- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2006

A former Democratic operative will plead guilty to a federal charge of illegally obtaining Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele’s credit report, the woman’s attorney said yesterday.

Lauren Weiner, who was a researcher for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) last year when she accessed the credit data, will plead guilty to the misdemeanor offense in coming weeks, said her attorney, Whitney C. Ellerman.

She will likely be sentenced to 150 hours of community service with no jail time or fines, and her criminal record will be erased after one year of probation.

Mr. Steele, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, said he would be disappointed if the DSCC is not held accountable for the actions of its operatives.

“It is a stain on the entire organization and the operations of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee,” Mr. Steele said yesterday. “It’s the kind of politics that turns people off and demeans the electoral process.”

The lieutenant governor said he is consulting attorneys about legal recourses to pursue.

“What is the point of the law if you are not going to feel the pinch of it?” Mr. Steele said.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, DSCC chairman and a champion of laws that combat identity theft, declined to comment on Miss Weiner’s plea.

The DSCC has said it did not approve or have prior knowledge of Miss Weiner’s actions.

However, DSCC spokesman Phil Singer yesterday said the committee has paid the legal fees for Miss Weiner and Katie Barge, who was the committee’s research director and supervised Miss Weiner at the time she obtained the credit report.

Both women resigned from the committee in September amid a federal investigation.

“Our thoughts are with Lauren as she brings this matter to a conclusion,” Mr. Singer said yesterday. “She is a fine person who made a mistake. As we have said repeatedly, the DSCC has never been implicated in any wrongdoing in this incident. The matter is now closed.”

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the case.

A letter prosecutors sent to Mr. Steele last week informed him of the plea agreement being negotiated with Miss Weiner and outlined a deal identical to the one described by her attorney. The Washington Post reported the letter yesterday.

Mr. Ellerman yesterday noted that his client, Miss Weiner, immediately informed the committee after she obtained the credit report. It was immediately destroyed and never used for any purpose nor disseminated to Democratic candidates.

“No economic loss resulted from Miss Weiner’s actions,” Mr. Ellerman said.

The plea agreement appears to end the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s six-month investigation of the credit-report theft without implicating Miss Barge or the committee’s leadership.

Miss Barge’s attorney said prosecutors have assured him that neither his client nor the committee will face charges.

“She didn’t do anything wrong,” said attorney William E. Lawler III, who also represented former New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey, a Democrat who resigned amid a homosexual sex scandal.

Miss Barge “was always a witness,” he said. “She fully cooperated. She provided information on a voluntary basis.”

Miss Barge also has worked as a researcher for presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, and as a research director for Media Matters for America, a Web-based enterprise founded to combat the influence of conservative news commentators.

Mr. Lawler said his client remains supportive of Miss Weiner and “certainly does not think that Lauren acted with any bad motive or anything like that.”

However, Maryland Republican Party Chairman John M. Kane said the charges against Miss Wiener show that the DSCC engaged in “dirty politics.”

“The DSCC perpetrated an unlawful and disgraceful attack on Lt. Gov. Michael Steele,” he said. “The theft of his identity to wrongfully obtain his credit report is another example of how low some Democrats will sink in their quest for power.”

He called on Terry Lierman, chairman of the state Democratic Party, to issue an apology to Mr. Steele.

“We regret it happened,” said Derek Walker, Maryland Democratic Party executive director.

He characterized Miss Weiner’s actions as “unauthorized” and a “very stupid mistake.”

“Clearly, she is paying for that mistake,” Mr. Walker said.

Brian DeBose and Charles Hurt contributed to this report.

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