- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 19, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — A consultant’s study of a computer used by Joseph Steffen found no evidence that the former aide to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. used the equipment to spread rumors about Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, the governor’s chief legal adviser said yesterday.

Jervis Finney also said the consultant found no evidence on the computer to indicate that Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, or any of his staff were involved in spreading rumors that the Baltimore mayor and likely candidate for governor next year had been unfaithful to his wife.

“All aspects of the investigation are continuing,” Mr. Finney said in a letter to House Speaker Michael E. Busch that accompanied copies of the study by ICG Inc. of Princeton, N.J., released by Mr. Finney.

Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, noted that Mr. Steffen has acknowledged using the Internet to spread the rumors, which Mr. O’Malley and his wife, Catherine, heatedly denied.

The House speaker also said e-mails given to reporters under Public Information Act requests prove that Mr. Steffen was in frequent contact with top-level Ehrlich aides despite claims by Mr. Finney and Paul Schurick, the governor’s communications director, that Mr. Steffen was a low-level aide.

“Why do we need to send the disk for a forensic study to begin with? To somehow justify that this [investigation] is going to be unbiased or to cover their backsides,” Mr. Busch said.

The consultant conducted a limited search of data in the computer Mr. Steffen used at the Maryland Insurance Administration, the last of three jobs he held in the administration.

Mr. Finney said computers in the governor’s office and the Department of Human Resources were not sent to the consultant because, under standard procedures followed by the administration, they were cleared of data when Mr. Steffen left those two positions.

Hiring an outside consultant “was appropriate to ascertain whether that state resource [computer] was utilized in connection with the rumors. The answer is, ‘No,’” Mr. Finney said.

Responding to Mr. Busch’s comment that his investigation can’t be seen as unbiased because of his involvement with Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, Mr. Finney said: “The governor seeks the truth in this investigation, as otherwise, so it’s not a matter of bias, and if the speaker has information on Ehrlich administration employees or legislators, it would certainly be part of this investigation.”

Mr. Steffen was fired by Mr. Ehrlich after acknowledging that he had posted messages on the Internet spreading the rumors about Mr. O’Malley, who is expected to seek the Democratic gubernatorial nomination next year.

In addition to Mr. Finney’s continuing inquiry, Democratic legislative leaders plan an investigation later this year of charges that Mr. Steffen was one of the governor’s aides who went into agencies looking for people to fire so jobs would be available for Mr. Ehrlich’s supporters.

Mr. Ehrlich and his appointments secretary, Lawrence Hogan Jr., insist they have replaced few people except those in high-level political positions where a governor would be expected to bring in his own people.

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