published Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

Tennessee GOP denies file leak


by Chris Carroll
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Chattanooga speaks at the Doubletree Hotel in Chattanooga.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Chattanooga speaks at the Doubletree Hotel in Chattanooga.
Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

WASHINGTON — The Tennessee Republican Party on Monday denied leaking in-house personnel files that benefited U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann's first campaign, new court filings show.

State party attorney Bill Outhier couldn't pinpoint the source beyond the denial.

"Your speculation is as good as mine," he said Tuesday.

Originally stored at state GOP headquarters in Nashville, the documents inspired a 2010 Fleischmann campaign ad that attacked Republican rival Robin Smith. A TV voiceover charged that Smith paid "lavish bonuses" to staffers while she was state party chairwoman and financial times were tough.

Fleischmann campaign consultant Chip Saltsman produced the ad using former Smith aide Mark Winslow's Tennessee Republican Party personnel file, which included salary information and a mutual confidentiality clause. Saltsman later said he obtained the file when an unknown source left it on his garage steps.

Winslow sued Fleischmann and Saltsman for defamation and the Tennessee Republican Party for breach of contract.

"The state party had the documents," Winslow attorney Gary Blackburn said. "They escaped to Mr. Saltsman. We still don't know how."

The ad aired late in the 2010 3rd District Republican primary race. Fleischmann beat Smith by 1,415 votes and steamrolled the Democratic nominee. He won re-election in November.

An Ooltewah attorney, Fleischmann has called Winslow's case "frivolous," but he declined to comment Tuesday. The congressman was unable to corroborate the "lavish bonuses" claim in a deposition last year.

In a separate deposition, state party chairman Chris Devaney testified the personnel documents didn't come from him or the party.

"You know, just like every document at the party -- the place is under lock and key," Devaney said. "And you know, I believe that the place is secure."

Pressed further on the Winslow files, Devaney hedged.

"I mean, a lot of this is really fuzzy," Devaney testified. "I mean, a lot of this happened ... almost two years ago."

Blackburn said Devaney and the state GOP know more than what they offered in their Monday filing.

"It's an I-know-nothing response," he said. "They don't know a lot of things they should know."

Outhier said he respectfully disagrees.

"We addressed all the allegations against the state party," he said. "We made it clear the party didn't breach any agreement."

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