It was with more than a little amusement that we read a couple of weeks ago that Gov. Bobby Jindal had called for jail time for any Internal Revenue Service officials found to have unfairly targeted conservative groups to be put in jail.
As usual, Jindal made his indignant, self-righteous proclamation at an out-of-state forum. This time, it was in a speech to Virginia Republicans in yet another stop in his 2016 presidential campaign that would be better suited for a Saturday Night Live parody skit than serious political discourse.
Oh, it’s not that we don’t agree with Jindal on this one point. The IRS certainly is far too powerful and is a force to be feared if one happens to be on the wrong end of a tax audit.
But coming from Jindal, it is simply yet another example of the “reform” governor’s façade of pseudo-transparency—hypocritical at worst, the subject of stinging ridicule at best.
“You do not take the freedoms of law-abiding citizens, whether you disagree with them or not, and keep your own freedom,” the Boy Blunder opined. “When you do that, you go to jail.”
But here’s the thing, Guv: It was only last March 11—not even three months ago—that we learned that one of Bobby’s boys, one Troy Hebert to be precise, director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC), had ordered a background investigation on LouisianaVoice editor Tom Aswell (that would be me). Here is the link to that post:
Normally, we would not hold Jindal accountable for the actions of a rogue department head. But now the question must be asked if Hebert’s investigation was truly the action of a rouge department head, of someone who went “off the reservation,” or if the investigation may have been ordered by higher-ups.
Hey, even Henry Kissinger once said paranoid people sometimes have real enemies and recent events and revelations may well justify that paranoia. Read on.
On May 11, we sent a public records request to Superintendent of Education John White and we copied Department of Education (DOE) General Counsel Joan Hunt as is our practice when seeking records.
The request was straightforward enough: we asked for correspondence between White and his old New York boss Joel Klein dating back to July 1, 2011. Specifically, we were attempting to learn what communication the two had conducted relative to InBloom, the company Klein is now affiliated with and which was founded by News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch to serve as a “parking place” (in White’s words—a computer data bank, in more formal terms) for sensitive personal information on Louisiana students and teachers.
Hunt, subsequent to our request, fired off an email that same day to White, DOE attorney Willa LeBlanc and Hebert that said, “Troy, we need to reply and say that.”
But Hunt, most likely inadvertently, copied us into the reply as well.
Curious as to why Hebert would be included in the loop since he is about as far removed from DOE as possible (he’s under the Louisiana Department of Revenue) and equally curious as to what was supposed to have been said, we sent another public records request for all correspondence between DOE officials and Hebert.
The response to that request was even more puzzling:
“No Documents. Attorney-client privilege.”
Okay, first there are no documents but if there were, they would be privileged. That’s like the attorney who responded to a claim that his dog had bitten a passerby: “My dog does not bite. My dog was confined in the yard that day. I don’t own a dog.”
Really puzzled now, we sent another email on May 26 reiterating our request for correspondence between DOE and Hebert: “Inasmuch as you took the liberty to send your email to Troy Hebert, director of ATC and who is not an attorney nor is he a client of you or DOE, there is no client-attorney privilege.”
We also told Hunt that her provision of information about me to a non-involved third party constituted a “serious breach” that I was willing to report to the Louisiana Supreme Court’s Attorney Disciplinary Board.
Two days later we received another letter from the DOE legal office which said:
“As was indicated in the Department’s response dated and emailed to you on May 15, 2013, the Department has no public records responsive to your request. Any communications between the Legal Staff of LDOE and Troy Hebert would be privileged (attorney work product/privilege) and not subject to being released pursuant to a public records request. In addition, the Department is not in possession of any emails between Troy Hebert and John White.” There it is again: My dog doesn’t bite; I don’t own a dog.
We remained perplexed as to why Troy Hebert was brought into the conversation about our initial request. As the director of an agency completely removed from DOE, we knew there was no way possible that Hebert could be a client of either DOE or any of its legal staff and that fact only intensified our determination to learn what was going on.
Then we had occasion to interview Sen. Bob Kostelka (R-Monroe) Tuesday night about the Senate and Governmental Affairs deferral of a bill to protect state employee whistleblowers which had passed unanimously in the full House.
In that interview, Kostelka, a remarkably candid public servant, intimated that the committee had killed the bill to protect employees from supervisory reprisals for revealing official wrongdoing because one Troy Hebert had personally contacted each of the committee members to convey the message that the administration, i.e. Jindal, was not in favor of the bill. Kostelka, seeing the proverbial handwriting on the wall, did not object to the motion by Sen. Greg Tarver (D-Shreveport) to defer the bill.
It is not entirely clear why Hebert would be interjecting himself into legislative matters given the somewhat watery thin theory (in the case of Louisiana, at least) of separation of powers under which our state government proclaims to function.
He is, after all, a member of the administration, or executive branch and should not be lobbying the legislative branch. In fact, he is not even a registered lobbyist. And his dog doesn’t bite.
But at least we can now connect the dots as it all comes together. Hebert is one of those hangers-on—kind of like the new kid in town who hangs around the fringes of the playground hoping to make friends with the locals. He will do anything to curry favor with his boss—not exactly a wise career move at this point—including serving as a go-between messenger boy between the governor’s office and legislators.
…And between the governor’s office and DOE.
And Jindal now has the cajones to vilify the IRS for spying.
We bet Jindal doesn’t even own a dog.