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Waldron says his 37-day confinement in Luzira Prison, in a suburb of the Ugandan capital of Kampala, was marked by harsh interrogation techniques he likens to “torture,” even though he has been advised not to use that word. “They were convinced I was a CIA spy sent to assassinate the president and overthrow the government,” he said.
A cause celebre
Waldron’s arrest made him a cause celebre in the Christian network back in the States. Among those who came to his defense was Twin Cities writer Dave Racer, who became Waldron’s de facto publicist, churning out news releases decrying the Ugandans’ “trumped up charges.”
Racer, who is also a close supporter of Bachmann’s, says he is now trying to stay out of their current campaign ethics standoff, which he calls a “sad thing.” But he says this about Waldron: “You wouldn’t think of Peter as your typical conservative evangelical pastor. He’s more a man of mystery and intrigue.”
By Waldron’s account, it took a call from President George W. Bush to get him out of jail. The Star Tribune has not been able to verify Bush’s direct intervention, but Racer and another associate who worked on his release say it was handled at the highest levels of government.
That associate is D.C. political consultant Bob Heckman, who had worked with Waldron on the Bauer campaign and kept high-level contacts in the Bush White House. Heckman is also the aide who brought Waldron into the Bachmann campaign in Iowa.
“Peter is a larger-than-life character,” Heckman said of Waldron. “I reached out to him because he is one of the best field people in the country. He’s as good as anyone I’ve ever worked with in interfacing with church leaders.”
Other Bachmann aides say Waldron’s role in her campaign has been overstated.
“He was just a contractor hired to do one little thing,” said campaign manager Keith Nahigian. “His only thing was minister recruitment and minister liaison, and while we had some ministers endorse, we had a lot of big ones not endorse.”
Also among Waldron’s critics is Bachmann debate coach Brett O’Donnell, a top campaign strategist whom Waldron accuses of having a “Rasputin-like” hold over the candidate.
O’Donnell, who went on to work for the Mitt Romney campaign, described Waldron as a “disgruntled employee” who apparently felt sidelined on the campaign.
Waldron’s complaint alleges that the campaign improperly dipped into money from Bachmann’s independent political organization, MichelePAC, to pay longtime fundraising consultant Guy Short and Iowa state campaign chairman Kent Sorenson for work they did on the presidential campaign.
Waldron and several other staffers also have had payments withheld until they sign confidentiality agreements. Campaign officials say such agreements are routine. They also have denied Waldron’s campaign finance allegations and raised questions about his motives.
Waldron’s backers, however, reject the narrative of Waldron as a marginalized campaign aide with a vendetta.
Prominent Nashville evangelist Paul Crites, who has known Waldron since his radio ministry days three decades ago, calls him an “old school” pastor who follows a clear moral compass.
“If you’re asking me about Peter Waldron,” Crites said, “I can tell you he’s an honorable man. But he walks to the beat of a different drummer. He’s devoted to the truth, so I’m sure he’s upset a few apple carts.”
Kevin Diaz • firstname.lastname@example.org