Exclusive interview, David Wu (part three): Have his former staffers been silenced?

By Carla Axtman and Kari Chisholm.

Having worked as staff (and in Kari's case, consulting) on campaigns, we came into the interview with a particular question about why his former staff and consultants - especially the ones who left shortly after the election day - haven't been willing to either defend Wu in public, or raise their concerns in a public forum.

CARLA: The difficulty has been is that there’s a sense in our district that there are questions that are not answered completely. I think more of it comes from the chattering folks in the district about what’s been going on.

You brought up the staff issue. And you talked about Lisa, who I also know. There’s a lot of folks who – the six or seven folks who’ve left aren’t really talking. I know that staff and that perhaps your consultants have either formal or informal confidentiality agreements with you.

WU: Absolutely not! Absolutely not.

CARLA: It’s totally fine with you if we approach a staff person and say, “Can we talk to you?” Is it OK for the staff to talk to us – that have left?

WU: I’m loyal to my staff. My staff are loyal to me. I don’t know if you know – but we actually have an alumni organization, if you will. We invite our former staff to come to one night of our retreat. I’m not going to tell them to talk. I’m not going to tell them not to talk. But what I can tell you is there’s no agreement with the former staff – a non-disclose, whatever, this the first I’ve heard of that. And I think – well, this is the first I’ve heard of it. I’m amazed.

CARLA: So, would you have that with a consultant? Don’t you generally have a confidentiality agreement with your consultants?

WU: I don’t have that with Lisa Grove. If I had one, I’d be surprised.

CARLA: So, it’s OK for her to talk about whatever, if I give her a call.

WU: You know, I think that people use their own discretion about what to talk about and what not to talk about. Lisa Grove will make her own decision --

KARI: As well she should.

CARLA: Correct.

WU: -- Lisa Grove will make her own decision. I like my crew. Everybody has strengths and weaknesses. I do. I like my crew. I want to wish them every success. They’re going to go on and do great things. And some of them already have. And I think others will over time.


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    The Oregonian has published the content of mail, emails, and private conversations from the Congressman’s office in an attempt to explain the departure of several staff members. The Oregonian has confirmed they have a source for this information and they have invested a lot of time attempting to corroborate the content. We also know that some of these staffers left for reasons other than that implied by the Oregonian. For a staffer, trusting the Oregonian for any reason would be risky, even to defend the Congressman.

    Lisa Grove is a well-respected political pollster, is a tough and astute political consultant, and has clients in both Oregon and Washington DC. She would know the danger of an angry client-critical email. Providing the alleged Grove email to the Oregonian was harmful to her for obvious reasons. I suspect her confidence was betrayed by a colleague. I certainly trust both Kari and Carla but I can understand being reluctant to let this email have any more attention.

    We know that Grove was living on a small island in the middle of the Pacific at the time. Her knowledge of any events would have been second-hand information. The Grove quote in the Oregonian is alleged to be directed to colleagues and not to staffers (a curious change of wording) and it references prior conversations. The Oregonian is not likely to let us see this email because it would reveal the recipients and the existence of a thread of emails but it would help us understand what Grove had been told and by whom.

    According to the Oregonian, the informant chooses to remain anonymous for obvious reasons. I would generally support whistle blowers but I am uncomfortable with seeing only uncorroborated allegations that have been anonymously selected to bring harm to the Congressman at the expense of harming a colleague.

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      ...all of which is why we asked the specific question of whether his former staffers and consultants are under a legal obligation to remain silent.

      In addition to dismissing that scenario, Wu made it clear that - as far as he's concerned - they're welcome to talk to the press, at their discretion.

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        In addition to dismissing that scenario, Wu made it clear that - as far as he's concerned - they're welcome to talk to the press, at their discretion.

        ...and commit career suicide.

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          Maybe, but they might still talk off the record. What we know now is that they're not going to get sued.

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          Well, that all depends. If one person comes forward and makes allegations while the others stay silent: yes. But if several come forward together, that's not committing career suicide. In fact, it would likely be incredibly an incredibly powerful statement and a good warning shot across the bow that bad behavior won't be tolerated.

          If an entire group of people know that they won't be in legal jeopardy for speaking out, that removes a key barrier.

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    A staffer who betrays confidences to the media can kiss any further career as a staffer (for anyone) good-bye.

    It isn't an issue of some NDA agreement, it is simple professional relationship dynamics.

    Would you bring someone in who has, to work for you who has, through back-channels, proven themselves as handing over embarrassing photos, emails, relaying of conversations, on their resumé?

    I know I wouldn't hire a single staffer who Wu sent that email too unless they could 100%, conclusively prove it wasn't them and prove who actually did do it.

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      Mitchell, I agree 100%. Being a political staffer requires a lot of skills including (depending on your boss) a little or a lot of discretion. Your career in that line of work depends on your reputation for being able to do your job well, and not embarrass your boss -- not with your behavior, and not with your talking about his/her behavior.

      And bonus points for being able to defend with a straight face whatever your boss has said or done.

      No staffer (other than one on the brink of retirement, or with a massive book advance, or with some other golden parachute) is going to carry tales on their boss, short of a subpoena, and maybe not even then. (A great example of this sort of fall-on-your-sword loyalty is Josh Steiner's "I lied to my diary" explanation for what might have looked like incriminating comments found in that document.)

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    Good coverage, and kudos on getting the interview. But this question is pointless. No respectable staffer dishes to the press. Doesn't matter how much Wu blesses them to speak freely. Unless he asked them to bury a hooker in the desert (and the O can prove it), they aren't going to say a word. Hopefully there is nothing beyond what has been reported to dish. But the whole situation reminds me of Rep. Karen McCarthy (KC, MO) before she entered rehab and was eventually diagnosed with a bipolar disorder and early onset alzheimer's. Her behavior was certainly more erratic and her staff turnover much greater, I'm not implying a direct parallel. But it's worth noting that not a single staffer badmouthed her to the press, they just moved on.

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