In a deleted podcast, Republican Attorney General Candidate Ryan Owens said a “potential coverup here is ongoing” by President Donald Trump and his administration regarding the Ukraine call that provoked Trump’s impeachment.
UW-Madison released three of four missing podcasts on Sept. 30, the day after Wisconsin Right Now broke the story that they were removed from the Internet. UW-Madison has been unable to unearth the fourth missing podcast, at least so far, a 2019 conversation that Owens had with Never Trumper Charlie Sykes. Wisconsin Right Now has filed an open records request for that podcast.
The three released podcasts were conversations between Owens and Never Trump political consultant Mike Murphy; a conversation he had with Professor Ken Mayer, whose syllabus became controversial because it contained an anti-Trump line; and a conversation with Scott Coenen, who heads a conservative renewable energy group. You can listen to the discussion with Coenen here, with Murphy here, and with Mayer here.
In the released podcasts, Owens sounds very different than he does now as a candidate; as an AG candidate, he has adopted a series of firebrand ultra conservative positions at events with the GOP base around Wisconsin (the other candidate running in the primary is Fond du Lac County DA Eric Toney.)
In the podcasts, Owens mostly adopted a neutral moderator’s tone even when interview subjects took positions that are anathema to the conservative base; for example, he left it unchallenged when Murphy outright labeled Trump a “racist.”
It was on impeachment, though, where Owens stepped out of his moderator’s role here or there, revealing that he believed Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president was a problem and maybe even a cover up.
That’s ironic as it may be the cover up – the deletion of podcasts – that made this story worse for Owens than the actual content of the podcasts, which mostly showed him playing neutral moderator as guests criticized Trump or analyzed impeachment.
In the Coenen podcast, which focused on renewable energy, Owens said, referring to creating effective messaging about climate change in elections, “on both sides, you don’t want to go too far.”
Owens has given shifting statements about what happened to the podcasts, which were recorded when he ran the Tommy Thompson center on campus. He blamed a file transfer glitch to talk show host Mark Belling and then admitted to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he deleted some 2019 podcasts from the Internet, saying he thought they were “moot” and didn’t think they were newsworthy anymore.
UW-Madison has said it’s investigating and trying to find the Sykes podcast; it is a crime in Wisconsin to remove or destroy a public record, although it requires a finding of intent to injure or defraud. We discovered the podcasts had been deleted from the Internet and the Thompson Center’s website when reviewing Owens’ podcasts after comments he made praising Tony Evers’ COVID-19 response provoked talk radio controversy.
Comments on Impeachment
Owens told Mayer he read a summary of the phone call transcript between Trump and the Ukrainian president – the subject of Democrats’ impeachment of Trump, which was hotly criticized by Republicans. “My first reading was this is not great, it’s not good for the president but not as bad as some people were thinking it would be,” he said.
He said that was “my first reaction and then I went back and read it and reread it, and I thought to myself this is not good. It’s a simpler narrative than the Russian collusion; it’s a lot easier to sell this, and it’s happening in real time.”
Owens continued: “I thought this is going to become a significant problem for the president. Releasing that summary of the transcript I don’t quite understand why they did it, it seemed like political suicide to me but maybe it was the best option they had.”
The release of a whistleblower complaint “seems to be even worse,” Owens said. “it indicates two things, one that the president may have had multiple conversations of this sort where he tried to pressure or influence the president of Ukraine and number two that a potential coverup here is ongoing that rather than having these transcripts retain whatever traditional status they have that they tried to move these into highly classified area to get them out of access to the public arena and if that’s the case that seems to me where it’s a classic example of the cover up basically doing you in potentially even more than the initial thing although here both could be problematic.”
Owens also said the Ukraine story “broke, and it seems like the dam broke and the water is just pouring through.”
Some of his comments outlined the allegations. “I do think here there are possible other avenues they can go after him (Trump),” he said of Democrats at one point.
Owens criticized Joe Biden’s son Hunter, saying, “it was a stupid decision to be on this dictator’s gas board or whatever, but it’s a separate question from what we’re talking about here – the president using his authority to try to engage an investigation in a foreign country.”
When Mayer said, “Here the coverup would be evidence that they knew what they were doing is wrong,” Owens said, “right.”
Mayer also said, “it was before anybody found out about it. It’s also possible that the read out doesn’t have everything that was said.”
Owens also responded, “Right.”
When Mayer said that the people advising the president might have “terrible judgment” and questioned their competence, Owens laughed.
“We’re not dealing with a White House staff comprised of A listers with lots of experience,” said Mayer. “They no longer control this story. It’s beyond their ability.”
“Yeah,” Owens said.
Owens and Mayer discussed whether Republicans would turn on Trump, with Mayer bringing up President Nixon. “You are starting to see some of the people around the president, distancing themselves a little bit,” Owens said.
The podcast with Murphy was basically a detailed discussion, mostly driven by Murphy, of the chances of the Democratic and Republican primary candidates. The discussion with Coenen was a discussion that revolved around renewable energy and new technologies.
“One thing we know for sure that isn’t constant is our supply of coal and fossil fuels. They will run out at some point…that’s not going to be there forever,” Owens told Coenen.
Coenen said that climate change is a “deeply divisive issue.” Renewable energy doesn’t need to be tied to that discussion, he said, adding that people need to find common ground and find the right messaging.
“I think that’s great advice,” said Owens.
Owens said, “I don’t know if you followed this or not. But Australia they just recently had some national elections. One of the major issues…their messaging was climate change, climate change, climate change… and people started worrying about losing their jobs. The right in Australia said we recognize climate change is an issue and some of us do, some of us don’t. We recognize you think this is an issue, and voters are concerned about this but that voters are concerned about jobs….We are going to come up with a solution that isn’t far left.”
Owens said that was a lesson on “how you want to message this stuff. On both sides, you don’t want to go too far.”