Muddy waters still murky as some details change in retellings of New York meeting between Comer and his accuser
05/15/2015 09:53 PM
One of the key components of Republican gubernatorial candidate James Comer’s deflection of allegations that he was abusive to a former girlfriend more than two decades ago was that the two stayed on good terms and even met up when Comer was on a legislative trip in New York City in 2001.
But in instances over the past two weeks in which he has told that story, some details of the meeting have changed.
Further adding to the murkiness, Comer and his former girlfriend, Marilyn Thomas, disagree over how Thomas delivered to Comer a memoir with an inscription by former Connecticut Gov. Lowell Weicker, who told Pure Politics he opened his family’s home to Thomas for two years as she worked for U.S. Tobacco and World Wrestling Entertainment.
Thomas told The Courier-Journal she did not hand-deliver the book but rather mailed it to Comer. She did not explain why she gave him the book. He said she delivered it in person while he was in New York for a legislative conference and, in retellings after his initial press conference May 5, that the two caught up for three hours in the hotel lobby in which he stayed.
Neither Comer nor Thomas commented for this report, but Comer’s campaign sent a statement in response to a list of questions from Pure Politics.
“(Thomas) told Commissioner Comer in June of 2001 at the KY FFA Convention that she lived near New York City and Commissioner Comer told her that he was scheduled to be in NYC in early August,” Comer campaign manager Edwin King wrote in the email to Pure Politics.
“She said she would look him up. She came to the Marriott where he was staying sometime during the conference during the late afternoon/early evening time and visited Commissioner Comer in a restaurant/bar area outside the lobby. They had a friendly conversation that lasted several hours and she gave him the book signed by Lowell Weicker.”
Thomas did not return calls and electronic messages seeking comment. Comer declined an on-camera interview Thursday.
The saga threatens to erode Comer’s credibility with voters in a key stretch of the gubernatorial campaign that polls show is a toss-up.
Comer has remained close in a competitive primary election battle with Louisville investment manager Matt Bevin, former Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner and former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott.
Pure Politics received through an open records request travel records including dining, lodging and transportation receipts approved for Comer by the Legislative Research Commission in 2001, but they don’t provide any more information other than to show that Comer was in New York for the American Legislative Exchange Council conference from July 31, 2001, to Aug. 5, 2001.
Pure Politics also reviewed statements from Comer about the New York trip and interviewed Weicker and House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, a Comer supporter named by the candidate in his press conference and in a text message to Pure Politics, in an attempt to shape a clearer picture of exactly what did or did not happen nearly 14 years ago.
Weicker, reached by phone Thursday, said Thomas had a room in his family’s home for two years while she worked in Greenwich, Conn, for U.S. Tobacco and WWE. In exchange, the 83-year-old said Thomas watched the home and his four young children while he and his wife traveled to the nation’s capital for his year-round work with a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit.
“Marilyn was a perfectly decent person, did a great job for us,” said Weicker, who served as a Republican in Congress from 1969 to 1989 before winning a single term as an independent governor in 1990.
He could not recall how Thomas delivered the book to Comer or that he even signed the memoir — “I’d sign the book for whoever wanted it,” he said — but Weicker said Thomas did not discuss her and Comer’s past relationship.
“I don’t even remember Mr. Comer,” said Weicker, who wrote in a postscript to his inscription in Comer that he was “trying to get Marilyn out of my house and back to Kentucky so she can vote for you.”
That inscription first emerged during Comer’s May 5 press conference when he denied all Thomas’ accusations. He said they caught up at a Future Farmers of America conference in Lexington in 2001, weeks before the legislative conference in New York.
After learning she lived in Connecticut, Comer said he told her, “Well that’s interesting, I’m going to New York City in three weeks for the National Conference of State Legislatures.”
The two exchanged cell phone numbers, he said, and she eventually called him and met him at “the little restaurant area” of the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. That’s where Comer said he received Weicker’s memoir.
But after checking NCSL records, Pure Politics found the group’s 2001 summer meeting was held in San Antonio, Texas. Pure Politics sent Comer a text message about the apparent discrepancy hours after the press conference ended.
“It might have been the ALEC conference then?” Comer wrote in response. “Either way, half the general assembly was there. Hoover, etc.”
Hoover, who spoke with Pure Politics after Comer supporters held a rally on the steps of the Capitol on Wednesday, said he couldn’t recall which legislators even attended the 2001 ALEC conference when asked whether he remembered Comer received a gift while in New York.
“I wasn’t even really sure that I attended until you did the open records request or somebody did an open records request and I saw that I had turned in a voucher,” he said, noting he trusts Comer’s word. “I know my wife and I went, but I didn’t even know what year it was so that tells you what I recall about it.”
Comer’s campaign did not respond to a question on whether the candidate spoke about or shared the memoir with anyone at the conference.
The morning after Comer’s press conference he went on The Joe Elliott Show on 970 AM. Comer then began referring to the ALEC conference and also added a new detail to his meeting with Thomas, saying the two met and spoke for three hours.
“She drove a 100-mile round trip to come see me,” Comer said on the radio program. “Sat down, we talked for three hours. It was a great conversation. We laughed. She gave me a book from the person she was working for at the time.”
During a Kentucky Sports Radio debate later that morning, Comer first said his accuser sent him the book and then changed that to say she brought the memoir to him.
“She sent me a gift,” Comer started. “She came to New York City when I was in New York City to visit me, brought me a gift. That’s not the behavior of someone that would be treated the way she claimed I treated her.”
Comer’s campaign did not respond to a request for an explanation of the candidate’s initial response during the Kentucky Sports Radio debate.
In an interview with The Cincinnati Enquirer’s editorial board that week, Comer said the two met in the hotel’s lobby.
“We talked for three hours in the lobby of the … Marriott in Times Square,” he said. “That’s where the convention was. … She was working for and living in the house with Lowell Weicker, who was then the U.S. senator from Connecticut.”
Comer’s explanation to the editorial board begins at the 14:10 mark of audio from the meeting posted by The Cincinnati Enquirer.
While Comer and his supporters have voiced optimism that Thomas coming forward with these claims just weeks before the election have only galvanized their forces and polls show a tight race down to the finish, the true impact of Thomas’ allegations of abuse and that Comer drove her to an abortion clinic will not be felt until polls close Tuesday.
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