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Mont. Candidate on Hot Seat for Guard Impropriety

Mont. Candidate on Hot Seat for Guard Impropriety

By Scott Conroy - December 30, 2013

Montana Lt. Gov. John Walsh, a Democratic candidate in next year's race to succeed outgoing U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, is facing some tough headlines this week over an incident that occurred during his time in the National Guard.

On Sunday night, Montana TV station KXLH reported that Walsh was cited in a 2010 inspector general report for improperly using his position in the Guard for personal gain.

The IG report said Walsh pressured other Montana National Guard leaders to join a separate group -- the privately run National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS). At the time, Walsh was running for the NGAUS vice-chairmanship and was attempting to drum up support for his candidacy, according to the report.

"I was disappointed to see that you have decided not to support the NGAUS especially after my previous memo outlining the significant contributions of NGAUS over the past several years," Walsh wrote in an email to state Guard members who had not joined the NGAUS.

The report said that some of Walsh’s emails appeared to be “coercive,” but it was not clear whether Walsh was punished for the transgressions.

In his Senate campaign this year, Walsh has cited his more than three decades of service in the Guard -- he retired in 2012 -- as emblematic of his commitment to public service.

Walsh spokeswoman Lauren Smith wrote in a statement to the TV station, "John Walsh has a distinguished 33-year career in the Montana National Guard including leading over 700 Montanans into Iraq. He continues to put service before self and is exactly the kind of leader Montana needs in the U.S. Senate, including making standing up for Montana's veterans and service men and women one of his top priorities."

A front-runner in the Democratic Senate primary next year, Walsh also has expressed interest in filling out the remainder of Baucus’ term, once the lawmaker is confirmed as ambassador to China early next year.

If Gov. Steve Bullock does appoint him to the seat, it would give Walsh a key advantage of incumbency heading into the 2014 race.

Steve Daines, Montana’s lone U.S. representative, is the favorite to win the Republican nomination. 

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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