Right-wing pastor pulls another set of articles from website amid legal trouble

While Pastor Jordan David Hall’s legal problems with a series of stories he wrote about a transgender Native American lobbyist may have ended last month with a retraction, apology and quarter million dollar settlement, another lawsuit was brewing.

As the settlement for a libel claim against lobbyist Adrian Jawort was being finalized, an attorney for the Whitefish Federal Credit Union had filed preliminary paperwork asking a bankruptcy judge not to discharge any future claims the banking institution had against Hall and his Montana Daily Gazette because it was contemplating legal action against Hall.

Neither Hall nor his attorney responded to requests for comment on this story.

The genesis for the new complaint was a series of articles the Montana Daily Gazette had done on the credit union, spanning several months and claiming the bank had engaged in seizing assets and paying handsome, unchecked sums to executives. The claims were also broadcast extensively on a radio station, also under Hall’s control.

Last week, the Whitefish Credit Union’s claims were voluntarily dismissed, after the series of articles on the credit union were scrubbed from the website.

“The Montana Daily Gazette published articles that falsely stated Whitefish Credit Union acted in unethical ways. The articles have been removed from the Montana Daily Gazette, and we acknowledge Mr. Hall’s decision to remove this content,” said Josh Wilson, vice president of marketing for Whitefish Credit Union.

The stories also claimed that the Montana Daily Gazette was showing documents to credit union members in efforts to persuade them to pull business, prompting, in part, the banking institution’s basis for the lawsuit, which had claimed that business was suffering harm at the hands of Hall and the Daily Gazette.

“(Hall) knowingly chose not to investigate and corroborate the incidents reported in the articles, statements and other content, even though the defendant should have known that such incidents were unlikely to have occurred and that only through corroboration could he meet reasonable professional obligations,” the court document said.

Hall and the Montana Daily Gazette in some reporting claimed that the FBI, county investigators, state investigators and the Flathead County Attorney were looking into the case and had confirmed the allegations.

Yet the basis for those statements was misleading. For example, one of the people interviewed in the series of articles was Montana State Sen. David Howard, a Republican from Park City, who told the Montana Daily Gazette that he had worked for the FBI in busting banking corruption in Chicago, and he’d worked briefly in white-collar crimes. Another law enforcement official had previously worked for the Flathead County Sheriff’s Department as an investigator, but was not employed by the county currently and had not been a part of any investigation regarding the federal credit union.

The Montana Daily Gazette also claimed that Flathead County Attorney Travis Ahner had told a group of people that there was sufficient evidence to prosecute the credit union for financial crimes, but that he lacked the staff to prosecute. The Daily Montanan contacted Ahner, who denied the entire account.

The Daily Gazette also claimed that the Montana Attorney General was looking into the case as well. That office did not respond to inquiries about this matter.

Nearly a month ago, Hall reached a settlement with transgender Native American lobbyist Adrian Jawort, apologizing and retracting an article in which Hall falsely said Jawort had attacked Montana State Sen. Butch Gillespie.

Not so apologetic

In a recent post by Hall on Facebook, though, he seems to retreat from the apology he posted to Jawort in the Montana Daily Gazette.

“I do not retract the comments, but will add that press accounts which imply that what was stated was *willfully* incorrect or purposefully falsified are inaccurate and take great liberties with what was actually stated,” he said.

Previously, Hall had apologized and retracted the article, a technical term by which a publisher states it can no longer stand by the veracity of what it had previously published.

“I apologize to Adrian Jawort. The information I published about Adrian was false. Adrian did not threaten or harass Senator Butch Gillespie. I regret the error and sincerely apologize to Adrian for publishing it,” Hall said as part of the settlement with Jawort.

Hall blames “opposing counsel” for forcing the apology and crafting the words. Hall said the Jawort story was published “from the perspective of those witnesses.” However, in the original account, the Daily Gazette reported two anonymous claims that Jawort had been aggressive in the Capitol, but the publication never named them.

“We presumed the Montana Daily Gazette would be covered by the Montana journalism shield law, and ‘alleged’ or ‘reported’ would suffice to cover our liability,” Hall said on Facebook.

