In his presidential campaign, and as governor of Vermont before that, Howard Dean has taken a tough, zero-tolerance stand on domestic violence, accusing the Bush administration of not being committed to the issue. Yet Dean said he had no idea that one of the men closest to him was repeatedly abusing his wife.
Dennis Madore, the state trooper who headed Dean's security detail for nine years, was "a classic abuser," according to Jerry Diamond, a Dean supporter and former Vermont attorney general who was the lawyer for Madore's wife, Donna, when she filed for divorce in 1997.
"There were years of abuse in which she had been struck, had been pushed, shoved in front of the children, both physical and emotional abuse in front of the children," said Diamond. He said the abuse occurred both before and while Madore worked for Dean. Madore later admitted five separate instances of abuse.
Court records show that Madore's lawyer, Phil White, also a close friend of Dean, was first made aware of the abuse allegations on March 7, 1997.
On May 23, 1997, Dean inserted himself in the case, filing a three-page affidavit at White's request for use in a custody hearing, in which he described Madore as "a firm but gentle disciplinarian" and a "wonderful parent."
According to Diamond, it was a highly unusual move. "I'm sure that there are very few cases on record where a governor might have done that," he told ABCNEWS.
Diamond said the affidavit raised questions about the governor's judgment in getting involved and was deeply upsetting to Donna Madore, whom he said suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder because of the domestic violence.
"I think she was shocked, more than disappointed," said Diamond, who said he was authorized to speak for Donna Madore. "She was shocked that the governor would do something like that."
Dean declined repeated requests over the last six weeks to talk to ABCNEWS about the case, but when the issue first came up in Vermont three years ago, he told WCAX-TV he did not know of the abuse allegations when he filed the affidavit.
"I don't think it's my business as an employer to rummage through anybody's divorce papers," Dean told the station. He maintained he had never known about what he called a "shocking accusation."
Warned About Abuse
But in 1997, Dean, by his own account, ignored a warning he received about Madore just a few days after he filed the affidavit.
In a phone call to his Burlington home on June 1, l997, Maggie Benson — a longtime Dean supporter and friend of Donna Madore — told the governor that Dennis Madore was an unfit parent and that Dean could damage himself politically by being involved.
According to Dean's handwritten notes on the call, he hung up on the supporter because he construed her tone to be threatening.
"She said she did not believe Dennis was a good father and I told her the conversation was inappropriate," Dean wrote.
After hanging up on Benson, Dean called the trooper's lawyer, White, who told him to write down his recollection of the conversation. There is no indication in the governor's notes that Benson specifically mentioned domestic violence.
White's firm later forgave Madore $47,000 of his legal bill, according to court testimony.
White did not return phone calls from ABCNEWS seeking comment.