In one of the most drawn-out scenes in modern political soap opera, a weepy Rep. Enid Greene Waldholtz spent five hours on television Monday defending herself as the victim of a husband who was a “seamless liar” and a thief.
While she took some responsibility for irregularities in her personal and campaign finances, she said she should not suffer the same legal consequences as her husband because his scheming was deliberate, part of a facade of deceit cemented in place before they ever met.
But she said she would not resign her office and had not yet decided whether to run again next year.
“This man has been lying since he was a teenager and maybe before,” Rep. Waldholtz, R-Utah, said at a nationally televised news conference from Salt Lake City. “I don’t know him.”
By turns angry, inaudible, choked up and lawyerly, Waldholtz - dressed in a dark suit and frequently dabbing her eyes with a tissue - displayed much of the verbal skill that made her a rising star of her congressional freshman class.
In a news conference that began at 10 a.m. and ended at 2:50 p.m., Waldholtz, with her lawyer and her accountant, sought to dispel the cloud that has hung over her since her husband’s six-day disappearance last month turned the spotlight on her tangled finances. Joe Waldholtz, who is in the custody of his lawyer, is due in federal court here on Friday.
Opening a new chapter in the unfolding story, she said on Monday that she had filed to keep her divorce proceedings secret and sought custody of their baby because she had found evidence of her husband’s “questionable lifestyle choices.”
She said that her husband, who is under investigation in connection with a $1.7 million check-kiting scheme, had stolen more than $4 million from her father and that her father did not question the missing money because he loved her and believed in family loyalty.
In addition, she said that after her election to Congress, her husband threatened members of her staff that if they reported any of his problems to her or told her that creditors were calling, harm could come to the representative, who was pregnant with their daughter and that “if I lost the baby it would be their fault.”
A recurring question from reporters on Monday was how Waldholtz, a former corporate lawyer who seemed smart, tough and savvy, could have been so unaware.
She noted that she was perceived as “tough and strident” in her professional life and that she had always been a fighter.
“When I got married,” she said, “I thought that was the one place in my life that I didn’t need to fight. I relaxed every guard that I had built up in my professional life with my husband. I thought that’s what marriage was about. I was as stupid, as blind, as gullible, as naive, as trusting as anyone could be with another human being. Was that a mistake? It certainly was.”
When friends and associates warned her repeatedly last year of financial problems in her campaign, she said she had thought her husband was just “sloppy and overextended.”
Time after time on Monday she portrayed herself as ignorant of the details because her husband seemed experienced with money and because she trusted him. He also controlled everything, from the mail to the bills to several access codes that only he knew on their home answering machine.
She took some responsibility for her actions, but not all. “I am responsible, and I’m bearing the consequences for the choices that I made,” she said. “But I don’t believe they should be the same consequences as someone who intentionally set out to do this.”
Asked how she reconciled the “family values” she campaigned on and her quick filing for divorce just two days after her husband vanished, she said he had tricked her into signing documents, he had stolen from his grandmother and probably his mother, that he embezzled campaign funds and lied about his religion.
Waldholtz said she wanted to answer all questions at the news conference, a technique used most notably by Geraldine Ferraro, the 1984 Democratic vice presidential candidate, who came under fire over her husband’s finances. But even Ferraro, who promised to stay until all questions were answered, was finished in less than two hours.
Waldholtz took almost two hours to finish her opening statement. When asked after four hours how long she planned to continue, she said, “I’ll keep going until the hotel tells me I have to leave.” Finally, she had to catch a plane to Washington. By that time, she had taken questions only from the Utah press, leaving a frustrated but depleted squad of national reporters.
The event was broadcast live for its first hour on CNN and picked up sporadically by CSPAN. The Federal News Service, which often transcribes political news events, gave up after a while.