Let's assume, for the sake of discussion, that Dan Rutherford is trying to create a political smokescreen over allegations of misconduct in his office.
If so, he better hope the smoke never blows over.
Rutherford, as you know, on Friday said something was going on in his office, he couldn't say what it was, but whatever it may be, Bruce Rauner was behind it.
That's a whole lot of vagaries and one serious charge. But, taken together, it's where Rutherford's campaign, and quite possibly his career, will live or die.
For the record, Rutherford, the current Illinois state treasurer who’s running in the GOP primary for governor, called a press conference Friday to talk to reporters about “some activity that’s come about” in his office.
Then, without offering any details, he said an employee in the treasurer’s office came forward a week and a half ago with allegations against him. He also said the employee’s lawyer demanded $300,000 so her client would not go public with the complaints.
And then, the bombshell: Rutherford said the campaign of his rival, wealthy Winnetka businessman Rauner, was to blame. For proof, he linked a payment the Rauner campaign made to the attorney, Christine Svenson, for what Rauner says is an unrelated legal matter.
For Rutherford, that’s all well and good. In fact, he went pretty far in making it all seem official-like, standing with a former FBI agent and the general counsel for the treasurer’s office by his side during the press conference, while denouncing Rauner for the supposed dirty tricks.
Just another day in Illinois GOP politics, right?
Only, here’s the thing: a lot has happened over the weekend under the surface and behind the scenes, and less and less of it looks good for Rutherford.
Word has it that in an effort to discredit the accuser, someone has leaked his name and position in the treasurer’s office. A Sun-Times report says the male employee is lodging both an EEOC harassment allegation and a First Amendment complaint against Rutherford.
And there are whispers that whatever the specific nature of the complaint, there’s more complaints likely to surface as other employees wait to see how this plays out before coming forward themselves.
While all of this, for the moment, may be hearsay, one thing is true: a lot of reporters in this state now have the name and important details of Rutherford’s accuser, even if no one has yet gotten him to talk on the record yet or go public with his accusations.
More importantly, reporters working the beat are focusing like a laser beam on the supposed Rauner/Svenson connection, and coming up empty.
In fact, the accuser is believed to have gone to work for the treasurer’s office because he was friends with Rutherford, who even attended his wedding. For her part, attorney Svenson has been working in Republican politics for years and has the kind of connections that mean almost any statewide candidate could have hired her for any number of jobs.
And no orchestrated, big-money campaign appears to be backing the accuser, who’s doing a pretty good job of staying out of the spotlight so far.
Why does all this matter? Only for this: perhaps more than any Illinois politician in recent memory, Rutherford’s really put himself out on a limb.
By claiming political extortion without the necessary details to back it up, almost everything has to go right for Rutherford in the next few days and weeks if he hopes to have any chance at the GOP nomination for governor. Or even a reasonable political career down the road.
In fact, not only would the accusations have to be disproven on their face, there would have to also be no one else who would come forward in the future. Plus, an unassailable smoking gun tying the attorney, accuser and Rauner together would have to be found, all within a pretty short period of time.
More importantly, Rutherford has to hope that no reporter or rival political operative between now and Primary Day manages to get the accuser to break his silence. That’s a tall order in a story as white-hot as this one. After all, a press conference detailing EEOC charges, whether true or not, could be devastating to a campaign.
In leveling charges against his rival Friday, Rutherford said “no one, including Bruce Rauner, is going to destroy me.”
The truth is, at this stage Bruce Rauner may be the least of Dan Rutherford’s worries.