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Did Rand Paul really get beat up over lawn clippings?

More developments in a still mysterious case.

Sen. Rand Paul.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

A new report from GQ goes deeper into the possible tensions between Sen. Rand Paul and the neighbor who attacked him earlier this month — the latest development in a strange saga that began when Rene Boucher tackled the senator on November 3, breaking six of his ribs.

The GQ report doesn’t extinguish the mystery, but provides more details about Boucher’s bubbling frustration over what he saw as Rand Paul’s disregard for landscaping etiquette, including the senator’s alleged habit of mowing too close to Boucher’s lawn and spraying grass clipping over the property line.

The attack on Paul has been shrouded in obscurity for weeks. Boucher’s lawyer released a statement that claimed the source of the matter was a “trivial dispute.” Media reports also painted a picture of a long-simmering property dispute between the two men, possibly over landscaping or yard waste. Other reports speculated on a possible political dispute.

But Paul’s chief strategist denied the men had squabbled and said Paul hadn’t spoken to Boucher in years. “The first ‘conversation'‘with the attacker,” his chief strategist, Doug Stafford, said, “came after Sen. Paul's ribs were broken.”

Paul returned to work a little more than a week after Boucher’s violent assault. On Friday, he said in a video posted on Twitter, said it had been a “rough couple of weeks,” but he’s getting better and working on tax reform.

Here’s what we know about the saga so far.

Paul was mowing his lawn when a neighbor tackled him

Paul had reportedly just finished mowing his lawn on November 3 at his home in Rivergreen, an upscale gated community in Bowling Green when Boucher tackled him from behind, “forcing him to the ground and causing pain,” reported NBC News, which obtained the criminal complaint.

Paul was wearing protective earmuffs to muffle the sound of the mower, two sources told the New York Times, which prevented him from hearing Boucher’s approach. (The senator told US Weekly in a 2015 interview that he loved working in his yard and that “mowing the lawn is very therapeutic for me.”)

NBC News reported that Paul managed to get Boucher off him, after which the two “exchanged words.”

Jim Skaggs, a neighbor and one of the developers of the Rivergreen gated community, speculated in GQ that Boucher charged Paul from the street:

From that direction, Paul's yard slopes steeply downward, toward the lake at the rear of his property. Barreling downward about 30 degrees, this imagined path would increase the force of a running tackle, perhaps explaining how a man of Boucher's diminutive stature—an acquaintance of the two men estimates that they both stand five-foot-six and weigh about 140 pounds—could do so much damage.

Boucher, who admitted to tackling Paul in the criminal complaint, was charged with one count of fourth-degree assault, and was released from custody Saturday night on $7,500 bond. He pleaded not guilty during a court appearance on November 9.

State police said Paul had sustained “minor injuries” in the first reports after the incident. But, in the weekend after the attack, Paul’s staffer, Doug Stafford, said in a statement to the Washington Post that the fractured ribs — three of which were partly or completely cracked — had bruised at least one of Paul’s lungs.

“This type of injury is caused by high velocity severe force,” Stafford said. “It is not clear exactly how soon he will return to work, as the pain is considerable as is the difficulty in getting around, including flying.” He described the injuries as those that could lead to serious and long-term health ramifications.

The senator clarified his condition for the first time on November 8. In the tweet, Paul said he broke six ribs (it had originally been reported as five) and suffered from a pleural effusion, which is a buildup of fluid in lining in the outside of the lungs.

The investigation continues. Neighbors are talking. But the motive isn’t clear.

Kentucky State Police are investigating the incident in coordination with the FBI, which is standard because Paul is a member of Congress.

The FBI is examining whether the assault on Paul amounts to a federal crime, and prosecutors with the Warren County Commonwealth's Attorney also told the Bowling Green Daily News that they are reviewing the charge, and may update or add to the charges given the apparent seriousness of Paul’s injuries. Boucher has also been ordered to stay at least 200 feet away from Paul.

Fourth-degree assault in Kentucky is a Class A misdemeanor, and Boucher, if convicted, could face up to a year in jail and up to a $500 fine.

No additional charges were added when Boucher entered a “not guilty” plea in court on November 9. According to the Associated Press, Boucher “barely spoke in the courtroom, only saying ‘yes sir’ to a judge.”

Rene Boucher.
Warren County Regional Jail via AP

Boucher is a retired doctor who practiced as an anesthesiologist and pain specialist; his medical license expired in 2015. According to a Bowling Green Daily News report from 2005, Boucher also invented the Therm-a-Vest, a device that attaches by Velcro and heats up to help with chronic back pain. It was featured on QVC.

The two men who live next door to each other and previously worked together as doctors, may have argued about politics in the past. Jim Bullington, who served on the city commission and was acquainted with both Paul and Boucher, told the Post that the men are political opposites and have had “heated discussions” about health care. One unidentified neighbor told WAVE 3 News that Paul and Boucher had “ongoing” problems — though the report did not elaborate on what those might be.

