- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 29, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s chief legal counsel is asking lawmakers investigating the firing of state employees to also help expose MD4Bush — the Internet chat-room visitor whose remarks were the catalyst for the probe.

Chief Counsel Jervis S. Finney told Sen. Thomas McLain Middleton, a Charles Democrat and co-chairman of the Special Committee on State Employee Rights and Protections, to use subpoenas to “seek the truth as it relates to MD4Bush.”

MD4Bush prodded longtime Ehrlich aide Joseph F. Steffen Jr. into a chat-room discussion in February about rumored infidelity by Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, a Democratic candidate for governor.

The governor immediately fired Mr. Steffen from his job as spokesman for the Maryland Insurance Administration.

However, the call by Democratic lawmakers for a probe of rumormongering quickly morphed into one about the firings, in part, because of accusations that Mr. Steffen secretly worked at rooting out Democrats to be fired from state jobs.

Mr. Middleton said he would not comply with the request. He said he did not know whether the probe will include the MD4Bush issue and that such a decision would be made by committee members. Mr. Middleton declined to comment on whether he had a personal interest in discovering the identity of MD4Bush.

Mr. Finney thinks the committee lacks the legal authority to issue subpoenas but said members could issue them through other legislative means.

Mr. Finney previously accused Sen. Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery Democrat and committee member, of helping to conceal the identity of MD4Bush.

Mr. Frosh, who rebuffed Mr. Finney’s call to recuse himself from the panel because of anti-administration bias, said he does not know MD4Bush’s identity.

The investigation is the General Assembly’s first of somebody outside the legislature in more than 25 years.

The 12-member committee met yesterday for a presentation by the Department of Legislative Services on legal protection for state employees and state compliance with the Equal Employment Opportunity law.

It was the fourth time the committee has met since it was established in August. Previous meetings were devoted mostly to procedural issues, such as authorizing subpoena power and the use of outside counsel.

The committee is scheduled to meet again Oct. 18.

Republican lawmakers have accused Democrats of conducting a “witch hunt.” The Republicans say the probe was tainted from its inception because they were excluded from selecting members to serve on the committee, composed of four Democrats and two Republicans each from the House and the Senate.

Democrats have characterized the committee as a bipartisan panel charged with ensuring the stability of the government work force.

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