PROVO -- Rep. Merrill Cook denied Tuesday suggestions that he ever wiretapped or illegally listened to any conversation with anyone, including telephone calls of Provo City Councilwoman Shari Holweg, whom he just hired as a staff member Monday.
"I would never do anything like that," Cook, R-Utah, told the Deseret News. He said he knows nothing about such actions.FBI Special Agent George Dougherty said Tuesday that local agents never considered Cook a suspect but talked to him as a witness about Holweg's allegations that someone was tapping her phone.
Holweg confirmed Tuesday that in 1996, while she was running for lieutenant governor on Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Bradley's ticket, she contacted the FBI because she thought her telephones were being tapped or her private conversations otherwise listened to.
"I never thought it was Merrill. He would never do anything like that. We've always had a good friendship. I wasn't a threat to him," Holweg said.
However, Cook said it is possible Holweg did give the FBI his name -- Holweg had just left his 1996 Republican congressional campaign and could have believed that any number of Republicans were angry with her for joining Bradley.
Cook said the FBI did some time ago interview him about the accusations.
The FBI initially apparently didn't put much stock in Holweg's claim.
Investigators, however, later decided there might be some validity to the charge and launched a probe.
Chuck Warren, a former staff member of Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, said an FBI investigator interviewed him for 25 minutes a couple of days before Thanksgiving.
"I have been questioned about it, but I don't know that Merrill Cook wiretapped anybody, to be blunt," Warren said.
Warren said he told the FBI that the Cannon staff had heard rumors about secret recordings and that a local television station was pursuing a story to that end. He said he doesn't know anything beyond that.
"Nobody on the Cannon staff had any knowledge he was wiretapping," Warren said. "I think that (the FBI) was just questioning anybody under the sun."
Another GOP operative told the Deseret News on Tuesday that he also was interviewed by the FBI just a month ago on the Holweg wiretapping subject. The investigator specifically asked if the person had any knowledge of Cook's involvement in the issue. He said he has no knowledge of any Cook wrongdoing.
Holweg, a two-term City Council member, has been in the thick of many political uproars in Provo since running unsuccessfully for mayor in 1985.
Most recently, a one-time co-worker and former state Senate candidate accused her of masterminding an anonymous negative advertising campaign aimed at derailing Mayor Lewis Billings' and Councilman Greg Hudnall's election bids in 1997. She repeatedly has denied involvement.
In 1996, it was revealed that Holweg secretly recorded telephone conversations with colleagues and constituents, including an alleged discussion with Cook, whose 2nd District campaign she was working on.
Holweg's brother, David Gardiner, gave at least three of the tapes to former Provo Mayor George Stewart.
After an investigation into the matter, the City Council signed a letter of condemnation regarding Holweg's actions.
Stewart said Monday that he didn't listen to the tapes in their entirety, but Gardiner told him of a conversation between Holweg and Cook in which "some inappropriate things were said." Stewart said he understands the tone was "perhaps threatening" because of disagreements between the two when Holweg left the Cook campaign in 1996.
Holweg denied any disagreements with Cook, saying they remained friends before and after she left his campaign and joined with Democrat Bradley.
Holweg said she doesn't know why political intrigue seems to follow her around. "Perhaps it's because I speak my mind and stand up for the people who elect me," she said Tuesday.
Holweg said she doesn't believe Cook was involved in the wiretappings in any way. "I can't talk about the investigation, which is ongoing, or why I believe" her phones were tapped. "When you have political enemies like I do," these kind of things happen, she said.
Cook said that after Holweg left his 1996 2nd District campaign and joined Bradley, a number of "really nasty, completely untrue things" were said about him, about Holweg and about people working on his campaign. Some of the "lies" apparently stemmed from the tape recordings that Holweg made herself of her conversations at that time.
They were low, vile political lies, Cook said. "Shari had some reasons" to believe her telephone conversations were overheard and acted on that, Cook said. He added, "I had nothing to do with it."