The Washington Post also said a Facebook page that appeared to belong to Boucher contained some anti-Trump memes.

Boucher’s attorney, in a November 6 statement denied that the attack had anything to do with politics, and instead called it a “regrettable dispute between two neighbors over a matter that most people would regard as trivial”:

Senator Paul and Dr. Boucher have been next door neighbors for 17 years. They are also prominent members of the local medical community and worked together when they were both practicing physicians. The unfortunate occurrence of November 3rd has absolutely nothing to do with either’s politics or political agendas. It was a very regrettable dispute between two neighbors over a matter that most people would regard as trivial. We sincerely hope that Senator Paul is doing well and that these two gentlemen can get back to being neighbors as quickly as possible.

Jonathan Martin of the New York Times has reported that this “trivial” issue might have something to do with some mysterious plant-related problems; sources gave multiple landscape-based reasons that ranged from a new sapling to yard clippings to unraked leaves. NBC News added a wild card: an issue over the property line of a creek behind Paul’s house where his sons used to play.

An unnamed neighbor also told CNN that these lawn-based tensions had long been simmering, though Rob Porter, friend of Paul’s, said the senator told him he hadn’t spoken to Boucher in years. “He is still unsure why he was attacked,” Porter said. “I don’t know if he knows why he was attacked.”

Paul added more intrigue by retweeting two stories that cast doubt on the “landscaping dispute” story, both of which originated in conservative news outlets, the Washington Examiner and Breitbart.

Stafford, Paul’s chief strategist, also knocked the idea of a Paul-Boucher dispute. “The first ‘conversation’ with the attacker came after Sen. Paul's ribs were broken,” he said. “This was not a ‘fight,’ it was a blindside, violent attack by a disturbed person. Anyone claiming otherwise is simply uninformed or seeking media attention.”

GQ, in a story published Monday, dug into questions of politics and lawn care. The report, speaking to neighbors and acquaintances in the Bowling Green community, pointed at two men whose personalities clashed, and that played out in a property dispute that left Boucher festering in anger and frustration.

According to GQ, Boucher faced some personal setbacks in recent years, including a divorce in 2008. He had tried to sell his house in the gated community soon after, but he had trouble finding a buyer. Boucher ended up staying put after a deal fell through in 2012.

Boucher, according to neighbors, was a stickler when it came to his property. He paid professionals to tend to his yard, but, his neighbor, Paul did his own landscaping. And it may not have been up to Boucher’s standards. “He had his yard sitting at a beautiful two-and-a-half, three inches thick, where Rand cuts it to the nub,” Bill Goodwin, a Bowling Green resident who knows both men, told GQ.

Paul, hobbyist mower that he is, also may not have been the most attentive at the post-yard work cleanup. Boucher fretted over Paul’s grass clippings that ended up in his yard, confronting the senator and complaining to the neighborhood association. “I've asked him and I've asked him and I've asked him,” Goodwin remembers Boucher complaining about the senator’s lawn etiquette. “How long can you sit there taking someone plucking a hair out of your nose?”

Still, even if Boucher was scrupulous about lawn care, stray grass clippings rarely lead to broken ribs. And neighbors in the upscale neighborhood aren’t thrilled about how the incident brought scrutiny on their neighborhood. One person, talking to GQ, called both the attacker and the victim “two little shits.”

Boucher will return to court November 30 for a pretrial hearing.

Paul could have pain for “weeks or months” — but he’s returned to the Senate

Paul, left bloodied and bruised after the attack, faces a potentially prolonged recovery. “This type of injury is also accompanied by severe pain that can last weeks to months,” Stafford said.

But last Monday, Paul confirmed on Twitter that he was still in a “good deal of pain,” but said he’s heading back to Washington. “I will be returning to work in the Senate today,” he wrote, “ready to fight for liberty and help move forward with tax cuts in the coming days and weeks.

Even President Donald Trump offered his well wishes.

This is good news for Republicans. A prolonged absence by Paul could have complicated things for the party, which has been relying on their slim majority in the upper chamber to push through their legislative agenda. The GOP is following an aggressive timeline to pass tax reform by the end of the year. Paul’s vote may be necessary to pass the Senate’s version of the tax bill without Democratic votes (and integral to pretty much everything else on the Republican to-do list).

Of course, Paul is not always a reliable vote for the GOP. He was the sole Republican senator who voted against the Senate budget resolution that changed the rules for passing tax legislation because he wanted deeper cuts. He might again be a spoiler on the Senate’s tax bill. So far he has signaled his support — though he is among the senators supporting a repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate in the Senate plan.

The attack on Paul also adds to questions over the security of lawmakers, as the Wall Street Journal points out. In June, a gunman opened fire at a GOP congressional baseball practice, injuring four people, including severely wounding House Majority Whip Steve Scalise. Paul, who was at the practice that day, escaped unharmed.

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