Prosecution rests in Md. robo-calls case

The woman who recorded a robo-call on Election Day 2010 that told African American Democrats in Maryland not go to the polls said a consultant for the campaign of former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. told her that his “client” did not want the call to contain a mandatory line identifying who had paid for the message.

But before state prosecutors rested Wednesday in their conspiracy case against Ehrlich campaign manager Paul E. Schurick, his defense team sent jurors writing furiously in their notepads. On cross examination of another senior campaign adviser, Schurick’s defense attorney elicited testimony revealing that a contract required an independent consultant – and not the campaign -- to make sure any actions the consultant undertook on behalf of Ehrlich’s re-election bid were legal.

The independent consultant, Julius Henson, a controversial African American political operative, is also under indictment. He was repeatedly the scapegoat Wednesday for Schurick’s defense. State prosecutors, however, repeatedly sought to establish that the chain of command for the ad ended with Schurick, who told FBI agents that he ordered the ad but never listened to it before it was deployed.

Deputy State Prosecutor Thomas M. McDonough also sought to upend that assertion by Schurick, using phone records to show that after a test version of the 23-second robo-call was left on Schurick’s voicemail, he spent nearly a minute listening to voicemails.

But it was the testimony of Greg Massoni, Ehrlich’s former press secretary while governor and a senior campaign adviser during his 2010 rematch with Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), that provided the most compelling evidence of the day.

Massoni signed the contract with Henson that paid him for the robo-calls. He had also received a test version of the call on Election Day before it was sent to the homes of tens of thousands of mostly African American voters in Prince George’s County and in Baltimore.

The call told voters to “relax” and stay home and watch TV, even though polls were still open, because O’Malley had already been “successful” in his reelection bid.

In seeking to build the state’s case that Schurick had obstructed a criminal investigation into the calls, prosecutors probed how it was that the most sensitive pages of a document that Henson had prepared and that outlined plans for suppressing black votes had been among documents that Massoni turned over to Schurick and Ehrlich’s campaign lawyer, but that were never relayed to prosecutors.

Massoni said he did not know. And he drew the ire of State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt when he suggested that he had been urged to change the account he had provided in grand jury testimony and to provide more incriminating evidence against Schurick.

“It was a wonderful offer,” Massoni said, saying that he declined because he had been “telling the truth from the get-go.”

Davitt clarified that Massoni had been offered immunity from perjury if he recalled anything that later conflicted with his grand jury testimony.

Did the state prosecutor’s office “ever suggest you tell anything but the truth?” Davitt asked.

“No,” Massoni responded.

But Massoni used the back and forth to echo another defense theme, saying that he considered the whole trial “an abuse of power,” by the O’Malley-appointed state prosecutor.

Massoni added, he wouldn’t have lied anyway because he was “scared to death” when he received the subpoena for documents, saying he had never had to hire a lawyer before in his life.

Henry Fawell, Ehrlich’s former communications director and another member of his inner circle during the 2010 race, testified that Schurick had expressed “discomfort” with Henson’s proposed $600,000 plan to help the Republican win by attempting to suppress black voter turnout.

Nonetheless, Fawell also testified that after first unwittingly denying to the news media that the campaign was behind the robo-call, Schurick told him to no longer do so. But he suggested Schurick seemed at a loss for an explanation to provide to reporters. “I don’t know, help me out,” he recalled Schurick saying.

Schurick’s defense attorney, A. Dwight Pettit, is scheduled to begin presenting his case Thursday morning. He said he may call as many as 30 character witnesses including former governors, senators, and others on both sides of the political spectrum who have worked with Schurick over the years.

Ehrlich, ironically, is scheduled to hold a book signing Thursday night for his new memoirs in which he contends that his comeback bid last year was “swamped” by a large turnout of African American voters, many of them angry at the tea party and eager to “protect” President Obama.

Aaron Davis covers D.C. government and politics for The Post and wants to hear your story about how D.C. works — or how it doesn’t.

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