In March, reporters noticed an unusual claim being made by Pastor Ken Hutcherson, the Eastside evangelical whose crusades against gay rights and gay-friendly businesses have brought him national attention. In e-mails, Hutcherson was telling his supporters that he had been appointed by the George W. Bush White House as a "special envoy" to Latvia. When challenged on this claim, Hutcherson promised to produce a videotape that would prove it true.
That was more than four weeks ago.
Since then, the White House has repeatedly denied that it gave Hutcherson any titles, "special envoy" or otherwise, in connection with his lobbying trip to Latvia in early March. During the trip, Hutcherson reportedly appeared with a well-known Holocaust revisionist, rallied Christian worshippers at an evangelical church, and complained to U.S. embassy officials in Riga, the Latvian capital, about their alleged support for local gay-rights groups.
There have been numerous accounts, however, of Hutcherson suggesting or outright stating that he was representing the White House as he lobbied against efforts to promote gay rights in Latvia. In e-mails to his supporters before and after the trip, Hutcherson wrote of having been appointed as a "special envoy" for "Adoptions, Family Values, Religious Freedom, and Medical Relief." In a March 16 e-mail, he said the appointment allowed him to meet with the Latvian government.
A local lawyer, Dave Coffman, has suggested that the claims by Hutcherson could have violated federal laws against posing as an official U.S. representative while abroad. Coffman filed a complaint with the FBI in late March, and said he received a follow-up call from the bureau on April 2. (The FBI will not comment on investigations unless charges are brought.)
Hutcherson, for his part, has maintained that he did indeed have support from the White House for his trip, and he has bridled at being called, in his words, dishonest. When a German press agency reported on the controversy in late March, it quoted a White House spokeswoman denying Hutcherson's claims, and then quoted Hutcherson saying that he "did not appreciate being called a flat liar."
Because Hutcherson himself set up the White House video as the hard proof that his version of events is true, The Stranger had been trying for weeks to get a look at the tape. On April 11, Hutcherson finally made himself available for an interview. During the conversation, he reversed course and said he had the video, but would not be showing it to The Stranger.
"Oh yeah, I have it," he said. But, he added: "My relationship with the White House is much more important than my relationship with you."
Hutcherson said he believes that if he produces the video, it will be used to embarrass the White House.
"I'm not going to give you information so you can go and attack the White House," he told me. "Either way, you win."
If Hutcherson doesn't show the video, he remains vulnerable to charges that it doesn't exist and that he was exaggerating or fabricating his "special envoy" status. If he does produce it, he risks his relationship with the White House.
Hutcherson said that he believes the director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives recently put out a statement supporting Hutcherson's version of events. The Stranger could find no evidence of this, and it seems unlikely that such a statement would have been missed by the reporters who are interested in this story. A phone call and e-mail to the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives requesting clarification were not returned.
That's fine with Hutcherson.
"You tell the White House, if they're not going to say any more, that's fine," Hutcherson said.
Hutcherson seems to hope this story will stop here, with him claiming the White House version of events is wrong and the White House declining to comment further.
Perhaps it will. Or perhaps he'll be willing to show his alleged tape to a reporter for a paper that he isn't so upset with.
Hutcherson certainly sounded fed up with The Stranger during the April 11 interview, which represented a dramatic change of tone. After calling this reporter "brother" and "my man" in phone and e-mail messages over the past weeks, on April 11 he angrily told this reporter not to call him anymore, and said he would be happy to show his video in a court fight against The Stranger—a thinly veiled threat of legal action.
When told The Stranger was simply trying to follow up on a test he himself had set up—the alleged video—Hutcherson responded:
"Brother, I'm not giving you nothing. Don't call me. Bye." And then he hung up.