Jawort told the Daily Montana that she was not at the Capitol on that day, and did not testify on a bill that was ultimately passed that prohibits transgender athletes from participating in women’s sports.

Originally, Sen. Gillespie, R-Ethridge, signed an affidavit filed by Hall’s attorneys, yet in that affidavit, Gillespie never claims the person who yelled at him for his position on transgender athletes was Jawort.

When contacted by the Daily Montanan, Gillespie said he still isn’t certain what Jawort looks like, and that’s why he didn’t name anyone in testimony.

“Is that the big guy in high heels?” Gillespie said. “If that’s the case, (Jawort) only testified for one bill, which was on the American Prairie Reserve.”

The person who followed him to the Senate and was upset by the proposed transgender legislation was not known to Gillespie.

“I didn’t know the guy. I still don’t,” Gillespie said. “I told him that you’re not going to probably like my position because I don’t think guys should be competing with girls no matter what they call themselves.”

Daily Montanan is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Daily Montanan maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Darrell Ehrlick for questions: info@dailymontanan.com. Follow Daily Montanan on Facebook and Twitter.

Far-right pastor retracts article -- admitting he fabricated incident between Montana lobbyist and Republican

A conservative minister who seemed to be a darling of far-right politicians in the state has admitted that he fabricated a story about a transgender Native American lobbyist allegedly berating a state senator so badly that he sought the protection of the Montana Senate’s sergeant-at-arms.

In a libel case that has raged on for more than a year and involved threats of mounting an attorney’s head on the wall of the Pastor Jordan “JD” Hall’s study, a rocket launcher and statewide speaking tour, the conservative Sidney-based minister has admitted that he fabricated the story and apologized to Adrian Jawort, a lobbyist who testified on many issues related to Native Americans.

The settlement and a potential $250,000 claim was reached as Hall is going through the bankruptcy process, seeking protection from a libel case, as well as discharging attorney’s fees he racked up during the libel fight. Two weeks ago, Hall was arrested on charges of driving under the influence and illegally carrying a concealed weapon, to which he has pleaded not guilty.

The case began when Hall used a story in his online newspaper, The Montana Daily Gazette, to promote the now-discredited story about Jawort attacking Sen. Butch Gillespie, a Republican. Hall, writing under an anonymous byline, called Jawort, a lobbyist, a “transvestite Goth” who roamed the halls of the Capitol. In a story about Jawort, Hall said that she had attacked Gillespie during a hearing on a controversial bill regarding transgender athletes.

Hall now admits the incident never happened.

On the website of the Montana Daily Gazette, a publication Hall runs through a group he leads called Gideon Knox, he issued the retraction and apology:

“Adrian Jawort filed suit against Jordan Hall in response to a claim published in the Montana Daily Gazette that Jawort harassed Senator Butch Gillespie in the State Capitol. This information was false. Hall has agreed to retract the false information in the original article and publicly acknowledge that Jawort had no involvement in any such incident. Hall has issued the following apology:

“I apologize to Adrian Jawort. The information I published about Adrian was false. Adrian did not threaten or harass Senator Butch Gillespie. I regret the error and sincerely apologize to Adrian for publishing it.”

— Jordan Hall, Publisher Montana Daily Gazette

As part of the settlement, the statement will be on the website of the Montana Daily Gazette for seven days in a “prominent” place, and cannot be deleted from the site after that.

Hall’s attorney, Bret Allred of Billings, declined to comment. Hall was unavailable for comment.

As part of the settlement, Jawort will ask the state court to dismiss the charges of libel against Hall, but will be able to claim a $250,000 judgment against Hall’s estate in bankruptcy court. That case is still pending and it’s unclear whether Jawort will actually see any money from the proceeds.

“I am grateful that after a tumultuous year, Pastor Jordan Hall was final able to admit committing libel and bearing false witness against me. In this day and age when trans people like myself are targeted with political bullseyes on our backs, it was especially dangerous of him to falsely accuse me of bullying and harassing an elderly state Senator I’d never met to the point where the sergeant at arms had to pull me away,” Jawort said. “There are people out there who’d physically hurt me if they thought that was true and then saw me to take revenge.”

