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N.H. finds no evidence in Buckley porn allegations

CONCORD, N.H. --Citing a "complete lack of evidence," state prosecutors said Thursday they won't file criminal charges against top Democrat Raymond Buckley over child pornography accusations brought forward by his former friend and housemate.

Manchester Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, a Democrat-turned-Republican, made the allegations in a letter to Gov. John Lynch, saying that while Buckley lived in his house, he smuggled child porn from Europe, left kiddie porn strewn about his bedroom and trawled the Internet for the images.

Buckley had been the heavy favorite to win the election for state Democratic Party chairman, but dropped out after the letter went public in January. He said from the beginning the allegations were false.

Buckley, 47, is openly gay. He and Vaillancourt, 55, lived in the same house for 16 years before Vaillancourt evicted him in 1999.

With Vaillancourt watching and videotaping Thursday, Attorney General Kelly Ayotte said at a news conference that a two-month investigation uncovered nothing to support Vaillancourt's accusations.

"Simply put, Mr. Vaillancourt's allegations that Mr. Buckley was involved in the possession of child pornography are unsubstantiated and unfounded," she said.

Police interviewed 14 witnesses, many of whom were recommended by Vaillancourt. Ayotte said none corroborated the accusations. Police never found any child porn and said they couldn't find a computer that Vaillancourt said Buckley used to browse for the images.

Ayotte said even Vaillancourt's police interviews were fruitless.

"When Steve Vaillancourt was interviewed and pressed about the allegations he made to the governor, he could not describe observing any material in Mr. Buckley's room that would meet the definition of child pornography," she said. "In fact Mr. Vaillancourt admitted to police that he exaggerated in the letter that he wrote to Gov. John Lynch."

Ayotte said she had seriously considered charging Vaillancourt with making a false report, but decided it would be too difficult to prove because he went to the governor, not police. The law requires evidence that a person knowingly made a false report to law enforcement.

Later, at a news conference of his own, Vaillancourt insisted his accusations are true.

"Absolutely everything I wrote in the letter to Gov. John Lynch is correct," he said. "Absolutely everything I said to police is correct."

He did not deny exaggerating, then said "I don't think exaggerating is lying."

Vaillancourt previously acknowledged he had little to no evidence to support his accusations. The state report said that during a police interview, Vaillancourt claimed he'd seen Buckley using a computer to search for child porn, then corrected himself.

"I assumed it was ... I mean, did I see any five-year-old boys that I particularly recall? Absolutely not," the report said.

Vaillancourt said the state's investigation was flawed, and complained that police never accepted his offer to take a polygraph test. To reporters, he distributed a list of proposed polygraph questions -- including answers -- and said he also was willing to be hypnotized and drugged to help investigators get to the truth.

He said the state investigation upset him, comparing it to the O.J. Simpson case -- "not since then has an investigation been so botched as this one," he said.

Buckley said he was happy to be cleared and considers the matter closed.

"I'm gratified by the attorney general's determination," he said. "I'm just pleased that this is all behind me."

Other questions still loom. Unrelated to Ayotte's investigation, state Democrats last month hired a lawyer to investigate an anonymous letter accusing Buckley of sexually harassing male staffers in the Senate Democratic caucus. Party chairwoman Kathy Sullivan and lawyer James Donchess did not return calls seeking comment Thursday.

Buckley also is deciding whether to renew his bid for the party chairmanship and whether to sue Vaillancourt.

Lawyer John Kacavas said they've discussed a defamation lawsuit.

"Accusing someone baselessly of (a) crime is the definition of defamation, but to accuse someone of this kind of crime is human savagery," he said. "This was a personally motivated political assassination. It was done at a time that was crucial for Mr. Buckley in achieving his goal of becoming the Democratic Party chair."

As for politics, Democrats now are looking to the party elections on March 24 with interest.

Cornish Sen. Peter Burling suggested Buckley consider getting back in the chairmanship race. "This is time to rally around Ray," Burling said. "I don't understand how the Democratic Party can stand to lose its candidate for a leading office on the basis of unfounded charges by someone who clearly has an ax to grind."

When Buckley dropped out, former House Democratic Leader Jim Craig announced he would run for the chairman's job, with the governor's support.

Manchester Sen. Lou D'Allesandro said that means the party should take its lead from Lynch.

"The governor called Jim Craig and asked him to run for chairman of the party. I think the governor has to play a role," he said.

Lynch was out of town Thursday. His spokesman, Colin Manning, said Lynch endorsed Craig, "who stepped up when the party needed him," but hadn't yet spoken to Buckley on Thursday afternoon.

Craig was not in his office Thursday afternoon and did not immediately return a message.

Buckley himself said hasn't decided. "I've had my life back for an hour and ten minutes now," he said. "I'm not going to be making any of those determinations at this time."