Analysis: Carefully Parsed Responses Key Clue In Coleman Funding Scandal

11/30/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
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Senator Norm Coleman and his staff have been less than completely forthcoming in their responses to questions about Coleman's financial relationship with wealthy businessman Nasser Kazimny.  Court documents from a case in Texas now reveal why the campaign and Coleman may have been choosing their words so carefully.

Kaziminy is named as a defendant in a lawsuit that alleges he forced the President of a company he owns to falsify records and funnel $75,000 to Senator Coleman through Hays Companies, an insurance broker in Minneapolis and then to his wife Laurie Coleman who is listed as an employee at Hays.

You may recall that Kaziminy's name came up earlier this month in connection with allegedly buying expensive suits for Coleman.  When asked about that allegation, Coleman and his campaign gave the same carefully worded yet vague reply no matter what question was asked:

"The Senator has reported every gift he has ever received".

You can watch that same answer be given about a dozen times at a Coleman campaign news conference.  The Senator gave a similarly worded response when asked about a report in Harper's Weekly online edition that Kaziminy had purchased suits for him before he was elected Senator. 

If the allegations in the lawsuit are true, you can now see why the wording of the response is important.

First the suits.  If the information Harper's Weekly has received is true -- the DFL says a Neiman Marcus employee has corroborated the information  -- then SENATOR Coleman has reported every gift he has received.  But that leaves open the possibility that PRIVATE CITIZEN Norm Coleman has not reported those gifts.

Second the more serious allegation, that Kaziminy funneled money to Senator Coleman through an insurance company and his wife.  If this allegation is true that would explain the second part of the cryptic statement "The Senator has reported every gift he has ever received".  Senator Coleman didn't receive the money.  His wife did. 

So the question becomes, if this is all true what, if any, laws have Senator Coleman broken?  Like recently convicted Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, the crime is not taking the money.  It's not reporting the money.  But because the money was allegedly paid to Senator Coleman's wife, the exact dollar amount she makes in "salary" does not need to be reported.    And in Coleman's 2007 report, his wife was listed as an employee of Hayes insurance and indicated she received a salary.  But the disclosure did not say how much.

However, the same financial disclosure form asks about gifts, not just salary.  Senator Coleman indicated he and his spouse did not receive any "reportable gift" of more than $325.  If the money allegedly paid to Coleman's wife was a gift as the lawsuit claims, then Senator Coleman could be in legal trouble.