Court releases Rehberg accident report

A hotly anticipated report issued Wednesday by a Montana court on its investigation of a 2009 boating accident that badly injured Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) offered little new information on the incident.

Democrats had privately hoped for months that the report would prove politically costly to Rehberg, but little in the report is new and it did not include any statements from the congressman.

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The report comes amid a heated campaign between Rehberg and Democratic Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who are locked in a tight race that will help determine who wins the Senate majority.

It had been seen as a possible game-changer because the accident involved drinking and boating and also injured two Rehberg staffers.

The court released its probe after a judge granted a request from the government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and The Associated Press. Rehberg's campaign did not oppose the release of a redacted version of the 155-page document, but has ripped CREW as a liberal group aligned with the Democratic Party.

Rehberg, his wife, two staffers and then-state Rep. Greg Barkus (R) were injured in 2009 after Barkus ran his boat aground following a night of drinking at a Montana restaurant. One of Rehberg's staffers was put in a coma, while the congressman suffered a broken leg, fractured eye socket and cracked ribs. Barkus pleaded guilty to criminal endangerment.

The report states that Barkus had been drinking that evening, as had Rehberg and others onboard, information that has been public for some time.

Rehberg’s campaign in a statement said it supported the release of the report.

"Denny supports Judge McKeon's decision to release the report to the public, despite the fact that the group requesting its release did so for purely political purposes and has strong ties to the Democrat Party," Rehberg campaign manager Erik Iverson said in a statement.

Tester's campaign attacked Rehberg for saying shortly after the crash that he didn't know Barkus was drunk when they got on the boat despite evidence to the contrary, but the attack was mostly a rehash of previous criticism.

"This report raises more questions about Congressman Rehberg’s gross failure of accountability and his dishonesty with Montanans about what truly happened that night. Congressman Rehberg wants us to believe there were 'no signs of impairment,' but these records indicate a much different story about a night of heavy drinking," Tester spokesman Aaron Murphy said in a statement. "More importantly, Congressman Rehberg made a decision to put his two young staffers on a boat with a driver who was obviously and severely drunk — a decision that changed lives forever. That kind of personal irresponsibility has no place in Congress."

Rehberg told reporters shortly after the crash that "there were no signs of impairment" from Barkus, though others present said he'd had a few glasses of scotch and some wine and two hours after the accident his blood alcohol level was still twice the legal limit.