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October 20, 2014

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Heller apologizing for aide over office space ‘joke’

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Steve Marcus

Dean Heller, candidate for Nevada’s U.S. Senate seat, speaks during a debate with Shelley Berkley on the “Ralston Reports” television program at the KSNV-Channel 3 studios Monday, Oct. 15, 2012.

After getting called out by a Capitol Hill publication for allegedly squatting on office space, Sen. Dean Heller is deflecting personal responsibility and playing cleanup for his chief of staff, Mac Abrams.

“He’s a former communications guy. He knew better,” Heller said Tuesday. “He’ll be the first to tell you, by the way.”

Heller said that a horribly overblown “joke” was at the root of an article published over the weekend by Capitol Hill publication Roll Call alleging Heller’s staff was “bullying” more senior senators from trying to take over his office space.

“Someone told somebody a joke. I wasn’t in town, I was back in Nevada … let’s move on,” Heller said Tuesday.

But Heller also said he had “admonished” Abrams for making the joke, telling him: “It wasn’t the appropriate thing to say.”

Heller, one of the most junior senators on Capitol Hill, has been occupying one of the nicer suites in the Russell Senate Office Building since taking it over from Sen. John Ensign in mid-2011. It’s space Heller seemed ready to have to say goodbye to in late 2012, knowing that, according to the rules of the Senate, more senior senators had the right to bump him to less swanky, high-ceiling digs as soon as the new session started.

According to unnamed sources cited in the article, Abrams told a staffer for Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss that Heller might have to start giving campaign funds to Chambliss’ Republican challenger in his 2014 election if Chambliss tried to take the office. The conversations took place before Chambliss announced he would retire at the end of the current congressional term.

Heller was incensed by the article, blaming “petty politics,” “petty politicians,” and “petty reporting” for turning Abrams’ conversation into a political football — or as the Nevada Democrats painted it, a "scandal."

Heller was careful to say that when he was complaining about politicians, he did not mean to slight Chambliss or any sitting senators, merely criticize their staffers.

Acknowledging that Abrams often has a manner that is at least brusque, if not bullying, Heller was quick to defend his chief of staff as contrite — and quite surprised that what he considered a conversation between friends had turned into a mini-scandal.

“He feels bad that what he considered telling a joke to a friend … he’s very unhappy that his comments were taken the way they were,” Heller said. “He’s not blaming anybody — he’s accepting responsibility for them.”

Abrams declined a request for comment through Heller's spokeswoman Chandler Smith.

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