Gillespie, a Republican from Tooele County, recounted a confrontation in an affidavit filed with the court by Hall’s former lawyer. Gillespie said he was yelled at by a person he didn’t recognize. While Gillespie never named Jawort, he never withdrew or modified his statement.

“As I neared the main doors leading to the Senate floor, the person who had previously expressed his opposition to HB112 became very passionate,” Gillespie said in an affidavit signed on Sept. 30, 2021. “The person began yelling about HB 112 being unfair and against humanity.”

Jawort told the Daily Montanan watching Hall tour the state, fundraising, in part, on the lawsuit was a surreal experience.

“He mocked me and played victim by lying to crowds that I’d filed a lawsuit for anti-free speech reasons,” Jawort said. “I’ve even had someone from Great Falls wanting to confront me. This person also bizarrely claims I engaged in some Q-Anon type child porn cover-up theory. While I am glad he never found me, Hall must realize as a pastor people will take his word as literal gospel and act on it.”

Jawort told the Daily Montanan that a person showed up to a Billings business where he thought she worked to confront her.

Jawort’s legal tact in the lawsuit focused on the now-discredited incident in which Hall had alleged falsely that she had attacked Gillespie. Jawort told the Daily Montanan she never testified on the bill and wasn’t even in Helena when the incident happened. She said Hall published the story on May 4, 2021, asking her sometime during the morning if she would consent to an interview. Jawort told the Daily Montanan she was familiar with Hall’s work at discrediting the LGBTQ community and declined the interview unless Hall used the correct pronouns.

“Being trans in Montana, you build up a high tolerance for getting attacked by trolls,” she said. “You’re constantly in fear and you don’t want to give them more ammo.”

Within several hours, Hall had posted the story, “Who’s the Gothic Transvestite Haunting the Halls of the Montana Capitol?”

Jawort said that while the story contained many stereotypical characterizations of the transgender community, the incident with Gillespie stood out to her. She said that the thought of attacking an older, conservative politician could set her up for violence and ruin her reputation as a lobbyist.

Court records show that Jawort reached out within hours and asked for a retraction or correction for that portion of the story, letting other incendiary comments about her attire or even accusations of a five-o’clock shadow pass.

“You’re not going to mistake me,” Jawort said. “I am a six-foot tall trans woman decked out with heels and dressed fancy. You are not going to mistake me for anyone else.”

When Hall refused, Jawort said she had no other choice.

“I knew that this rhetoric is only going to get worse and they’re going to get worse,” Jawort said, who noted she was already being attacked as a pedophile or as someone grooming children.

Jawort says she still doesn’t know if the event with Gillespie happened and was a case of mistaken identity, or if it was concocted to silence the LGBTQ community.

For now, Jawort said she hopes to return to lobby at the Capitol for Native American issues, and that the case shows how extreme politics has gotten in Montana. She pointed to her record as a journalist for more than 20 years, and said she’s not against free speech, even the kind that mischaracterized her.

“Ignore the trolls. Ignore the trolls, but then you see lawmakers like Braxton Mitchell, Derek Skees and Theresa Manzella talking with JD Hall on his radio show. It’s not that those people would vote for things that I am promoting, but conservatives have been too afraid to disavow them. They’re cowardly and don’t want to upset them because those same people bully anyone who shows empathy toward people like me,” Jawort said.

However, Jawort, who is Native American, said that Montana has had transgendered people since time immemorial and that indigenous cultures have always accepted them under a “live and let live” doctrine.

“This case has showed who folks like JD Hall are – with their masks off and how they feel,” Jawort said. “And if folks disagree with them, then maybe they should distance themselves from it.”

Jawort points out that the settlement doesn’t necessarily bar Hall from exercising free speech, even if that’s against her. She’s used to the name-calling and the derogatory remarks, which include Hall’s church characterizing LGBTQ existence as “disease-ridden” and “child-molesting.”

However, Hall is barred from repeatedly insisting that she attacked Gillespie.

“The older members of the legislature seemed fascinated by me because I realize I am the first transgender person they’ve seen,” she said. “They found me kind of exciting and then they’d vote against my bills.”

