There’s an ancient Zen riddle about the sound of one hand clapping. Or could it be the whooshing sound of Michele Bachmann’s exit from Congress?
Something happened, but we can’t hear it. There was a lawsuit, a settlement and then nothing. Neither Bachmann nor the Washington lawyers representing her 2012 presidential campaign acknowledged a thing.
Then last weekend, out of the blue, Bachmann released a statement praising the “integrity” of the woman who sued her.
No explanation. The folks in Minnesota whom Bachmann has represented since 2007 remain intentionally in the dark.
By prior agreement, the statement was conveyed “exclusively” to a single Republican website in Iowa, the home of Barbara Heki, the staffer who sued her.
Reporters who cover the actions of public officials — arguably that includes lawsuits alleging theft, coverup and slander — have run into a wall of silence around “Bachmannistan,” a term contrived by another former staffer.
Inside the information vacuum, Bachmann’s context-free praise of Heki is akin to a Zen koan, a phrase that creates a sense of mystery.
Bachmann has offered nothing, leaving all to ponder if any taxpayer, campaign or private money might have accompanied that mysterious message to the citizens of Iowa.
From a purely legal standpoint, the silence might make sense. From a political and public relations standpoint, it has been devastating for Bachmann, who recently announced her retirement at the end of this term, amid multiple investigations of her presidential campaign’s financial dealings.
Ironically, it could have been Bachmann’s propensity for secrecy that got her in trouble in the first place.
Heki, a longtime leader in a Christian home school group, discovered that a computer membership list in her possession had been compromised and used by the Bachmann campaign. Court records indicate that the incident was taken to the top, including Bachmann and Patton Boggs campaign attorney William McGinley.
Heki said she got the silent treatment and took the campaign to court.
The full explanation that Heki sought was not forthcoming — or not forthcoming enough, until last week.
Former Bachmann staffer Peter Waldron, an evangelist who took up Heki’s cause, says Bachmann and her lawyers could have saved themselves a lot of trouble if they had done the “Christian” thing and told Heki what she wanted to know.
The full story of the list is still in dispute — and the subject of a police investigation.
Meanwhile, the silence has festered into rancor, sparking accusations of broader ethical and financial transgressions now being unwound by an alphabet soup of agencies, from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), to the FBI.
Ultimately, all that trouble can be traced to a seemingly trifling legality: The campaign’s insistence that Waldron and others sign confidentiality agreements to get final paychecks.
Waldron refused. And from the tatters of an unsigned nondisclosure agreement, a whistleblower was born.
In the aftermath of the lawyerly statement on Heki, Waldron is one of the few people left talking.
“If it had happened and [the campaign] paid the Iowa staff in 2012, there would be no lawsuit, no FEC complaint, no OCE investigation, no Iowa Senate Ethics Complaint and no FBI,” he said.
Perhaps the answer to the Zen riddle is that things left unsaid tend to linger.