MY COLUMN: Heller's talking points unmask him as poseur on Bundy

Imagine hearing these words come out of the mouth of Sen. Dean Heller, who has called Cliven Bundy’s supporters “patriots” and who did not utter a critical word about the famous rancher until he began declaiming about the history of the “Negro” in America:

“Let me first say that I do not support those who do not comply with the law. Mr. Bundy has not paid grazing fees in over 20 years, and that is unacceptable, particularly considering the number of ranchers in Nevada who hold permits and pay fees to graze on public lands. Furthermore, this case has been reviewed by a federal judge and a decision was made to remove the cattle.”

You know who that sounds like: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid  And if there is one person Dean Heller doesn’t want to sound like on Bundyville, it’s Harry Reid. But that’s what he believes, even though he has been too craven or politically opportunistic to say it.

How do I know?

Because I have obtained talking points and a legal analysis Heller had prepared for the KSNV program, “What’s Your Point,” both of which indicated that Bundy is a lawbreaker and has no firm legal ground beneath him. “Bundy has produced no valid law or specific facts raising a genuine issue of fact regarding federal ownership or management of public lands in Nevada, or that his cattle have not trespassed on the New Trespass Lands,” a summary of the case against Bundy prepared for Heller says.

I wonder why Heller did not say that. Or has not said it.

Instead the senator said on the program 10 days ago that Bundy’s defenders were not “domestic terrorists” as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called them but “patriots.” Reid, who was sitting next to him, argued with Heller’s label, saying, ‘If they’re patriots, we’re in big trouble.”

It’s unclear if Heller’s “patriots” remark was premeditated – there’s no mention of it in the talking points, which are dated April 17, the day before the program. But Reid made the “domestic terrorists” comment less than 24 hours before the two sat down together for the interview, possibly after the talking points were prepared. (It was an inane comment either way.).

Despite the plan outlined in the talking points to start with a criticism of Bundy and his lawbreaking, Heller instead offered a tribute to the "patriots" and then assailed the BLM for its putative overreach, even as his documents pointed out that the armed “militia types” were the “most dangerous aspect of the standoff.”

These documents, which I have posted here, present a rare glimpse into how an elected official is prepared by staffers for an interview, with language that is at once silly and even farcical. “Close with possible shot at the media (?)” reads one part.

The documents unmask Heller as someone willing to ignore facts and research his own aides have given him to genuflect to the worst elements of his party. That he and his fellow travelers such as Sean Hannity and Alex Jones have received their swift just desserts as Bundy’s ignorant racism pours out with his every utterance only makes his “patriots” comment more egregious. Heller was willing to enable Bundy and his band of “patriots” without regard to the consequences, even though he clearly knew before he appeared on the program that Bundy and his followers were in the wrong.

The packet has three documents – a “Bundy TPs and background,” a general memo with other issue talking points and a legal memorandum based on the federal court case.

After that initial recitation of actual facts about Bundy's transgressions, the talking points suggested Heller pivot to an attack on the Department of the Interior. It included this:

“You have to look at how we got to this point. In the past 30 years, Nevadans rights to graze on public lands have been cut in half. There is very real frustration out there about the government’s control of our land.”

Maybe so. But is that any excuse to elevate a lawbreaker to make this case?

Heller then was supposed to mention potential problems with the sage grouse being listed as endangered (he did this on the program), an ongoing legislative study about public lands (he did this, too) and then launch into the “overreach” by the BLM (he called for hearings).

The talking points contained this hyperventilating line, which, alas, he did not use: “What if we had armed agents enforcing rules like keeping your dog on a leash, or paying your parking tickets, or littering? Is this where we are going with America?”

My goodness. Can you just hear him saying it?

Then there was this: “This was an extremely volatile situation, mostly due to the BLM’s overreach. There needs to be accountability, and we need to make sure this doesn’t happen again. POSSIBLE RESIGNATION.?”

Although the BLM’s aggressive approach has received criticism, does Heller actually believe the situation was not made more volatile by heavily armed “militia types,” as his talking points called them, descending on a peaceful Nevada town?

A separate memo contains generally standard talking points on a variety of national issues, including unemployment compensation, immigration reform and Ukraine. On web poker, the memo advises: “If online poker comes up as an issue, we have provided the talking points that both you and Reid have been sticking to.”

A couple of other highlights:

►On unemployment insurance: “Our offices are continuing to coordinate in order to find time for me and Speaker Boehner to talk.” So after all of these weeks and months, a U.S. senator cannot talk face-to-face with the speaker? Not to plagiarize Heller’s talking points on Bundy but: What is wrong with America?

►On the Gold Butte bill that Reid has proposed to make the area a National Conservation Area, the talking points say: “(This is a Harry Reid bill that you don’t support). If pressed, suggest this: When it comes to public lands issues, we don’t support legislation unless there is local support for it. We have heard that there is not yet local buy-in for this bill." Heard from whom? I only wish that had come up to see what Reid would have said.

If you want to know where Heller stands on other issues – or where his staff says he should stand – the document is worth reading – and comparing to what he has said and will say on these issues.

After the “What’s Your Point” interview, which ended at 1 PM on that Friday, Heller’s aides scurried to whisk him out of the studio and away from prying journalists. “I have to get him to the airport in 11 minutes,” his aide Jack Finn said.

In their haste to ensure Heller did not make any more unscripted comments, someone left behind the packet with the talking points and the legal analysis. One other piece of paper was in there, too:

A Southwest Airlines boarding pass, showing his flight didn’t leave for another two hours.