Did Linda McMahon Obstruct Justice? (13th in a series – A Story Only Newspapers and Bloggers Can Tell)

“[Vince] would like you to call [Dr. George] Zahorian to tell him not to come to any more of our events and to also clue him in on any action that the Justice Department is thinking of taking [emphasis added].”

Linda McMahon “CONFIDENTIAL INTEROFFICE MEMO” to Pat Patterson, December 1, 1989

***

“At no time did they ever charge anybody with any kind of obstruction of justice or whatever it is you were suggesting…”

World Wrestling Entertainment lawyer Jerry McDevitt to Ted Mann of New London’s The Day

++++++++++

Daniela Altimari of the Hartford Courant has blogged a thoughtful reflection on what a colleague, Colin McEnroe, speculatively labels the “post-journalism” era of politics. See “Rob Simmons, Linda McMahon and the Fourth Estate,” http://blogs.courant.com/capitol_watch/2010/04/rob-simmons-linda-mcmahon-and.html.

The topic is urgent for Rob Simmons, Linda McMahon’s main opponent for the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat in Connecticut, since he faces the challenge of overcoming her $50 million self-funded campaign.

And the topic is important to me, a Connecticut outsider, regardless of whatever level of success McMahon achieves in the electoral arena. She is running on the basis of her business record. That business is not just sleazy – even most ill-informed observers concede as much, usually with a shrug. It is also a cult of industrialized death – a bit more problematic for citizens and voters who are not themselves comatose.

Ted Mann of The Day has broken the story of what may be the defining piece of Linda McMahon’s record. In 1989 the pro wrestling company she co-founded and ran in partnership with her husband Vince got word that a Pennsylvania doctor was under federal investigation for pushing steroids. George Zahorian was the assigned ringside physician at many events of the predecessor of World Wrestling Entertainment, including its television tapings, where he was part of the on-camera cast. Vince McMahon himself was one of Zahorian’s illegal steroid customers, and so were many, many of the McMahons’ wrestlers.

Mann acquired and published the first complete version of the December 1, 1989, memo that Linda McMahon sent to another company executive, Pat Patterson, in which she directed Patterson to dump Zahorian and to warn him that he was under federal criminal investigation.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is not old news. First, because performers in the McMahons’ industry have not stopped dropping dead at young ages and in disproportionate numbers. Those numbers, concededly, were slowed by the institution in 2006 of a half-assed and Orwellian “wellness policy” – a decade after the mega-profitable WWE had stopped steroid testing altogether because the occupational health and safety of its “independent contractor assets” was more trouble than it was worth.

And it is not old news because Linda McMahon is a candidate for the United States Senate, and her role in an arguable obstruction of justice was never reported in depth at the time, much less in the months since she declared her candidacy.

Numerous legitimate questions flow from Ted Mann’s first swing at the Linda memo. For example: Did the tip to the McMahons that Zahorian was “hot” go down as Linda described it? Former federal prosecutor James West says not. That conflict should be resolved.

Another question: Was the tip a difference-maker in Vince McMahon and WWE’s acquittal in federal court in 1994, three years after Dr. Zahorian’s conviction? Maybe, maybe not. But the McMahons’ dream team of defense counsel took no more chances with that than they did with any other aspect of securing a “not guilty” outcome. In an offshoot I have been reporting – and no one in the Connecticut media has yet picked up – their lead trial attorney, Laura Brevetti, had a not-so-smooth-operator husband, Martin Bergman, who freelanced as a “fixer.” Though a subsequent criminal investigation did not result in his prosecution for witness-tampering, no reasonable person could conclude that Bergman’s contacts with Vince McMahon’s former secretary, Emily Feinberg, were anything other than highly improper.

It’s a complex story – noirish and corporate – and as Altimari suggests, only one media institution is equipped to tell it right.

Even if it’s about to become extinct, let’s hope the newspaper brontosaurus rears its head and reasserts its relevance.

Irv Muchnick

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