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Congressman confirms that former campaign worker has been identified by blogs as arson suspect

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 25, 2010 - U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, told reporters Wednesday afternoon that it was "outrageous'' for some conservative critics to allege that his campaign had orchestrated last week's firebombing of his campaign office.

"It's very sobering when you have a fire set in your office," he said, calling the whole episode "a nightmare."

Carnahan confirmed that a former campaign worker is the person identified by a local conservative blog, Gateway Pundit, as the suspect briefly detained by police last week. But the congressman, who is a lawyer, explicitly avoided -- as did his staff -- confirming whether the former worker was indeed the suspect.

"We cannot comment on the specifics of the investigation or the suspect,'' said Carnahan campaign manager Angela Barranco in an interview later.

Even so, the congressman did tell reporters that "it is my hope and my belief that someone will eventually be prosecuted'' for the act. So far, he noted, no one has been charged. (Because the Beacon could not attend the swiftly called news conference, the Carnahan campaign provided a complete video of the event.)

Carnahan also said that the former worker identified by Gateway author Jim Hoft was "a short-term volunteer ... paid for one week as a canvasser, was not doing his job and was subsequently fired."

Later, Carnahan said the worker had been let go just prior to the firebombing, which Barranco said involved a molotov cocktail tossed through a window after it had been broken.

But the congressman repeatedly sought to separate any talk about the former worker from any talk about a suspect -- and he took pains to avoid making any link.

"To date, there has been no individual charged with this crime," Carnahan said. "We hope that can be done soon in the course of this investigation."

At another point, in response to a reporter's question as to whether the former worker was the detained suspect, Carnahan added, "I'm not going to describe any suspects at this point."

Carnahan confirmed the identity of the former worker, saying he was doing so because the man's name has appeared on Gateway Pundit's blog site. The Beacon does not identify the person since he could not be reached for comment, and no one has been charged.

Carnahan did refute the blogger's report that the former worker had not been paid. The man had been paid, the congressman said.

When asked about a motive for the attack, Carnahan said, "We don't know."

Carnahan acknowledged that he hastily held the news conference in the wake of the assertions by some conservative critics and blogs about the former worker, and allegations that the congressman's campaign may have orchestrated last week's  attack in an effort to blame local Tea Party activists.

Carnahan has been a favorite Tea Party target for more than a year, beginning with his support last summer of the House energy and health-care bills opposed by many conservatives.

The congressman called such assertions "ridiculous,'' and added that his chief concern was the safety of his campaign staff, volunteers and visitors. Since the attack, security measures have been taken, Carnahan said, although he declined to be specific.

After the news conference, Carnahan's staff was asked why they and the congressman had said nothing about the former worker until Wednesday, a week after the incident.

A spokeswoman reaffirmed that the Carnahan campaign was not identifying any suspects, or alleging who might be a suspect. And since the former worker may or may not be a suspect, the campaign did not want to appear to imply that the former worker was a suspect.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.