Rob Simmons demanded Monday that Linda McMahon, his rival for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate, explain why she appeared to direct an employee to tip off the target of a steroids investigation in 1989.
In a press conference on the north steps of the State Capitol, Simmons delivered his harshest criticism to date of McMahon’s tenure as chief executive officer of World Wrestling Entertainment, the company she owns with her husband, Vincent.
“Mrs. McMahon is building her Senate candidacy entirely on her business experience at the WWE,” Simmons said. “She needs to be held accountable for that very troubling record.”
Simmons was responding to a story published in The Day of New London about a confidential memo McMahon wrote Dec. 1, 1989 to an employee about Dr. George Zahorian III, a Pennsylvania doctor who later would be convicted of selling steroids to wrestlers.
“Although you and I discussed before about continuing to have Zahorian at our events as the doctor on call, I think that is now not a good idea,” she wrote. “Vince agreed, and would like for you to call Zahorian to tell him not to come to any more of our events and to also clue him in on any action that the Justice Department is thinking of taking.”
In an interview last week, McMahon told The Day she could not explain the reason she directed Pat Patterson, a former wrestler, WWE executive and consultant, to alert Zahorian to the fact that he was under investigation.
“I don’t pretend to remember to go back, to revisit all the aspects of that case,” McMahon said. “It has been tried, acquitted and done with, and WWE has evolved its total health and wellness policy over the years, and I’m sure will continue to evolve.”
Simmons said McMahon’s response should not be accepted by the press or public.
“Mrs. McMahon claims she does not recall any of the details of these events,” Simmons said. “That is not credible. It reflects a pattern of false and misleading statements, a refusal to answer questions and selective amnesia.”
McMahon has declined to hold a general press conference on steroids or other topics, although she has submitted to one-hour interviews with several news organizations, including one with The Mirror on the day last month that a Quinnipiac poll showed her taking a 10-point lead over Simmons.
Watching from the sidewalk during Simmons’ press conference was McMahon’s communication director, Edward Patru.
“Linda McMahon believes that what voters are entitled to and what they deserve is a substantive debate on issues, issues that impact them every day, not 17-year-old court cases, not 21-year-old memos,” he told reporters.
Simmons, a Vietnam veteran, former CIA agent and former three-term congressman from eastern Connecticut, has aggressively criticized McMahon as she has spent heavily on television advertising and risen in the polls, overtaking Simmons.
“I’ll suggest to you the reason why Rob Simmons has hemorrhaged 37 points in the polls and lost his lead is because he has no ideas,” Patru said. “He’s more focused on talking about wrestling and running smear campaigns than he is on putting forward any ideas on how we get people back to work and turn this economy around.”
Simmons said character is a legitimate issue in any campaign, as was the case with questions he and other Republicans raised about the Democratic incumbent, Christopher J. Dodd, who withdrew from the race in January.
“I believe,and I’ve always believed that public office is a public trust,” Simmons said. “I entered this race a year ago, because I believe the incumbent violated that public trust.”
Simmons got a bit of good news after his press conference. A new Rasmussen poll showed that in head-to-head matchups with the Democratic front-runner, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, Simmons ran the strongest of the three leading Republicans: him, McMahon and Peter Schiff.