Internet Political 'Scam' Eyed; Ehrlich Aide Seeks Probe

Article excerpt

Byline: S.A. Miller, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s chief legal counsel yesterday called on Democratic leaders to investigate newly exposed ties between the state Democratic Party and an Internet chat room visitor who apparently orchestrated a "dirty tricks" campaign to smear the administration.

Chief Counsel Jervis S. Finney said Democrats appear to have been players in a "scam" to discredit Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican.

The involvement of a Democratic operative "certainly takes it a step further and it would seem the so-called Special Committee [on Employee Rights and Protections] and the Maryland Democratic Party should seek at last to find the final truth," Mr. Finney said.

His comments follow revelations by the owner of the conservative Web site FreeRepublic.com that someone with a Maryland Democratic Party e-mail address was a chat room visitor known as MD4Bush.

Earlier this year, MD4Bush enticed former Ehrlich aide Joseph F. Steffen Jr. into rumor-mongering about Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, a Democrat running for governor next year, and then turned over the written exchanges to The Washington Post.

The uproar over Mr. Steffen, who detractors say was tasked with targeting Democratic state workers for firing, spawned the ongoing probe of the administration by the Special Committee - the General Assembly's first investigation of someone outside the legislature in more than 25 years.

"It is quite obvious that this is a political hit orchestrated by someone with ties to the Democratic Party," said Kristinn Taylor, spokesman for FreeRepublic.com.

Mr. Taylor said MD4Bush had a Maryland Democratic Party e-mail address, which ends with the domain name "mddems.org."

He declined to identify the user's full name or e-mail name, citing privacy rights. But he said his company is exploring legal options that would permit the disclosure of the user's name.

Mr. Finney recently sent the Special Committee a copy of an e-mail message obtained by the administration that he said implicates Ryan O'Doherty, a former state Democratic Party spokesman, in the MD4Bush scheme. …