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.
State police officials say Dean made no follow-up inquiries with them after he filed the affidavit. Dennis Madore told ABCNEWS the governor has never raised the issue with him, even after the phone call.
"I recall a comment that she [Benson] had called him but you know I can't discuss any conversation further than that," Madore said.
Madore said he believes the governor would have fired him if he had known of the domestic violence.
Madore Fired From Police Force for Domestic Violence
It wasn't until three years after Dean filed his affidavit, in August 2000, that state police opened an investigation into the domestic abuse allegations.
In September 2000, Madore was removed from the governor's detail because of the investigation. He was later fired in December 2000 because "he had engaged in acts of domestic violence during the course of his marriage and had possibly committed perjury during his divorce proceedings," according to the current Vermont attorney general, William Sorrell.
A Vermont official said Madore could not be prosecuted for domestic abuse because Donna Madore never pressed charges, and the statute of limitations has expired.
"As the alleged offenses of domestic violence are legally barred by the statute of limitations, which requires prosecutions for misdemeanors to commence within three years from the date of the offense," he said.
Dean Camp: Dean Not Responsible
Madore is appealing his dismissal, which he says was political. "I was treated worse because of my association with Howard Dean," Madore told ABCNEWS. "If I was a lieutenant in a barracks in Middlesex, I wouldn't be here today."
A spokesman for Dean said the governor's office received formal notification of the Madore investigation but the document could not be found in a search by ABCNEWS of the governor's files.
The Dean spokesman would not say if the Madore investigation documents were among those sealed by Dean's staff.
The spokesman said the governor's staff never showed Dean the documents in order "to protect" him from knowing about the case. He also added that no one could expect Dean to ask questions about the divorce or poke around in the details of the case.
On his campaign Web site, Dean says domestic abuse should be taken into consideration in custody hearings and that men should talk to other men about the issue.
"Ending this cycle of violence begins with leadership," Dean says on the site.