A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the mini scandal surrounding Alabama’s new U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville and questions as to whether he met with President Trump, his family and a group of hardcore supporters Jan. 5, the night before the U.S. Capitol was invaded by protesters.
The crux of the controversy was whether Tuberville’s office was being deceptive about where he was that evening. There was reporting, primarily by Alabama Political Reporter (APR), stating Tuberville’s office denied he’d met with Trump, the former head of the Republican Attorney Generals Association Adam Piper, or a long list of others in the former president’s inner circle that evening. But online photos placed Tuberville in the lobby of Trump International Hotel that night, as did a couple of Facebook posts by people in the room that evening.
It didn’t make a lot of sense to me why Tuberville would deny being there since he’d never wavered in his support for Trump. Sure, things the next day got terribly out of hand, and in the midst of a mob invading the Capitol to disrupt the certification of Electoral College votes, Trump had reportedly misdialed another senator while looking for Tuberville to press him to do more to stop certification. But still, there didn’t seem to be an obvious reason to deny being there.
So last week I talked to Tuberville’s communications director, Ryann DuRant, and asked her what was going on. Her story was that APR reporter Eddie Burkhalter contacted her to ask if Tuberville had met with Trump in the hotel that evening and she had replied that he did not.
“They proceeded to run the story and they applied that ‘no’ to a whole bunch of other things,” she said. So it was the fake news doing what the fake news does, I thought.
She said Tuberville had gone to the hotel to attend a reception and had even stopped to talk to one of the president’s sons about deer hunting for a moment, but had not met with Trump or been in the same area with the other VIPs, despite what some of those people wrote online.
She likened it to a couple of people showing up at the same party at different times and someone including both of their names in the list of those who had attended. She said other media outlets — she mentioned al.com in particular — had called about APR’s reports, but had decided not to write anything once they heard the whole story.
“Alabama Political Reporter did not want to walk back their story,” she said.
So Tuberville did attend some sort of reception at the Trump Hotel Jan. 5, but only stayed a few minutes and didn’t meet with anyone who put on the reception, according to his office. I asked DuRant whose reception it was, but she couldn’t tell me.
“I don’t personally know the exact person who called (I started in the office Jan. 15) but I will ask and if I find out, will let you know!!” she wrote back last Thursday. I asked again Monday if she’d been able to find out what reception he attended, but as of press time, she had not responded.
I felt like I might owe Tuberville an apology for even writing about all of this two weeks ago and expressing that this controversy was an easily avoidable tempest in a teapot that easily could have been handled by the senator simply telling everyone where he was. But maybe the real story was about poor journalism.
So when I emailed Eddie Burkhalter to ask him how things went down, he had a different tale to tell. He did say his first question to DuRant had been about whether Tuberville met with Trump as was alleged by Newsweek columnist Seth Abramson — a lengthy breakdown of events leading up to the Jan. 6 invasion of the Capitol. Burkhalter wrote that her response was: “Hi Eddie – Jordan sent me your email so I wanted to circle back with you. It’s nice to meet you virtually! Attributable to a Tuberville spokeswoman, the answers to your questions are ‘No’ and ‘Not Applicable.’”
Later, Burkhalter said, he felt like maybe his question was too limited in scope, which perhaps gave DuRant an out. He included photos of the senator in a more expanded question, at which point DuRant told him essentially what she told me — that Tuberville had gone to a reception, but didn’t meet with the people mentioned in Facebook posts claiming the meeting was a discussion of the election, illegal votes, the status of the republic and what to expect on The Hill the following day.
Burkhalter said he also asked DuRant to tell him who hosted the reception, but he said she never responded.
So on one side of things we have Seth Abramson’s column that I think it’s fair to say would leave the reader with a sense the meeting in Trump Hotel Jan. 5 may have played a role in the violence and attempted insurrection of the following day, and on the other, we have a U.S. senator’s office saying he was invited to attend a reception by someone they can’t name, he showed up for 15 minutes, talked about deer with one of the Trump boys, snapped photos with tourists, but did not go in to talk with any of the hardcore Trump supporters there. And any confusion about that is APR’s fault.
Why is any of this important? As I wrote two weeks ago, it was primarily of interest just from the standpoint of honesty and transparency. Something still doesn’t really add up. But now, it may be even more important because Tuberville finds himself dead center in the middle of the sequence of events Jan. 6 and Congress is looking at having a 9/11-style commission appointed to get to the bottom of what Trump knew and when he knew it.
Tubby’s latest statement about that phone call he received from Trump in the middle of the Capitol invasion could serve as a critical point showing the president knew his vice president was in danger when he sent out a tweet blaming Mike Pence for allowing certification to go forward. Tuberville now says when Senator Mike Lee handed him the phone Trump had misdialed, he essentially told the president that Pence was being whisked off the Senate floor and that he also needed to go before the mob got there.
Tuberville has made a pretty big splash during his first month in office. He may well find himself as a witness in an investigation in the offing, and what he’s already said doesn’t reflect well on Trump. Such a commission might also end up getting to the bottom of whose reception Tuberville attended, who was there and what they talked about.
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