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GOP counsel’s report: AG Knudsen’s office didn’t intimidate hospital officials

Attorney General Austin Knudsen. 

HELENA — Republican Attorney General Austin Knudsen and his office did not attempt to threaten or intimidate Helena hospital officials or health-care providers when they inquired about a patient’s COVID-19 care last month, says a report released late Monday evening by Republican legislative leadership.

However, the report did identify a “third public official” who contacted the hospital on the patient’s behalf as state Public Service Commissioner Jennifer Fielder. It said Fielder, a former state senator, argued that the patient should be allowed to have the alternative treatments of Ivermectin and hydroxycholoroquine, and that “if this doesn’t turn out well,” there may be a lawsuit.

The patient, who had worked for the state Senate in the past, later died from complications of COVID-19.

The report, prepared by a “special counsel” appointed by GOP leadership, outlined actions taken by Knudsen, a highway patrolman and Deputy Attorney General Kris Hansen in early October, in response to complaints from the patient’s family that she was being denied certain medications and communication with her family.

Minority Democrats had requested the investigation Oct. 21, after press reports and a statement by St. Peter’s Hospital that its health-care providers had been “harassed and threatened by three public officials.”

Knudsen and Hansen said they were two of the public officials who spoke to hospital personnel, but denied threatening anyone.

Also Monday night, Republican legislative leaders said the report produced no evidence that Knudsen had harassed anyone, that he didn’t speak directly to any medical providers and that St. Peter’s CEO said he did not feel threatened in his Oct. 13 conversation with Knudsen and described his discussion as “cordial.”

“The misleading and outright false political attacks on Montana’s attorney general by Democrats and members of the media must stop,” GOP leaders said in a statement.

They pointed to a number of newspaper and web-based editorials that had criticized Knudsen and his office for allegedly trying to strong-arm medical personnel into giving the patient certain medications or use the Highway Patrol as a “private police force.”

The report said the Highway Patrol officer dispatched to the hospital on Oct. 12 never entered the hospital or spoke with medical personnel, and only took information from the patient’s family, in the hospital parking lot.

Democratic leaders said they plan to hold a news conference Tuesday morning, to respond to the report.

The investigation and report were produced by Abra Belke, a lawyer who worked for legislative Republicans during the 2021 Legislature and who later was appointed as the Legislature’s “special counsel,” a new position created this year by Republicans with broad powers to investigate government officials and agencies.