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The conspiracy theory around Harry Reid's exercise accident, explained

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Byron York, chief political correspondent for the Washington Examiner and Fox News contributor, has some questions about Harry Reid:

Behind this somewhat enigmatic tweet lies a rather elaborate conspiracy theory. @jhinderaker is John Hinderaker, one of the proprietors of the conservative blog PowerLine, and he's peddling a theory that the injuries Reid suffered while exercising in January weren't an accident at all. To Hinderaker the official story is just a cover-up for an incident that involves Mafia violence — likely the fallout of what Hinderaker alleges to be long-running corruption on the part of the Nevada senator and Democratic Senate leader.

"When a guy shows up at a Las Vegas emergency room on New Year's Day with severe facial injuries and broken ribs and gives as an explanation the functional equivalent of 'I walked into a doorknob,'" Hinderaker writes, "it isn't hard to guess that he ran afoul of mobsters."

This is a wild theory that lacks any evidentiary basis. But its popularity on the right speaks to the fact that conservatives are convinced that Reid — who has grown wealthy enough while in office to make the Ritz-Carlton his DC residence — has used his decades in public office to corruptly enrich himself, and the media has given him a pass on it.

What happened to Harry Reid?

On January 2, Reid's office informed the media that the senator had injured himself when "a piece of equipment Senator Reid was using to exercise broke, causing him to fall and break a number of ribs and bones in his face." Shortly thereafter, Reid recorded a video in which he discussed the upcoming 114th Congress and was visibly injured, sporting an eyepatch:

Reid has still not fully recovered from the injury, and has consistently appeared with special glasses that obscure his right eye. Reid has cited the injury and subsequent period of reflection as part of his motive for retiring rather than seeking reelection in 2016. In late January, Reid also hinted that he might sue the manufacturer of the exercise equipment in question, though nothing along these lines seems to have yet happened.

Subsequent to the initial announcement, Reid's office further explained that the senator had been working out with an elastic exercise band, which snapped, sending the senator crashing into some cabinets.

What does John Hinderaker think happened to Harry Reid?

To Hinderaker, the exercise story is prima facie implausible and a much more likely story is that the senator was beaten up by gangsters as part of a Mafia deal gone wrong. As he explains:

A friend of mine was in Las Vegas a week or two ago. He talked to a number of people there about Reid's accident, and didn't find anyone who believed the elastic exercise band story. The common assumption was that the incident resulted, in some fashion, from Reid's relationship with organized crime. The principal rumor my friend heard was that Reid had promised to obtain some benefit for a group of mobsters. He met with them on New Year's Day, and broke the bad news that he hadn't been able to deliver what he promised. When the mobsters complained, Reid (according to the rumor) made a comment that they considered disrespectful, and one of them beat him up.

Hinderaker followed this up by immediately confessing "I have no idea" whether that's what really happened. But he regards it as "a more likely story than the elastic exercise band yarn."

Does Hinderaker have any evidence for this theory?

No. In lieu of evidence, he offers this:

Everyone knows that the Reid family has gotten rich, even though Reid has spent his entire career as a public employee. It is known that a considerable part of his fortune came from being cut in on sweetheart Las Vegas land deals that included at least one person associated with organized crime as a principal. Was the Senate Majority Leader in the pocket of the Mafia? That seems like a question worth exploring, and yet, to my knowledge, not a single investigative reporter has chosen to look into the matter, even with the obvious clue of Reid's face in front of them.

Reid was, in fact, a lawyer in private practice for about 14 years and entered Congress in 1983 with a net worth of about $1 million. It is true that his investment portfolio has performed well over the past 32 years. This was the subject of a lengthy investigation by Adam O'Neil of RealClearPolitics last spring. O'Neil uncovered several instances of Reid appearing to be granted favorable investment terms by Nevada businessmen who were also political allies of Reid's.

As it happens, Reid's 2010 net worth of approximately $6.8 million is about what he would have obtained had he simply put his $1 million in the S&P 500 and reinvested the dividends (see this calculator) rather than getting involved in potentially problematic real estate deals, which is a nice little lesson in the perils of active investment management.

This is, however, a far cry from Reid being "in the pocket of the Mafia."

In addition, a number of PowerLine commenters have suggested that the lack of litigation from Reid is suspicious. "Surely a good Democrat is on the payroll of a number of top tort attorneys," observed Warren Meyer, "Does anyone believe Reid wouldn't sue if he were genuinely the victim of such a malfunction?"

It's worth noting that Reid has a security detail and, indeed, members of the detail were on site and drove the senator to St. Rose Hospital near his home in Henderson after his accident, so these putative mobsters would have had their work cut out for them.

What do we know about Harry Reid and the Mafia?

In the late 1970s, Reid served as Nevada gaming commissioner, a job that at the time offered plenty of opportunity for interaction with individuals from the world of organized crime. In 1978, he was offered a bribe by a man named Jack Gordon. Reid reported the attempted bribery to the FBI. They set up a sting, but Reid ended up going off-script and choking the criminal as he was about to be arrested.

"You son of a bitch, you tried to bribe me!" Reid said.

Later, in 1981 a car bomb was found in Reid's family car. The culprit has never been identified, but there has long been speculation that it was related to Gordon or other organized crime figures Reid tangled with as gaming commissioner.

Do exercise bands ever snap and injure people?

Here is a video of a man being hit in the face with his exercise band after it snaps:

According to the Schmidt Firm PLLC, a personal injury litigation firm, "Resistance bands (or 'exercise bands') have become one of the most popular types of exercise equipment in the United States. Unfortunately, dozens of people have been severely injured when the bands unexpectedly broke or released, snapped backward at the user, and caused eye injuries, vision loss, hand injuries, and more."

A November 2014 New York Post article reported on a lawsuit filed by a woman who claims to have been partially blinded in a band-snapping incident at her gym.

Carolyn Williams at LiveStrong wrote in 2013 that "with proper care and attention, [resistance bands] are useful for a variety of upper and lower body exercises and can last for several months. However, if you don't care for or tether them properly, they can snap."

Can you prove Reid wasn't beaten up by the mob?

That would be hard. But for the Vegas mob — which was largely crushed in the 1980s — to break into the house of a United States senator, evade or overpower his security detail, and rough him up would be quite the trick. It would also be quite peculiar. If they really wanted to squeeze Reid, beating him up would be an odd way to do it. It would presumably be more effective, and bring less heat down on the mob, to threaten his family, or to simply threaten to release evidence of Reid's relationship with the criminal underground to the press.

The right's larger frustration stems from the sense that people should be looking more closely at Reid's finances. But the truth here is that the media has looked into this. Extensively. There was an LA Times investigation that followed on an earlier LA Times investigation. The AP and the Washington Post have looked into Reid's land deals. USA today has investigated his use of campaign funds. Sharron Angle fully aired these allegations in her 2010 campaign against Reid and journalists covered it. Reporters just haven't found the kind of career-destroying smoking gun that conservatives want to find.