It wasn’t really front-page news that, 13 months after the fact, former Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch blamed fellow GOP legislators for publicizing damaging details about her affair with staffer Michael Brodkorb.
But buried in Baird Helgeson’s Jan. 27 story were 12 fascinating paragraphs of how information moves: from GOP Deputy Majority Leader Geoff Michel through DFL-affiliated p.r. exec Todd Rapp via lawyer/host Ron Rosenbaum to a (curiously unnamed) WCCO reporter, Pat Kessler.
“You could have knocked me over with a feather,” Koch told Helgeson.
How did she know? She hired the conduit, Rosenbaum!
In the piece’s wake, there’s all kinds of media deliciousness. How could Rosenbaum work both sides of the street? Why did Rapp seemingly violate the first rule of crisis consulting: don’t talk about crisis consulting? What wasn’t Rosenbaum saying when he interviewed Michel on KTLK-FM? And why does Kessler now call Koch’s version of events “false”?
Friends and associates
Rosenbaum calls himself “nothing more than a bit player in this tale.” But there were a lot of bits.
Rosenbaum the lawyer eventually represented Koch. Rosenbaum the media consultant worked with Rapp on a Canterbury Park racino. Rosenbaum the talk-show host interviewed Kessler as well as Michel. Rosenbaum the agent never formally represented Kessler — as he has Dan Barreiro, Tom Barnard and Tommy Mischke — but provided unpaid advice over the years.
Rosenbaum notes he was not acting as an attorney when, in the wake of Koch’s Dec. 15, 2011 resignation that did not disclose the affair, Rapp called seeking the name of a reporter Michel should talk to.
“We’re friends, but that’s not why he called me,” Rosenbaum. “I’d handled media for Canterbury. He knew I had personal relationships with many reporters in town.”
Rosenbaum was not paid, and did not consider Rapp a client in this case. Rapp echoed that explanation in a two-paragraph statement. Calling himself Michel’s “long-time friend,” Rapp terms any advice given a “courtesy to friends of the firm’s, not as part of a client relationship.”
Rapp would not comment on whether he got Michel’s OK to discuss crisis advice in the Strib; Michel did not return calls left at his home and workplace. But both friends talked to Helgeson, so it’s reasonable to assume Michel was OK with Rapp talking.
Rosenbaum says Rapp disclosed that “Michael Brodkorb and Amy Koch were having an affair, but I knew nothing more. I couldn’t be a source. My only message to pass on was that Geoff Michel would be available to talk.”
Kessler would not discuss who he talked to or what was said. However, he objected to the impression left by Helgeson’s story that Rosenbaum spoon-fed the scoop.
“We never discuss the sources we use for our stories,” he says, leaning on the plural.
For her part, Koch insists news of the affair was “driven by my colleagues.” However, on Dan Barreiro’s KFAN show last week, Kessler made Senate leadership’s action seem less like offense than defense.
“What do you want the senators to do, not say anything about [Koch] having an affair with a staffer, an inappropriate relationship on many levels?” Kessler asked rhetorically. “Are [senators] not supposed to say anything and let it leak out in dribs and drabs? This is the big leagues — if you’re having an affair, it’s going to come out.”
Kessler criticizes Helgeson — who offices across the State Capitol pressroom hall — for “never calling to verify what was said.” Asked why not, Helgeson deferred to his boss, political editor Patricia Lopez, who replied only, “The Star Tribune stands by its story.”
What listeners didn’t know
In what is now a much more interesting hour of radio, Rosenbaum interviewed Kessler the day after the scoop.
Rosenbaum opened his since-canceled KTLK show “Holding Court” by teasing the guy that — unbeknownst to listeners — he tipped.
“You know the reporter who broke this story? The guy who snubbed us for months? Hasn’t had the time of day for us?” Rosenbaum said of Kessler. “Now all of a sudden he gets a big scoop, and ‘Oh sure I’m available, I’ll come on.’”
After calling Koch a “classy lady,” Rosenbaum asked: “Was it a mistake on her part to lead people to believe on Thursday that she was resigning because she was going to be a lame-duck senator, and more than that, there was some talk about an illness her mother had and other things? Wouldn’t she simply have been wiser to say — lessen the impact of yesterday’s story — if she’d said, ‘I’m resigning for personal reasons?’”
Kessler: “Yes, in retrospect and in hindsight, certainly. But no one thought this would ever get out, so you get to the point if you make a calculated risk, as a politician, that no one will ever find out about this, then I suppose you could say when you’re doing this, politically [you’re] doing what you think [is] right. But as a reporter, I would think it’s much better to be transparent, and certainly by saying what she did and not saying what she didn’t, she made it a better story.”
Two weeks later, Rosenbaum interviewed the other end of the conduit, Michel.
The segment began as a defense of the interim majority leader, who by then had been blasted for lying about when he learned of the affair. (Michel said it was to protect a whistleblower.)
“Do you feel like a little bit like the victim here?” Rosenbaum asked Michel. “It’s almost seemed to me that much of the criticism, rather than being on the actual actors involved, has really centered on you.”
Rosenbaum — who, remember, learned of Brodkorb’s involvement via Rapp, acting on Michel’s behalf — then brought up the “other man”: “It’s been speculated is Michael Brodkorb, but no one has ever said that and I’m not asking that question.”
Later, Rosenbaum stated, “The part that would’ve made me angry, had I been involved — which I certainly wasn’t — when they’re confronted with inappropriate relationship in September, the only reason I take is that you had to deal in December is that nothing changed. Is that accurate?”
Rosenbaum is no stranger to transparency; I’ve talked to him many times over the years, and he’s been forthright about his interests. Listeners were well aware he flakked for racinos and had interests in many issues he covers. However — if he chose to interview Koch-saga players who benefited from his involvement — he should have told KTLK listeners that yes, he was involved.
Four months later, Rosenbaum says he got a call from former GOP gubernatorial nominee and current KTLK morning host Tom Emmer, asking if he would consider becoming Koch’s attorney.
The terrain was tricky enough that Rosenbaum says, “I hired, on my own dime, an ethics expert, because I didn’t even want the appearance of a conflict.”
That expert, Hamline emeritus law professor Joe Daly, says he told Rosenbaum to “fully disclose in writing to his client any potential conflicts.” If Koch subsequently hired Rosenbaum (which she did), Rosenbaum could represent her under the lawyers’ rules of conduct, Daly opined.
Rosenbaum was free to tell Koch about his role as Rapp’s conduit because that information was unprivileged. Koch was free to tell Helgeson anything she wanted.
When she talked, Rosenbaum was no longer Koch’s attorney. Says Rosenbaum, “On the day of her meeting with Baird, I basically told her I did not feel comfortable sitting next to her for a story where I was to be named as source, and it was better if I not represent her anymore.”
Also on hand at Koch’s home that Martin Luther King Day was Republican lawyer and blogger John Gilmore. The following day, Gilmore became Koch’s attorney, a position he currently holds.
‘Beyond misleading; false’
In his interview with Barreiro last week, Kessler has dropped the circumspection Capitol reporters normally cloak themselves in, declaring, “It’s very clear to me Amy Koch is rewriting history, putting out a narrative; in many ways, it’s beyond misleading; it’s false.”
Kessler clarifies that in using the term “false,” “I’m talking about the Amy Koch story in general. I’m not referring to the Star Tribune story.”
For her part, Koch says, “I admitted my mistakes” but adds that what she told Helgeson was “confirmed by Todd Rapp, confirmed by Ron Rosenbaum and not denied by Geoff Michel. This was driven by my colleagues. That’s what I’ve spoken about, and they didn’t deny that.”