She said she anticipates other forms of discrimination to emerge in the 2023 Legislature, including a version of the Florida “Don’t Say Gay” bill. And Jawort hopes she’s in Helena to provide a counternarrative.

“(The lawmakers) won’t be able to say they haven’t seen any anti-LGBTQ action in the state, because I’ll be there,” Jawort said. “Republicans are going to have to ask themselves the question: Is this the person they want to stand by, a person who bears false witness?”

Daily Montanan is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Daily Montanan maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Darrell Ehrlick for questions: info@dailymontanan.com. Follow Daily Montanan on Facebook and Twitter.

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US inspector general finds former Trump official Ryan Zinke wasn’t honest about real estate dealings

An investigation by the inspector general of the Department of the Interior found that former Secretary Ryan Zinke, a native of Montana and current congressional candidate, committed multiple ethics violations and was not honest in disclosing real estate dealings while he served in the Cabinet of former President Donald J. Trump.

The investigation, released Wednesday, centered on Zinke’s role with a nonprofit foundation he established with his wife and a group of developers, one of whom was a high-ranking executive with the defense and energy services company Halliburton.

While the 32-page inspector general’s report outlines more than 60 texts, with emails or other communications, it stopped short of recommending any criminal charges for Zinke, who refused to participate in the investigation. It also found no evidence that Zinke had used his position as Interior chief to benefit Halliburton.

Zinke’s current campaign manager, Heather Swift, was also his spokesperson while at the Department of the Interior. In an email to the Daily Montanan, she accused the Biden administration of publishing “false information” and said the investigation was a “political hit job.”

The investigation showed that even when news of Zinke’s potential dealings in Whitefish broke in 2018, he lied to the department’s ethics investigators, denying any involvement and saying his wife was still on the board, making decisions. Lola Zinke also declined to speak with investigators.

Inspectors were able to obtain email, texts and other testimony that show that Zinke was involved with the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation after he had officially signed an agreement to resign from the position.

It also shows that Zinke made modifications and suggestions to the developers about details like fence lines and snow removal. At one point, Zinke said if developers wanted to use the land as a parking lot, they’d have to grant him permission to establish a brewery or distillery on the location, something the developers called, “a big ask.”

The inspector general’s office received 64 emails and text messages from Aug. 21, 2017, through July 30, 2018.

“Zinke played an extensive, direct, and substantive role in representing the foundation during negotiations with the 95 Karrow project developers,” the report said.

One of those messages between the developers in September 2017 details how intricately Zinke was involved.

“Zinke is asking us to transfer…(a) corner of the land (and all utilities) to the Peace Park for the brewery, (which I am assume (sic) he still think he can spot zone on county property). He is also asking for an exclusive right to produce alcohol on 95 Karrow and the Peace Park. In essence, he is leveraging the parking and snow storage for the Brewery lot and legal access to his site,” the text reads.

The report also shows that Zinke used his government staff to print documents and arrange for meetings with the developers, including one meeting at Zinke’s Washington, D.C., office, with dinner that night and a personal guided tour of the Lincoln Monument, which included a security detail for Zinke.

The report also deals with Zinke’s response to media inquiries when reporters started digging into the deal. Zinke exchanged 37 text messages with the developer about how to deal with press inquiries about the project and the secretary’s involvement.

In one, Zinke sends a text, referring to himself in third person, seeming to coach the developer how to respond, “(The news organization) is not our friend. Zinke has resigned from the park and has turned all decisions over to the board. We are working with the board in the best interest of the community that we love.”

In the news reports from 2018, he told both the Associated Press and Lee Newspapers that he had resigned and was not active in the discussions.

When news broke of his involvement, the ethics office within the Department of Interior interviewed him about the reports, to which he responded, “Neither the park nor (my wife) or I have any financial interest or involvement in the building or operation of the micro-brewery or any other facility within the 95 Karrow development.”

During Zinke’s tenure in office, the Washington Post reports, there were 15 misconduct allegations. Most closed without finding any evidence, but one is still ongoing.

“Secretary Zinke did not abide by ethics obligations while Secretary of the Interior,” the report said. “Evidence consistently showed that Secretary Zinke had extensive and in-depth involvement with the 95 Karrow project developers regarding Foundation matters in the months after he resigned as the foundation president and from its board.

