I just know that authorities have contacted my client and he has cooperated."
Here's the Q&A transcript of the impromptu news conference by Pat Ford's attorney, Lawrence Fisher. Once again, the questions come from a variety of local reporters, myself included. Looking for the mayor's news conference Q&A? It's at this link.
First, a brief recap:
URA Executive Director Pat Ford's parting shot in his resignation letter accused Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration of 'a culture of deception and corruption'. Mayor Ravenstahl dismisses the claims as absolutely not true. "I was blindsided by Mr. Ford's attack and resignation letter. It was, in my opinion, outrageous, very malicious. On a personal level, I am very hurt, and I'm also very angry and sad", said Ravenstahl. The Mayor dismissed Ford's attorney's words suggesting his administration is under some sort of investigation.
"We have never -- not once -- been contacted, let me be very clear, by any federal investigator, by any investigator of any kind, whether it's me or any member of my administration" said the mayor. He added "we have yet to be asked one question. I know there's been rumors. I've been made aware of the rumors that are out there, but I can only state the facts -- that that has not taken place. We have not been questioned, nobody has been approached."
Minutes before Mayor Ravenstahl entered, Ford's attorney was escorted out of the conference room by the mayor's bodyguard. In his own Q&A with reporters later, attorney Lawrence Fisher appeared to be standing by everything his client has said.
Said Fisher, "well, I'm sorry that he feels that the comments were malicious, but the truth is an absolute defense to a libel action, isn't it?"
Ford's attorney also said "if a public official (Ford) has been contacted by authorities, and has cooperated in matters of mutual interest, you can determine whether there is an investigation or not."
Ravenstahl says that Ford never made these accusations during his time working for the mayor. "They're designed to attempt to attack me and this administration and I stand here confident that that decision and all other decisions that were made were made appropriately" he said.
Fisher says "the reality the situation is that Mr. Ford has made some serious allegations and he has the wherewithal to prove them".
When pressed by reporters, Fisher acknowledged, however, "I don't know whether or not there's an investigation. I just know that authorities have contacted my client and he has cooperated."
Now, Fisher's Q&A with reporters:
Q: (Inaudible)...allowed to be in there?
A: It is my understanding that the mayor called this press conference to discuss my client. I wanted to hear what he had to say about Mr. Ford. Apparently he doesn't want me to hear that in any way other than filtered through the media.
Q: What about -- in this discussion he says he never did wrong, that nothing was done wrong by the administration, and basically said he's being blindsided (inaudible) outrageous, baseless.
A: Well, I'm sure that's the party line and I'm sure a lot of people behind the scenes helped him craft that message. But the reality the situation is that Mr. Ford has made some serious allegations and he has the wherewithal to prove them. And we'd like the rhetoric to get ratcheted down a bit and we can move on. You know, Mr. Ford would like to move on with his life.
Q: What are the specific allegations. I mean, you said there's a "culture of corruption". That's pretty a pretty big accusation to make without anything to back it up. What's actually -- what's he talking about here?
A: Well, he reads the newspaper just like all of us. And we hear about these contracts that are awarded to political contributors, as opposed to the lowest responsible bidder. Mr. Ford is aware of that, just like anybody in the public. And of course, having worked on the inside, he has a unique view which --- you know, it's not his intention to air anybody's dirty laundry. He has stepped aside. He has stepped out of the picture, and now we hope for some honorable treatment by this administration.
Q: Is that what he's saying then? He's saying, no, but he's saying that there was actual -- that contracts went to political contributors, rather than the lowest bidder or the best bidder?
A: It's been reported in the newspaper to that effect. And I don't imagine that you all would report those sort of things if they weren't true.
Q: Does he have any special knowledge? Does he have anything other than what has been in the papers?
A: At this point, Mr. Ford is not going to air this administration's dirty laundry and I'll leave it at that.
Q: Has Mr. Ford been in contact with any -- with agents from the federal government, the state, the attorney general? Has anybody contacted him about this administration?
A: On that subject I'll say only what I've said before: Mr. Ford has cooperated with authorities on matters of mutual interest.
Q: What does that mean? You've got to define that better than just -- what authorities, and what do you mean "cooperated"?
Q (from a different reporter than in the question above): In light of the mayor's statement that he flat out denied that there was, that anybody from his administration had been contacted about any investigation. He just denied that in the news conference a few minutes ago. He said that's flat out wrong. There's nothing going on. Nothing. He's never been contacted, nobody in his administration's been contacted. So, who's telling the truth here?
A: Mr Ford is -- has cooperated with authorities on matters of mutual interest. That is the truth.
Q: So Mr. Ford has been contacted by investigators?
A: Authorities, yes.
Q: Can you tell us who?
A: If I could say more, I would. but, you know, these are sensitive matters. And it is not our intention to interfere with an investigation.
Q (Two reporters overlapping):
(1st )Yeah, but you said you wanted to lower the rhetoric, and here you are...
(2nd) So, there is an ongoing investigation? You get said there's "the investigation".
A: Well if, if a public official has been contacted by authorities, and has cooperated in matters of mutual interest, you can determine whether there is an investigation or not. I don't know whether or not there's an investigation. I just know that authorities have contacted my client and he has cooperated.
Q: So it could be a case where they've talked to your client and haven't talked to anybody else yet?
A: Well, I think it's been reported by Mr. Lord that others have been contacted by authorities as well. I mean, this is nothing new.
Q: Are you referring to anything other than the allegations that Pat Ford raised about the Pittsburgh Housing Authority? That is to say, are you referring to anything within the Ravenstahl Administration?
A: I am going to stand by my statement. Unfortunately, I wish I could say more. However, this is a sensitive matter and It would not be appropriate for me to elaborate beyond what I've said, which is that Mr. Ford has cooperated with authorities on matters of mutual interest.
Q: Did Mr. Ford resign because he cut a deal with investigators?
A: Mr. Ford has resigned because it was the right thing to do. And because he had had enough of being hung out to dry by this administration.
Q: This administration said they were waiting for the state to make a decision and backed him.
A: I beg your pardon?
Q: This administration has said that they were waiting for the state to make a decision and have backed Mr. Ford throughout, until this point.
A: Between that expression and the reality of situation lies an eternity.
Q: You would have us go out and report that there's some sort of investigation going on, there's some sort of suggestion of corruption here. And yet you make no specific allegations. You've suggested that perhaps there were contracts that were awarded that were improper. But yet you've offered nothing concrete. What are you talking about?
A: Andrew, read your own newspaper. I wouldn't have you report anything. It's not, it's not, I wouldn't be so presumptuous as to have you report a thing. You report what you report. I read what you report. And you have reported that there were contracts given to political contributors who were not the lowest responsible bidders.
Q: So, is there anything that Pat Ford has personal knowledge of, other than the published reports about the specific contracts recently awarded by the URA since his departure?
A: It is not our intention to stir up a hornets' nest here. I came here to listen to what the mayor had to say. I didn't have that opportunity, regrettably, and for whatever reasons only the mayor knows. I presume you asked him why I wasn't allowed to listen to what he had to say.
Q: He said you weren't invited.
A: I was not invited. Well, how rude.
Q: He said your earlier comments were outrageous and very malicious. As a lawyer, does that sound like the kind language one would use if they were preparing to, say, pursue libel against you and your client?
A: Outrageous and malicious?
Q: Outrageous and very malicious.
A: Those were -- that's the phrase that he used? Well, I'm sorry that he feels that the comments were malicious, but the truth is an absolute defense to a libel action, isn't it?