By HDN staff
Accusations made this week against Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., descended on Montana like an earthquake.
Christine Niedermeier alleges she was fired because she rebuffed sexual advances made by Baucus over an 18-month period when she served as his chief of staff. She states that a memo, issued by Baucus 10 days before she was fired, praises her work and is proof she was not fired for work-related reasons. She also claims that e-mail messages sent to her by Baucus, but still in her old office, will also substantiate her allegations.
Baucus denies Niedermeiers allegations and claims she was terminated because of her management style. Several staff members threatened to quit if Niedermeier wasnt fired, he said.
Baucus has claimed Niedermeier is lying and that he can prove it.
So what are the citizens of Montana supposed to believe?
The fact is, at this point in time, fair-minded Montanans dont know what to believe.
Comments made recently by two former members of his staff lend credence to Baucus contention that Niedermeier was released due to her job performance. Niedermeiers memo, however, seems to contradict the staffers comments.
With such limited evidence, we believe its impossible for anyone to come to a fair conclusion.
Certainly, it is not unthinkable that Baucus might have praised an employee with whom he had been having trouble. Many employers praise subordinates for their virtues just before they point out their weaknesses. Its a common, if not completely transparent, technique used to make criticisms less painful.
Could Baucus have been using a similar tactic in an attempt to cushion his criticism of Niedermeiers management style?
Comments by former employees do carry more weight regarding Niedermeiers job performance, but shed no light on the issue of sexual impropriety.
We believe Baucus, if he in fact is serious about addressing Niedermeiers allegations, needs to allow her to retrieve whatever evidence she claims remains in her former office. Baucus needs to see this is accomplished without delay and without resorting to legal maneuverings or deferring the issue by way of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995.
The longer he delays, the easier it will be for his detractors to claim he is trying to hide the truth or stonewall.
We also want to praise the Republicans for reserving judgment on the matter.
While we believe it is important that Baucus clear his name as quickly as possible, we also believe he is innocent until proven guilty.
These are critical moments Sen. Baucus dont waste them.