Citing Mueller Report Remarks, Vermont GOP Dings Sanders on Burlington College | Off Message

Bernie Sanders
Citing Mueller Report Remarks, Vermont GOP Dings Sanders on Burlington College


Sen. Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane O'Meara Sanders, arrive to vote in Burlington. - FILE: SOPHIE MACMILLAN
  • File: Sophie MacMillan
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane O'Meara Sanders, arrive to vote in Burlington.
Updated at 7:33 p.m.

Since U.S. Attorney General William Barr released a four-page memo last week summarizing the work of former special counsel Robert Mueller, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has been demanding the release of Mueller's full findings.

“I don’t want a summary of the report,” Sanders said during a campaign rally in California. “I want the whole damn report, because nobody, especially this president, is above the law.”

Now the Vermont Republican Party is using those words against Sanders.

In a letter sent Sunday to his U.S. Senate office, party chair Deb Billado called on Sanders to "apply this same standard of transparency to yourself." She was referring to a long-running federal investigation of a Burlington College bank loan application made when the senator's wife, Jane O'Meara Sanders, served as president of the since-shuttered institution.

"Under your proposed standard, surely you would agree that all investigative material related to the criminal bank fraud investigation involving you and your wife should be released," Billado wrote the senator.

In January 2016, Vermont Republican Party vice chair Brady Toensing asked the Department of Justice to investigate whether O'Meara Sanders had misrepresented the amount of money college donors had pledged to help buy a new waterfront campus. Within a month of that request, according to a former college official, the FBI had subpoenaed the college for records pertaining to the transaction. As recently as December 2017, federal investigators were still interviewing those involved with the matter.

In November 2018, Sanders family spokesperson Jeff Weaver said that federal officials had informed O'Meara Sanders that they had closed the investigation and decided against bringing charges. The Department of Justice, which typically does not weigh in on investigations, never publicly confirmed the existence of one or its conclusion.
In her letter to Sanders, Billado cast doubt — without providing any evidence to support her insinuation — on whether the case was closed, noting that only Weaver had said as much. "Therefore, we also call on you to reveal any documentation evidencing a declination to bring criminal charges and all correspondence between your lawyers and the investigating authorities," she wrote.

Billado's letter included several falsehoods or distortions of the public record. The party chair wrongly stated that President Donald Trump had been "categorically and publicly exonerated" by the special counsel. In fact, Barr's summary of Mueller's conclusions quotes the special counsel as writing that while the report "does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

The Billado letter also repeatedly suggested — as Toensing did in May 2016 — that the senator himself was a subject of the Burlington College investigation when, in fact, no evidence has emerged to support that conclusion. As Seven Days reported in June 2017, even the source of Toensing's claim that the senator had "pressured" a bank to approve the loan has disputed the accusation.

In a written statement issued Monday evening, Weaver criticized the party for issuing the letter.

"The Republicans don't want to talk about Trump's plans to kick tens of millions off their health insurance," said Weaver, who is now a senior adviser to Sanders' presidential campaign. "They'd rather recycle this shameful, false attack against Jane Sanders."

Read the letter below:

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