“With respect to knowing falsity, we rely primarily on the sheer amount of detail in the communications between Secretary Zinke and the developers. We believe that the level and extent of Secretary Zinke’s engagement with the developers on issues pertaining to the Foundation generally and the 95 Karrow project in particular make it unlikely that he would have forgotten or misconstrued his role. The emails and other communications were not casual exchanges but rather were in-depth discussions about particular aspects of the project, the foundation, and how the two intersected.”

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Montana minister who flies on private planes files for bankruptcy

With just 24 hours before a sanctions hearing in front of a state district court judge, Pastor Jordan Daniel “JD” Hall filed a bankruptcy petition in federal bankruptcy court in Montana.

The Sidney minister, who has held numerous fundraising rallies throughout the state to contribute toward his defense, is being sued by Adrian Jawort, a transgender Native lobbyist who alleges that an article about her damaged her reputation.

Hall was scheduled to appear before Cascade County District Court Judge Elizabeth Best on Wednesday for a hearing on sanctioning the outspoken Baptist minister who has appeared to target Jawort and her attorney, Raph Graybill, a former Democrat candidate for Attorney General. Hall also held a rally in Great Falls, the home of Best, railing against Montana’s judiciary, calling out the judge by name.

Attorneys for Jawort filed the unusual and rare motion for sanctions because of Hall’s menacing behavior, which included a picture showing the pastor’s home with hunting mounts on the wall, with one reserved for Graybill’s head. In another instance, Hall was featured with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

Meanwhile, last week the Montana Supreme Court denied an appeal by Hall to take over the case. In that motion, Hall argued that Best had made an error in her partial judgment against the minister, ruling that Jawort was not a “limited-purpose” public figure, a legal finding that would mean her attorneys would only have to prove that Hall and his online newspaper, The Montana Daily Gazette, would have to prove negligence, not malice. In other words, Jawort would not have to prove that Hall and the Daily Gazette meant to injure her reputation, rather just prove that it should not have relied upon the unnamed witness who said they witnessed Jawort screaming at a Senator during a debate about legislation concerning transgender rights.

The Supreme Court said that it was not taking up the case because, “there is no evidence that relief on appeal would be inadequate.”

Matthew Monforton, Hall’s attorney, had argued that Best’s decision amounted to an incorrect legal finding that would instead subject Hall to going through a trial instead of dismissing the charges or determining a different legal standard.

Hall’s bankruptcy filing also puts an immediate stay, or halt, to any legal proceedings, meaning that it instantly stops the sanctions hearing that was scheduled for Wednesday. The stay is in effect for as long as 30 days, and Judge Benjamin P. Hursh may ultimately decide how the case will proceed.

Hall has filed a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy filing, meaning that a bankruptcy trustee has been assigned in the case. That trustee is Joseph Womack of Billings.

Graybill, Jawort’s attorney, told the Daily Montanan on Tuesday that they had just seen the filing and expected to file a response to it in federal bankruptcy court.

“Whether the bankruptcy petition is legitimate is dubious,” said a statement by Jawort’s lawyers. “Hall has done everything in his power to avoid accountability.”

Hall has repeatedly bragged in public forums and meetings about his fundraising ability, raising thousands of dollars for a legal defense fund, often from other churches. However, those assets and dollars don’t appear directly connected to him personally or with the Gideon Knox Group, a separate entity Hall owns, which has appeared at times to own or publish the Montana Daily Gazette.

However, in the Chapter 7 filing with the bankruptcy court, he listed assets of less than $50,000 and said that attorneys’ fees were the primary driver of his bankruptcy and those bills ranged between $100,000 and $500,000.

On Tuesday, the court issued a deficiency notice to Hall, saying that eight of nine documents required for bankruptcy protection were missing and giving him 14 days to file them, which includes a statement of monthly income and means testing, pay stubs and other statements.

Daily Montanan is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Daily Montanan maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Darrell Ehrlick for questions: info@dailymontanan.com. Follow Daily Montanan on Facebook and Twitter.