A top aide to Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) made an unexpected appearance at a gathering of Elizabeth Warren supporters on Friday, according to a video obtained Monday by The Huffington Post.
The gathering outside Brown's campaign office in Boston was convened in response to an earlier press conference in Brown's office, where Brown repeated a charge that he's made several times in recent days against his Democratic challenger for the Senate seat. The first-term senator accused Warren of helping a major insurance company avoid paying a settlement to victims of asbestos poisoning.
Those refuting Brown's charge outside his office included Scott Curry, an organizer for an asbestos workers union, Francis Callahan, the head of a Massachusetts construction union, and David McMorris, a lawyer who specializes in litigation on behalf of asbestos victims for the Boston firm Thornton & Naumes. After the speakers reaffirmed their support for Warren, the unexpected guest, Jim Barnett, the campaign manager for Brown, chimed in.
Referring to McMorris, Barnett said, "I think he's donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Democrats." He also noted that the McMorris' firm has sued the insurance company that Warren worked for. "That's interesting," Barnett said, with a smile.
Reached by phone today, McMorris replied, "That really did not address the substance of what we said, and what we said is true: Scott Brown is twisting and misrepresenting what happened in that case."
It's unusual for a political operative to openly intervene at an opponent's press conference, but recent polls suggest that Brown's campaign needs every advantage it can get. For the last few weeks, the polls have mostly shown Warren pulling ahead of Brown, and Brown's campaign has turned increasingly combative, a strategy that may come at the cost of the nice-guy image Brown has cultivated until now. Brown's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
In their first debate on Friday, Brown tried to undermine Warren's reputation as an advocate for the underdog by highlighting her work with the insurance company, Travelers Insurance.
The next morning, at a press conference at his headquarters, Brown followed up on this line of attack by holding up a stack of papers that he said documented the $212,000 Warren had received for her work on the lawsuit.
“Now, I don’t know anybody who’s hired by an insurance company that was actually working for the victims,” Brown said.
In fact, an investigation by the Boston Globe last spring found that Warren did just that.
As the reporter, Noah Bierman, recounts, "Travelers was trying to gain permanent immunity from asbestos-related lawsuits by establishing a $500 million trust for victims." Warren was brought in to protect the trust, and her work on the case "helped preserve an element of bankruptcy law that ensured that victims of large-scale corporate malfeasance would have a better chance of getting compensated, even when the responsible companies go bankrupt."
After Warren left the case, things got more complicated. The case wended it way through the legal system, and thanks to a recent ruling, asbestos victims are still unable to access the trust fund that Warren fought to save. Warren has insisted that she didn't foresee that outcome.
At the press conference outside Brown's office, Callahan, the head of the Massachusetts Building Trade Council, offered a pointed rejoinder to Brown's accusations. Asbestos poisoning is "a horrible way to die," Callahan said. "And to have Scott Brown trying to score cheap political points on this is quite frankly disgusting to me."
Curry, the organizer, said that his father, an asbestos worker, died of asbestos poisoning. "I don't need a guy like Scott Brown talking about this or that when he really doesn't know where he's coming from," he said.