Michael Pugliese, Department of Veterans Affairs deputy commish, defends Tim Pawlenty in PlateGate

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We wrote yesterday about a potentially damning allegation leveled against Tim Pawlenty.

DFL Sen. Don Betzold has accused Pawlenty of diverting money from the "Support Our Troops" license plate campaign into the governor's office. About $30,000 went to pay the salary of a Pawlenty employee involved with faith-based initatives -- cash that by law should have gone to either the Department of Veterans Affairs or the Department of Military Affairs.

This afternoon Michael Pugliese, the Department of Veterans Affairs' deputy commissioner, rushed to T-Paw's defense, insisting that his department benefited from the cash, despite Betzold's allegations. Pugliese continued with an allegation of his own, accusing DFLers of political gamesmanship.

(Pugliese's complete statement after the jump).
"What's happening is they're using this agreement as a political football to go after the governor. This was a quarter-time employee who worked 10 hours a week in our department, which we paid for with the 'Support Our Troops'  fund. We got good mileage out of this person. She was well-connected with communities of faith, which allowed her to contact a lot of veterans and secure benefits for many servicemen who otherwise would not have received benefits. She did what we were hoping she would do, which is to reach out to the veteran community. This is exactly what the 'Support Our Troops' license plate fund was created for.

"I don't think they're aware of the ramifications of their actions. Raising false alarms might scare people away from purchasing 'Support Our Troops' plates, and we really rely on those funds to support  vital services for our needy veterans."
Pawlenty's office declined comment, directing us instead to Pugliese.
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