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Montana Republicans: Sober in Kazakhstan

Montana Republicans had a sit-down chat with HOH yesterday to try to set the record straight on their CODEL to Kazakhstan last May, which, as was previously reported by HOH, allegedly devolved into drunken debauchery with Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) getting trampled by a horse and calling the locals “Coneheads.”

Not so, was the unanimous verdict of an assembly of nine men that included a Marine colonel, Montana Republican Congressional staffers and two aides from the Kazakh Embassy. The men, seated around a large conference table in the office of Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), took turns disputing the origin of the gossipy tale — an anonymous e-mail from someone claiming ties to the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan who wrote that Rehberg and Burns “embarrassed the Embassy and the UNITED STATES with their antics.”

First, Col. Arthur White, the Senate’s Marine Liaison, who accompanied Rehberg and Burns on the Congressional delegation, dissected the e-mail line by line. The mysterious sender of the e-mail said Rehberg drank “some 20 shots of vodka” during a ceremonial lunch in Kazakhstan, then ran into the woods, “returned on a horse, fell over (stumbling drunk) and was trampled by another horse.”

“That’s not true,” the colonel told HOH. “He probably had half a dozen.” (For the record, half a dozen is two more than Rehberg confessed to having; and six more than Rehberg’s press secretary first asserted his boss had consumed.)

Still, the point was made. Rehberg didn’t have 20 shots of anything. And the roughly six shots he did drink were put down the hatch over the course of two and a half hours, said White, who has traveled on many CODELs. “I’m there to make sure nobody does anything foolish,” he assured.

As for the falling-off-the-horse bit, White said what happened was what Rehberg has already told HOH: that the Congressman wasn’t accustomed to riding the style they ride in Kazakhstan, where the saddles have no horns on them. When a Kazakh rider came up beside Rehberg, an accomplished rancher and horseman, to help him off his horse, “he kind of jostled the Congressman’s horse ... just as the Congressman was stepping down,” White said. Then, he continued, Rehberg “happened to be underneath the other horse and it stepped on him.”

Aides then showed HOH a slide show of the trip with lots of broad smiles and happy moments that included Burns and Rehberg toasting the Kazakhs for deploying 27 troops to help with the U.S. war in Iraq. (Roman Vassilenko with the Kazakh Embassy says the 27 troops were de-miners who successfully destroyed “over a million” landmines.)

The slide show also included a roughly 35-second digital film clip of Rehberg returning on his horse. He certainly didn’t appear to be drunk, but we never saw him dismount. We did see the Kazakh rider take the reins from Rehberg’s horse in preparation to help him off, which obviously didn’t go so well.

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