Twardy’s investigation. A lawyer for Laura Jordan, Donovan’s attorney in the General Assembly, also declined to allow his client to be interviewed.
Ray Soucy, who has been identified by news organizations as co-conspirator 1 in Braddock’s arrest affidavit, also was not interviewed.
Twardy did not ask Soucy for an interview because he was hired to do “an internal investigation.” Soucy was the union representative who helped bundle the straw donations, according to Braddock’s arrest affidavit.
According to Twardy’s report:
“In the fall of 2011, Donovan met for breakfast with two individuals whom he understood to own RYO smoke shops, but whom he had never met before. The breakfast meeting was arranged by Ray Soucy, who supported the Campaign Committee and who had known Donovan for a long period of time. During that meal, these individuals explained the tax issue then pending in the Superior Court. Apparently, that was the first time Donovan learned about the RYO issue. Individuals who owned such smoke shops subsequently donated money to the Campaign Committee. Donovan believes the donors included the two individuals he met for breakfast, but does not know for sure.”
Twardy and nine members of his staff went through 140,000 emails from Donovan’s campaign, 25,000 emails from his legislative office, and 41,000 electronic files on Braddock’s computer. They also looked at Donovan’s personal iPhone and iPad, including his text messages.
“The campaign committee gave us unfettered access to its employees, documents, and electronically stored materials in its custody or control and Donovan gave us access to his legislative office,” Twardy said. “We found no evidence to suggest Donovan had any involvement of or knowledge in the alleged conduit contributions, or any quid pro quo arrangement regarding the roll-your-own or other legislation.”
Twardy said they also discovered that, as Donovan has previously admitted, he didn’t like being involved in the fundraising. However, Donovan did receive weekly emails advising him of campaign donations ranging from $10 to $2,500.
From July 1, 2011, to May 31, 2012, a total of 8,122 people contributed to Donovan’s campaign. Of those, 211 gave $1,000 or more, including 79 who gave $2,500 or more. A forensic investigation of the donations was done by the accounting firm of Blum Shapiro, Twardy said.
Twardy pointed out that Donovan demonstrated an understanding of compliance with the rules regarding straw donors. In an email dated Feb. 23, 2012, someone who had bundled some donations asked if he could simply put the full amount on his credit card. Donovan emailed Waterfall and instructed her to “educate the donor” about how to properly attribute each contribution.
One of the documents recovered from campaign headquarters was an undated, handwritten list of seven bills that were introduced by the legislature in 2012. The note was written on a piece of paper emblazoned with “ChrisDonovanforCongress.com,” and according to Twardy the list included four House bills and three Senate bills, including the RYO legislation. Twardy was reluctant to agree to share the paper with the media and could not recall the other bill numbers that appeared on the page.
“I don’t know what the U.S. Attorney’s office would want done with something like that,” Twardy said. “That’s a specific document, and I’m avoiding releasing any documents here because you don’t want things to get out there from an investigatory point of view. You don’t want to people to have the ability to refresh their memories before you interview them, and you also don’t want them to be confused about what they’ve read as opposed to what they remember.”
“Donovan, who said he had not seen this page before we showed it to him, identified the handwriting as Nassi’s,” Twardy’s report states.
But none of the evidence he reviewed shows there any indication that Donovan wasn’t telling the truth when he said he had no knowledge of the illegal contributions or was involved in quid pro quo arrangements, Twardy said.
He declined to comment about whether the results of his investigation places pressure on the U.S. Attorney’s office to announce whether it is building a case against Donovan. He said he’s not going to speak about the political aspects of the case.
However, three of the four Republicans vying for the same congressional seat aren’t willing to believe that Donovan, who has not been named in the federal investigation, has no knowledge of what was going on in his campaign.
“Whether subsequent legal proceedings in connection with the arrest of Donovan’s campaign finance director reveal that Donovan did or did not know of the alleged illegal activity, neither outcome will reflect well on Chris Donovan,” Sen. Andrew Roraback said. “If it is shown he knew of the activity, it makes him unfit as a candidate for Congress. If it is proven he had no knowledge of the alleged illegal activity, it calls into question the manner in which he is conducting his campaign and his abilities to give a kind of focused attention, which will be required to find solutions for the many complex challenges facing the 5th District and our nation.”
Mark Greenberg, another Republican in the race, said Twardy’s report is “incomplete.”
“Much of the important relevant information was not forthcoming, and the investigation was hampered by the inability of Mr. Twardy to interview or receive documents from the principles in this scandal,” Greenberg said. “People who commit crimes are not often reckless enough to leave a paper or email trail — the absence of such documentation is not surprising and accordingly, the ‘independent’ investigation is certainly not conclusive.”
Justin Bernier, another Republican candidate, put the words “independent investigation” in quotes.
“Chris Donovan today put a paid lawyer in front of the media to proclaim him innocent before the justice system has spoken,” Bernier said in a statement. “This dog-and-pony show is just the latest insult to those of us who are disgusted with the political corruption in this state.”
Meanwhile, the two Democratic candidates challenging Donovan in the Aug. 14 primary, said the report leaves too many unanswered questions.
“For example, key Donovan staff members could not be interviewed on advice of their attorneys,” Dan Roberti, said in a statement. “Also, while Mr. Twardy did interview Chris Donovan, no transcript is available of their discussion. Notes from their meeting should be released so that the public can have an accounting of what questions were asked of Mr. Donovan, and how he responded.”
Roberti also called on Donovan to answer questions about his meeting with RYO investors in the fall of 2011.
“Mr. Donovan needs to answer questions regarding the substance of that meeting,” Roberti said.
Elizabeth Esty, who has been fairly reserved about Donovan’s predicament, said the reason the FBI initiated the investigation still hasn’t been revealed.
“A narrow look at the Speaker’s fundraising activity, a review to be paid for by the Speaker’s campaign committee and that failed to speak with anyone implicated in the alleged scheme, leaves far too many questions unanswered,” Esty said. “As the Donovan campaign report itself admits in its conclusion, their review and investigation was understandably limited in scope and nature, since the authorities are conducting an ongoing investigation. I am confident the FBI will carry out its investigation to the fullest extent possible.”
But at the moment Donovan is breathing a little more easily and looking forward to talking about other issues.
“I am very happy that Attorney Twardy’s investigation is complete, and the results and his statements speak for themselves,” Donovan said in a statement. “I am looking forward to continuing my conversation with the voters of the 5th district about the issues that matter to them – protecting Medicare and Social Security from Republican attacks, bringing great jobs with good salaries and solid benefits to the families of the district, and protecting access to quality, affordable health care for every man, woman, and child in Connecticut.”