(Daily Montanan) Republican legislative leadership on Monday approved a special counsel investigation proposed by state Democratic leaders into reports that Attorney General Austin Knudsen used state resources, including law enforcement, to harass and intimidate physicians and staff at St. Peter’s Hospital in Helena.
“Speaker (Wylie) Galt and I strongly believe in government transparency and accountability. Serious allegations have been made by St. Peter’s Hospital and the media’s reporting on several key facts has been unclear. We’ve agreed to the minority’s request and have authorized the Legislature’s special counsel to examine any relevant government records in accordance with the law,” Senate President Mark Blasdel said in a news release.
Last week, the Independent Record reported Knudsen, a Republican, and two other public officials threatened doctors at the hospital, and the AG sent a patrol trooper there, after a COVID-19 patient asked for ivermectin and was denied the treatment.
Ivermectin is a drug that’s used to treat infections from parasitic worms but is not approved by the Federal Drug Administration to treat the coronavirus.
“We believe that this investigation will assist us in determining whether legislation is necessary to enhance legislative oversight of Montana Department of Justice law enforcement activities, clarify the parameters of DOJ and Highway Patrol jurisdiction to intervene in local law enforcement and prosecutorial affairs, and prevent similar abuses of power in the future,” read a letter from Senate Minority Leader Jill Cohenour, D-East Helena, and House Minority Leader Kim Abbott, D-Helena.
To get to the bottom of the incident, Abbot and Cohenour recommend the special counsel obtain records that “document which public officials were involved in this incident, the internal communications pertaining to this incident held by DOJ, MHP, and other applicable public officials and agencies, and the involvement of Montana Highway Patrol and the Medicaid Fraud Unit in this incident,” according to the letter.
Cohenour and Abbot met with Senate President Blasdel, House Speaker Rep. Wylie Galt and the special counsel Monday morning to hash out the details of the proposed investigation.
Democrats first called on Republican leadership to launch the investigation on Thursday. After the Democrats requested the investigation, Republicans Blasdel, of Kalispell, and Galt, of Martinsdale, issued a letter requesting more information on the “purpose, scope, and method” of the investigation.
“The Attorney General’s abuse of power in this incident is as shocking as it is damaging to the public’s trust in the impartiality of law enforcement,” said Sen. Cohenour and Rep. Abbott in a statement. “We are grateful to the Senate President and House Speaker for their willingness to engage in dialogue with us about how to protect Montanans from such abuses of power and ensure that coercion like this cannot happen again.”
A news release from Abbott and Cohenour regarding the details of the investigation contained a list of questions they would like to see answered through the investigation. The release also contained a series of legislative purposes to determine if legislation is necessary to rein in the power of the DOJ to “prevent future such abuses of power.”