Did Scalise admit to speaking at a racist convention he never attended?

Yesterday, House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana made the admission that he spoke before  a David Duke created organization in 2002. But did he?

One of the principals in the story, Duke's long time aide Kenny Knight, told Slate Magazine's Betsy Woodruff that he invited Scalise to talk to a senior citizen civic organization - an event that was held in the hospitality room he had booked for the white supremecist's convention. He was coordinating both events and, since the hospitality room was booked under his name, he could use the space however he wished.

Knight said on Tuesday that it’s “totally incorrect” to say Scalise spoke at that convention.

“He spoke early in the day to a contingent of people, prior to the conference kicking off,” Knight said. “He was not there as a guest speaker at the conference.”


According to Knight, the EURO conference was slated to start in the early afternoon, roughly around 1 p.m. But his reservation at the hotel gave him access to the conference space for a few hours before the event’s official kickoff. At the time, Knight headed the Jefferson Heights Civic Association, which was largely comprised of elderly people who lived in his and Scalise’s neighborhood.

Knight said he set up a morning event for his own civic association in the hotel space before the EURO conference started. Though that event was in the conference’s hospitality room, it wasn’t at all related to the EURO event, he said.

“It was my room to do what I want with it,” he said.

Knight invited then–state Rep. Scalise as well as a representative from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office and a person from the American Red Cross to speak to the civic association at the hotel. Knight said he thinks the Red Cross speaker was from a local chapter but didn’t remember specifically. He also said he didn’t remember the names of either of the other speakers. The representative from the sheriff’s department spoke to attendees about a neighborhood watch program, and the person from the Red Cross discussed CPR techniques. Scalise also spoke.

“I wanted to reach out to him and give him an audience so he could talk to people from his district about legislation he was proposing,” Knight said. “I did that as a courtesy.”

Knight estimates that about two-thirds to three-quarters of the people in the hospitality room at the civic association meeting were local residents who weren’t there to attend the EURO event, and about one-third to one-quarter were EURO convention attendees who arrived early and filtered into the hospitality room to drink coffee and kill time.

“I don’t think Steve was aware that there was a small contingent of people who came and sat in the audience prior to the EURO meeting,” Knight said.

Knight told Slate that he and Scalise were neighbors and knew each other fairly well. And while his story rings true (as an old meeting planner, I had occasion to double book a meeting room if I was running two events at a time), there is the question  of why the congressmen would admit to speaking at an event he never attended?

His denial that he didn't remember now has resonance. But in this age of instant news in 140 characters, getting a denial out there immediately is crucial. Any delay - even a few hours - is interpreted as stonewalling. Plus, the media has these guys well trained to reflexively apologize even if you're not sure you did anything wrong.

Good luck with getting this story accepted by most of the press. The narrative is already set in stone and we are way beyond giving Scalise the benefit of any doubt.

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