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The chief sponsor of a budget amendment at the heart of new allegations of Senate meddling against the husband of Sen. Stanley Rosenberg says it would have been "silly" for Bryon Hefner to try to lobby him, and he did not need Hefner's help to round up support among his fellow Democrats.
Sen. Michael Barrett, a Lexington Democrat, said Hefner has never contacted him or his staff about any legislation, let alone a $500,000 earmark for a juvenile detention diversion program run by the Robert F. Kennedy Children's Action Corps that he sponsored for two years prior to Hefner's alleged involvement.
"I was totally clueless about his apparent interest. We didn't need any help. This was incredibly popular as an amendment, sort of right down the middle of the fairway in terms of Democratic criminal justice reform. I don't recall it being a heavy lift in the least. It was an easy one," Barrett told the News Service in an interview.
He added, "I happen to be a state senator that he hasn't lobbied on anything. This whole idea that he's been active legislatively is news to me. I've been here for the last five or six years, and only know him from social situations with his husband."
The senator's comments speak to Rosenberg's consistent denials that Hefner had influence over his decisions or the actions of the Senate during his three years as Senate president. And yet despite his belief that Rosenberg could still be an effective leader if cleared by a special investigator, Barrett also acknowledged that it is becoming increasingly difficult to see a path back to the presidency for Rosenberg.
"I hate to think that he might be entirely innocent and yet thrown out of the job. That would disturb me. I would have felt like I quailed due to the pressures of the moment and I don't want to believe that I would do that. Still, it looks difficult," he said.
Barrett has been one of the more outspoken supporters of Rosenberg since the first allegations surfaced about Hefner reportedly sexually assaulting and harassing four men involved in Massachusetts government and politics, and claiming to have influence in the Senate.
The Globe reported over the weekend that despite a purported firewall, Rosenberg's husband, Hefner, had access to Rosenberg's Senate email, lobbied for and then against an earmark for the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps where Hefner worked for a time, and gave direction to Rosenberg's staff.
Barrett said he first sponsored the RFK Children's Action Corps amendment in 2015 at the behest of former Democratic Party chairman Phil Johnston, who founded the organization in 1979 and served with Barrett in the House. His staff produced an email to verify that account.
The budget amendment was successfully included in the fiscal 2016 and fiscal 2017 budgets before Hefner allegedly lobbied for its inclusion last spring in the fiscal 2018 state budget. Each time, the budget earmark was included in the Senate budget, survived conference committee with the House and was vetoed by Gov. Charlie Baker before the Legislature overrode the governor.
The Globe, based on the accounts of two anonymous aides, reported that one senator for whom the aides worked cosponsored the amendment because of Hefner’s outreach. Hefner, according to Barrett, worked for the non-profit between April 2016 and June 2017 when he was "forced out."
A review of Senate budget amendments published online from 2017 shows that the amendment in question was co-sponsored by five senators: Sens. Jamie Eldridge, Barbara L'Italien, Mark Pacheco, Adam Hinds and Jennifer Flanagan, who left the Senate last year to become a Cannabis Control commissioner.
Eldridge told the News Service that neither he nor his staff recall being contacted by Hefner, and he believed he cosponsored the amendment at the request of a constituent in his district, which is served by the group.
A senior aide to Hinds said the Pittsfield Democrat used to serve on the board of the RFK Children's Action Fund, and while she could not say with certainty that Hefner did not reach out she denied that Hinds was the senator referenced in the newspaper.
In a statement, Pacheco said he has been a "longtime supporter" of the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps, and has had a long relationship with Johnson, a former state health and human services secretary, former executive director of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Organization and current president of Johnson and Associates, a firm that works for the Corps.
"I’ve known the Kennedy family for years and continue to admire the work they’ve done in Massachusetts and around the globe," Pacheco said. "Phil Johnston and Executive Vice President Jane Lane were the people who have spoken to me about the organization throughout the years."
L'Italien could not be reached for comment.
Barrett said he was unaware if any of his amendment cosponsors had been lobbied by the Senate president's spouse: "That I wouldn't know about. It's hard for me to imagine we wouldn't have attracted that cosponsor by other means, but who am I to say."
The latest allegations against Hefner have once again roiled the Senate, breathing life into the behind-the-scenes maneuvering to secure the votes needed to become the next permanent Senate president if Rosenberg cannot return. Sen. Harriette Chandler has been leading the Senate since Rosenberg stepped down in January, but she does not intend to keep the job after the investigation concludes.
Asked if he believed Rosenberg still had a path back to the presidency, Barrett said, "If he's exonerated by an independent investigator, yes I do. Does the weight of circumstantial evidence become heavier and heavier? Yes, it does."
Several senators on Monday said it was important for the independent investigators – the law firm Hogan Lovells – to complete their probe into whether Rosenberg violated any Senate rules, but L'Italien told the Globe she would not vote to reinstate Rosenberg and Sen. Anne Gobi told the Boston Herald the time had come to select a new permanent Senate president to take over for Chandler.
Barrett said that he's "really hanging on the special investigators' findings."
"Constructing a narrative that permits Stan to return as Senate president becomes more and more difficult. I could still construct one, and when I say construct one, I don't mean a fantasy, but a possible sequence of facts," he said.
Noting that he lets his staff read his official Senate email, he said the sharing of access with a spouse "isn't the killer violation for me."
"I'm looking for the smoking gun. It's corruption. It's skewing the Senate's business because you promised someone sexual favors. That would be an indictable offense and a condemnable one. Am I happy about the prospect of sending him packing because the weight of circumstantial evidence seems too much to bear and because I feel that his performance would be impaired? I would not be happy doing that," Barrett said.
And while Barrett said he believes Rosenberg "could survive this" if proven innocent, he's increasingly doubtful that it will be so cut and dry.
"I think it's going to be a gray area thing," he said. "I don't think he's as guilty as his critics would wish or as innocent as some of us would wish. I suspect he gave a spouse, a kibitzer, things to do that he probably desperately regrets and what am I to do about that? I don't know."
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