Groene: 'I Did Nothing Wrong'
By Fred Knapp , Reporter/Producer Nebraska Public Media
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Former State Sen. Mike Groene resigned in February following reports he took pictures of a female staffer without her knowledge that she discovered when he asked her to clean up his computer. A report released Wednesday, written by Lincoln lawyer Tara Paulson, who was hired by the Legislature, calls Groene’s actions “boorish, brainless and bizarre,” but said his conduct does not constitute unlawful discrimination or harassment. Nebraska Public Media News’ Fred Knapp interviewed Groene about his reaction Thursday.
Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News: I wanted to start off with your statement that you sent yesterday. You said that for the last two months your name had been “drug through the mud in a political witch hunt.” How has the time since you left office been for you? And what kind of reaction have you gtten from your former constituents?
Former State Sen. Mike Groene: Fred I vowed, when that story broke, that I cancelled -- I didn't buy a single newspaper didn't listen to you either, Fred. I listened to music, bluegrass, watched good Christian shows on TV. I did a lot of work around my cabin. I quite frankly -- I've taken a 40 day journey in the desert. I have not had one negative comment. People all think it was a witch hunt. They’ve seen this happen before. They can't debate based on ideals. So they attack you personally.
Knapp: You said that your computer was broken into and your privacy was invaded. But the report that the lawyer hired by the Legislature put out said that you had given permission to the staffer, and you were there when IT searched it, and you had been cooperative and cordial and you deleted the photos. So there seems to be a disconnect there. What's going on?
Groene: It was private. When they admitted I did not share with anybody that means they were private. Now I was called brainless by the so-called unbiased attorney who did this report. Wouldn't it be very brainless to allow somebody who you were accused of having pictures on your laptop getting free access to that laptop?
Knapp: This investigator said in her report that she interviewed numerous witnesses, and they said that you'd given permission.
Groene: I gave nobody any authority to go on my laptop when I was not present. I've had IT, I've had my staffers. I'm not technology-minded while I was there, or ask them to hook my printer up because the printer wasn't working. Or to help me get back on on my computer because the password wasn't working. That's normal behavior.
Knapp: You say you were given bad advice by the governor, the speaker and the chair of the exec board about resigning without due process. What in retrospect, do you think the process should have been, and why do you think they gave you bad advice?
Groene: The system is flawed. When I was confronted with allegations by Senator Hughes and Hilgers. They told me that they had already prearranged with the person to do an informal confidential settlement. By the way, the report said there is no evidence whatsoever, or the person involved said never did I sexually harass them physically or mentally, or any other way.
Knapp: Did you take the pictures as the report says you did?
Groene: That's private. Fred, I don't know what's going on in your mind right now. I have no idea what you think me personally, that's in your mind. That's private. I'm not going to ask you that. And please don't ask me what I did with my own private privacy.
Knapp: Do you think you did anything wrong?
Groene: I don't believe so. I apologized. I did not apologize because I thought I did something wrong. I just apologized, because in their view, I had offended them.
Knapp: What do you think would have been the appropriate action, if any, to be taken against you?
Groene: It should have been no action. It should have been an investigation. And according to the study -- the report -- I did nothing illegal. They stood on the floor, the “Me Too” senators, and attacked me after I made the mistake of resigning and not defending myself, because I was told by the speaker and the chairman of the exec committee that if I resigned, the Legislature could do no action because I was no longer sitting senator. They couldn't censure me, or kick me out of the Legislature because – or do a study because I was no longer a senator.
Knapp: They haven't taken any action against you, except for the release of this report.
Groene: Do they need to or is my reputation destroyed because of a false accusation that I did something illegal? The damage is done.
Knapp: Are you concerned about the ongoing State Patrol investigation?
Groene: So, I do not see how the State Patrol can come up with any other finding than what the legislative report says. How could it? I did nothing wrong. Every picture I've ever taken of anybody, a guest in my office, my wife or family in my office, were public during staff hours.
Knapp: The report did say that you had some captions on them. Like one of them, I believe it was “tight rear” or something like that. And you emailed that to yourself.
Groene: Yeah. Yeah. Not a good thing to do -- very sophomoric, but private.
Knapp: But doesn't that suggest some sort of prurient interest on your part?
Groene: No it does not. It infers that she had a tight pair of pants on which -- and she was talking with the other staff members in the picture.
Knapp: When you resigned, you said you were dropping out of politics completely. But your statement about rethinking having resigned makes me wonder are you rethinking a political future?
Groene: No, I what I was saying I should have defended myself on the floor. Because my conservative coward senators that -- I used to be a Republican, I'm no longer – did not defend me. And when they sit on church Easter morning, and they sit there and pray to Jesus and say ‘I would never deny you like Peter did?’ Hell. They wouldn't even support a friend because of the fear of the Me Too and the Black Lives Matter movement. You know, there's two sets of laws. There was one by God that you're not supposed to do, and one by Man. I broke no law set by Man -- none.
Knapp: And do you believe you did anything in violation of God's law?
Groene: That's between me and God, isn’t it? Thank God he's not a self-righteous ass like most politicians are.
Editor's note: The interview has been edited for length. Gov. Ricketts and Speaker Mike Hilgers declined comment on Groene’s criticisms; Exec. Board Chair Dan Hughes could not be reached.
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