The campaign of Troy Downing, a Republican seeking his party's U.S. Senate nomination, issued a release Wednesday calling the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks "deep state" and claiming the agency conducted a "witch hunt" against him.
Deep state is a term that became popular on conservative websites such as Breitbart during the 2016 presidential race to refer to career employees secretly working within government to manipulate policy and undermine political enemies.
"It's unfortunate the liberal Montana FWP deep state is on a witch hunt," The Downing campaign said.
The release came in response to a story from the Bozeman Daily Chronicle last week detailing records from an FWP investigation into Downing's alleged hunting violations.
The Chronicle has reported that Downing, who is hoping to unseat Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, was charged with seven misdemeanor violations for buying or applying for resident hunting licenses as a non-resident. He was also cited twice for transferring a license and assisting an unqualified applicant.
The records were ordered unsealed by Gallatin County District Court Judge John Brown in October. Downing's next date in court is Nov. 15 for an omnibus hearing, the Chronicle reported.
Downing's statement, sent by campaign manager Kevin Gardner, also criticized Brown, calling him a "Democrat" even though judicial positions are nonpartisan.
"It's no surprise that a Democrat judge, appointed by Democrat Gov. Schweitzer would release details of this case before Troy is afforded due process in the court of law," the release said.
The release of the records was requested by the Gallatin County Attorney's Office.
Brown was appointed by a Democratic governor to fill a vacancy on the bench. He has since run for retention in a nonpartisan election.
Downing called the judge's actions "politically motivated tactics."
"This is nothing more than an orchestrated attack on a combat veteran by Senator Tester's allies who are desperate to stay in power,'' Downing's campaign said. "These moves are obviously politically motivated and makes a mockery of the judicial process.''
The Chronicle reported the investigation was started by the Montana Department of Revenue, which was asked by FWP to see if Downing qualified as a resident for hunting licenses. According to the documents, Downing filed income taxes as a non-resident in 2013 and 2014 but changed to a full-time resident by 2015.
Downing allegedly bought licenses illegally in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, according to the Chronicle.
The release said that Downing's time in the Air Force after 9/11 meant he traveled and did not live in Montana full-time until he was honorably discharged in 2009. In the release, Downing said he bought land in Montana in 2000 and in a radio interview Wednesday morning said over the last decade he’s had businesses in 35 states and “been on the road a lot.”
"Troy spends tens of thousands of dollars to support our wounded warriors in fishing trips in Montana, and, he overpays by tens of thousands of dollars to fish and hunt to support other charities here in Montana. It makes no sense that he would try to skirt a small difference in a resident vs non-resident license in Montana," the release read.
Downing's statement also praised Republican President Donald Trump, who Downing had criticized before the president won Montana by 20 percent a year ago.
Before the election, Downing said on Twitter the then-candidate wasn't electable and that Trump "cracks me up." He also used the hashtag #NeverTrumpNeverHillary and at one point called Trump "either a liar or an idiot," according to The Hill. Downing's personal Twitter account has since been made private.
Last week, Downing tweeted from his campaign account a photo of him with Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, the president's sons who were visiting Montana.
In the photo, Downing wore a red Make America Great Again hat, a trademark of the Trump campaign, while Trump's sons wore Downing campaign hats.
Matt Rosendale, one of several Republicans running in the Senate primary, also recently touted his ties to the administration, saying he had been endorsed by Steve Bannon, a former top adviser to Trump who was forced out of the administration earlier this year and is now running Breitbart.
Other candidates include former Billings judge Russ Fagg, state senator and doctor Albert Olszewski, Ron Murray of Belgrade and James Dean of Havre, whose wife is running against Tester in the Democratic primary.