Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Two members of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee have resigned after admitting they obtained Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele’s credit report.

Phil Singer, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), said the two staffers told committee officials in July what they had done. He said the committee began an internal investigation and determined it was an isolated incident.

“The DSCC immediately ensured that Mr. Steele’s credit report was not used or disseminated to anyone,” Mr. Singer said, “It also reported this incident to the U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C.”

He said the employees, who were not identified, were cooperating with authorities.

A source familiar with the investigation said the employees were “senior staff” members in the research department of the DSCC.

“While the DSCC did not authorize the employees to access Mr. Steele’s credit report, we regret that this incident occurred and apologize to Mr. Steele,” Mr. Singer said.

Mr. Steele’s chief of staff, Paul Ellington, said the lieutenant governor had been made aware of the incident.

“This is a serious legal issue, and a criminal investigation is under way,” Mr. Ellington said last night. “We have been advised by the FBI to not comment and will honor their request.”

Mr. Steele, a Republican, in June announced the formation of an exploratory committee for his run for the U.S. Senate after Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes in March announced he would not seek a sixth term.

State and national Republican Party leaders, including President Bush and Sen. Elizabeth Dole, North Carolina Republican and chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, have pressured him to run.

Audra Miller, spokesperson for the Maryland Republican Party, would not comment on the credit-report incident, referring a request to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. A spokesman for the committee said it is a “serious legal issue” and he was unable to comment until the committee receives more information.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s election as governor with Mr. Steele as lieutenant governor in 2002 made the two men the first Republicans to hold those offices in Maryland in more than 30 years. The state has not had a Republican senator since 1987.

Mr. Steele, the first black person elected to statewide office in Maryland, achieved national prominence after his prime-time speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention.

His political rise, from a post on the Prince George’s County Republican Central Committee to lieutenant governor, took less than 10 years. Mr. Steele said he did not plan his political trajectory but seized the opportunities presented to him.

Democrats who have announced their candidacies are U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin; socialist activist A. Robert Kaufman; Kweisi Mfume, former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and Dr. Lise Van Susteren, a Montgomery County psychiatrist, and the sister of Greta Van Susteren, who hosts the Fox News Channel’s “On the Record” interview program.

S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

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