Thursday 10 February 2011

Ashley Turton’s suspicious death leaves probing questions

Progress Energy lobbyist and ex-chief of staff to Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Ashley Westbrook Turton, opened the door of her BMW suburban utility vehicle a few minutes before 5 am on January 10. The 37-year old mother of three young children, including twin boys, and the wife of Dan Turton, President Obama’s chief liaison to the House of Representatives, was on her way to work. Later that day, an announcement would come from Duke Power that it was buying Progress Energy for $26 billion, creating the largest power utility in the United States.

Ashley Turton would never make it to work that day. Turton’s car was engulfed in flames after she turned the ignition. The Washington Metropolitan Police Department, which can always be counted on to come up with the best fiction any time there is a suspicious death with political implications, surmised that Turton’s car was involved in a “low-speed” crash in her garage with a work bench that triggered a chemical fire. But to top it all off, the police said an “unknown medical condition” was also likely involved in what was described as a “freaky” accident.

Turton’s short biography in the funeral service guide reads: “Ashley Westbrook Turton was born in Greensboro, NC; graduated from Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh in 1991 and from North Carolina State University in 1997. After working for Gov. James B. Hunt in NC, Ashley came to Washington, DC, in April 2000 to work as director of communications for the Honorable Rosa DeLauro, and later became her chief of staff. Since 2007, she has been manager of Federal Affairs for Progress Energy Service Company.”

Based on the presence of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, and former Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) at Turton’s funeral service on January 14 at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, there is little doubt that Turton and her husband were a “power couple” in the nation’s capital. But there was also a sense from those in attendance, including members of Ashley Turton’s family from North Carolina, that all the information about Ashley’s tragic death was not being brought forward by the police or the fire department.

In her eulogy of her former chief of staff, DeLauro spoke of someone who could exude the mannerisms of the “southern belle” but who was also politically attuned. DeLauro said that Ashley’s two favorite expressions belied her on-the-surface Southern charm: “shit fire” and “rat bastard.” DeLauro said that she had not heard such language “since Rahm Emanuel moved out of Stan’s and my basement.” DeLauro’s reference was to the rent-free use by Emanuel of her and her husband, Democratic lobbyist Stan Greenberg’s, townhouse, while Emanuel was a congressman from the Illinois 5th congressional district from 2003 to 2008.

DeLauro said she last saw Ashley Turton at her and Greenberg’s Christmas Party. DeLauro last communicated with Ashley Turton on January 5, the day the new Congress was sworn in. Ashley Turton was at a political event in Arizona where featured speakers included Democratic pollster and lobbyist James Carville, Greenberg’s business partner, and Karl Rove, the chief political adviser to President George W. Bush. Ashley Turton indicated to DeLauro that while she would probably attend Carville’s session, she probably would not bother with Rove’s.

Ashley Turton’s friends described in Turton a person who had an appetite for possible gossip. In some cases, while discussing a juicy bit of political rumor, Ashley Turton would tell her friends, usually over a glass of wine, that “this conversation needs to go out on the porch.” Ashley Turton confided in a close friend that she wanted to leave Washington and return to North Carolina to raise her family.

Considering Ashley Turton’s job as DeLauro’s chief of staff, legislative aide, and press secretary for a number of years; Emanuel’s use of DeLauro’s townhouse while he was a member of the House and in charge of doling out or withholding Democratic Party funds to candidates around the country; the presence of Greenberg’s partner Carville and Rove at the Arizona political confab attended by Ashley Turton’s just five days before her suspicious death, the question will always remain: What “juicy gossip” might have Ashley Turton taken with her to the grave?

Wayne Madsen

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