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Steffen E-Mails Imply Closer Link to Ehrlich

He and other aides said the papers offer proof that Steffen exaggerated his stature in the administration and his claims of a close relationship with the governor.

"There are no facts supporting the political charges leveled at the Administration," Paul E. Schurick, the governor's communications director, said in a statement. "Legislators behind these charges grasp for air and redefine the charges as facts, to their chagrin, fail to emerge."

Roughly 14,500 pages of e-mails and other documents were released by attorneys for the governor yesterday. More could be released Monday. (Matthew S. Gunby -- The Washington Post)

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Kendel Ehrlich's office also released a statement yesterday, saying she was unaware of Steffen's activities before reading about them in the newspaper. "She had a professional acquaintance with Joe Steffen in the same manner she has an acquaintance with many of the Governor's employees and campaign volunteers," her statement said.

The papers released yesterday represent an incomplete picture of Steffen's writings. Several thousand pages were withheld for various legal reasons, and most e-mails from early in Steffen's tenure have already been purged from the state computer system. Ehrlich's attorney said that more documents could be released Monday.

Finney waited until Friday afternoon -- one day after the deadline -- to release four full boxes of Steffen's papers to the Annapolis press corps. Two dozen reporters packed into the small news bureaus in the State House and made a cursory review of all 14,500 pages. The vast majority were mundane e-mails, dealing with Steffen's work in three state agencies as well as music and parties.

But House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said several exchanges are significant because they reveal "the direct relationship between Mr. Steffen and the governor's office. The idea that he was a rogue employee is the furthest thing from the truth."

Busch said the materials will become grist for the probe that he and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) are planning to begin in April, after the close of the legislative session.

"This kind of purging of state employees with people like Mr. Steffen . . . working under the direction of the governor's office could be the most objectionable thing I've seen in public office," Busch said.

Ehrlich press secretary Gregory Massoni said that the governor welcomes the investigation but that it should do more than look at Steffen. It should "shine a spotlight not only on the Ehrlich administration, but on the . . . administration [of Democrat Parris N. Glendening] as well."

"We want to look at legislators and their campaign people and their family members," Massoni said. "Let's turn on the flashlight and shine it on all places."

Staff writers John Wagner, David Snyder, Eric Rich and Daniel de Vise and staff researcher Sharon Fanning contributed to this report.

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