Federal grand jury seizes disputed ATP documents

The Montana Commissioner of Political Practices says a federal grand jury has subpoenaed documents formerly belonging to a consultant working for the conservative group American Tradition Partnership. Commissioner Jim Murry revealed the subpoena in response to a state District Judge’s request for the documents earlier this week.

The so-called “Colorado Documents” made national news after being prominently featured by the PBS program “FRONTLINE.”

The two boxes of documents involved in this grand jury subpoena originally made their way to the Montana Political Practices Commissioner from what’s been described as a “meth house” in Colorado. The boxes contain documents that PBS “FRONTLINE” and the website ProPublica say show potential illegal coordination between conservative candidates in Montana and the nonprofit advocacy group American Tradition Partnership or ATP. The documents also contain information about donors to ATP.

The group has gained notoriety in the last few years for successfully challenging a number of Montana’s campaign finance laws and for sending out advertising against Democratic and moderate Republican candidates.

An ATP consultant, Christian Lefer, claimed the documents were his, stolen out of his wife’s car in Denver.

Earlier this week, District Judge Nels Swandal directed Political Practices Commissioner Jim Murry turn over the documents to his court.

Judge Swandal says the documents clearly appear to be stolen property and are thus evidence in the investigation of that Denver car theft. Furthermore, Judge Swandal accuses Commissioner Murry of giving the documents to national news media in an “apparent effort to embarrass certain candidates on the eve of the 2012 election.”

“I think Judge Swandal was trouble that not only the commissioner of political practices would keep it a secret that he had them but he would turn the documents over to the public without so much as warning the Lefer’s that he was going to do that,” said Missoula attorney Quentin Rhoades, who represents Christian Lefer in this case.

But after Judge Swandal’s Tuesday request for the documents, commissioner Murry said in a Thursday statement he could not provide them. Murry told the judge they had been taken on Wednesday by Federal Authorities under a grand jury subpoena.

Attorney Quentin Rhoades says that seems oddly coincidental that “the day after the Commissioner of Political Practices receives the order from an experienced and well respected state court judge that suddenly a federal subpoena appears on his desk.”

Political Practices Commissioner Jim Murry is not providing comment on the case. And federal grand jury documents are confidential, so no comment from the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Rhoades says Democratic political interests are mounted against his clients. He says further release of the Colorado documents could cause irreparable harm to his clients and American Tradition Partnership.

“What the donors to American Tradition Partnership wish to remain is anonymous and if that cannot be guaranteed then the donors are going to be a lot more reluctant to give to American Tradition,” he said.

In response to saying the documents themselves that have been made public through the Frontline program do show evidence of coordination, particularly of some conservative legislative candidates in the state of Montana, Rhoades said,“that’s simply false, and you can’t point me to any documents, any evidence of that. I’ll challenge you, send me one, and if you can I’ll be happy to look at it. But I’ve looked at all the documents that Pro-Publica and Frontline put on the internet. They don’t prove anything.”

At least two Republican Montana Lawmakers disagree with Rhoades. Kalispell Senator Bruce Tutvedt and Big Timber Representative John Esp have filed complaints with the Political Practices office, saying the “Colorado Documents” do show coordination between ATP and their primary opponents.

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