A Surfeit of Scoundrels

Friday, September 23, 2005

MARYLAND Republicans are angry, and rightly so, that Democratic operatives would fraudulently obtain the credit report of Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, an all-but-declared candidate in next year's race for the U.S. Senate. A pair of twentysomething operatives for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee apparently procured the report for the purpose of "opposition research." They've been fired by the DSCC, and the case has been referred to the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, which are investigating.

Mr. Steele, a Republican whose credit history is of interest to the Democrats because of personal debts and other financial troubles earlier in his career, wants the Democratic aides to be prosecuted to the hilt. They may indeed be liable for a fine and even some prison time; under federal law, it is illegal to knowingly and willfully obtain a credit report under false pretenses. But it was some of Mr. Steele's own Republican colleagues who, while trying to contain their glee at the political ammunition furnished them by the Democrats, supplied a reality check on his righteous indignation. The incident demonstrates that Mr. Steele has arrived in big-time politics, said Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. The governor, no slouch at partisanship himself, added that both parties were guilty of similarly unsavory tactics, which he attributed to "Capitol Hill politics."

As political dirty tricks go, snooping for financial dirt on Mr. Steele by illegal means strikes us as roughly on a par with eavesdropping on a rival party's private telephone conversations, as Virginia Republican officials did several years ago. Both acts display a disregard for fair play and the spirit of the law; both are indicative of the current state of partisan enmity. Voters might like to punish all the scoundrels -- if only they could tell one party's scoundrels from the other's.

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