ANNAPOLIS-The General Assembly investigation into Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s personnel practices was overshadowed by partisan bickering Wednesday as Republican lawmakers urged the committee to try to discover the identity of the mysterious internet figure known as MD4BUSH.
Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, Eastern Shore Republican and Senate minority leader, at one point suggested the committee should subpoena the Washington Post reporter who broke the story of the Ehrlich aide who was fired after he was caught spreading rumors about the personal life of Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, a potential Ehrlich rival, on a conservative web site.
Democrats dismissed Stoltzfus’ comments as a “smokescreen” intended to draw attention from what might be an embarrassing series of hearings intended to find out whether the Ehrlich administration targeted Democrats in state government for firing.
Stoltzfus spoke a day after the governor’s top legal aide, Jervis S. Finney, suggested that Democrats were behind the internet figure, MD4BUSH who was said to have prompted former Ehrlich aide Joseph Steffen to put rumors about O’Malley on the internet.
Stoltzfus also said he would like to subpoena the records of the web site where the exchanges took place, www.freerepublic.com.
“I want to see if this was a hoax perpetrated to give the governor a black eye and inoculate the mayor from rumors,” he said. “We must get to the bottom of this.”
Stoltzfus said he wanted to know who MD4BUSH is and how much involvement the Post reporter who originally broke the story, Matthew Mosk, had with him or her.
R.B. Brenner, Maryland editor for The Washington Post, said Mosk received printed copies of message exchanges between MD4BUSH and NCPAC, Steffen’s user name, sometime last fall. He said the Post “had no involvement in any way in the chat room postings” between Steffen and MD4Bush on the freerepublic.com Web site.
Brenner said the Post does not know the identity of MD4BUSH.
Democrats immediately dismissed the GOP efforts as a transparent attempt to change the subject from a potentially embarrassing series of revelation for the Ehrlich administration.
Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, said the Republicans’ comments were a “smokescreen for the real issue.”
Sen. Thomas Middleton, D-Charles and co-chair of the committee, and Delegate Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore and co-chair of the committee, said investigating MD4BUSH’s identity is outside the scope of the committee.
“They are getting so hung up on (MD4BUSH),” Jones said. “That is not the focus of this committee.” As for a possible subpoena to Mosk, she said, “I don’t think Matt Mosk is a current of former state employee.”
The political maneuvering is threatening to slow down the hearings. Once scheduled to be finished in the beginning of January, it now seems doubtful they will end on time.
The purpose of Wednesday’s meeting was to discuss the witness procedures for future hearing with the committee’s attorney, Ward B. Coe III. After nearly an hour of squabbling, the legislators were able to finalize the procedures.
The committee was also slowed by problems receiving information on the number of employees by agency that were fired and why. Part of the delay is in removing identifying information to protect the rights of former employees some of the information has been distorted. The committee was told it will receive the information before the end of the week. The committee’s next meeting is scheduled Nov. 22, but they may be called back sooner to review the personnel information they are waiting for.