Site Offers Clues to User in Web Chat With Ehrlich Aide

By Eric Rich
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 16, 2005

The operators of a conservative Web site yesterday released three e-mail addresses they said were connected to the anonymous site user who drew a former aide to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) into discussions of a smear campaign against a political rival -- and one of the addresses matched that of a former state Democratic Party official.

A spokesman for the Free Republic Web site said the account MD4BUSH was originally created by someone with access to the e-mail address . The address of record was changed twice, first to and later to , said Web site spokesman Kristinn Taylor.

Ryan O'Doherty, a former spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party, did not return calls for comment yesterday. The e-mail address on his business card while working for the party was .

Taylor and Ehrlich's chief legal counsel, Jervis S. Finney, stopped short yesterday of alleging that O'Doherty was MD4BUSH. While Taylor said the address gives "the appearance of someone associated with the [Democratic] party" being involved, he said MD4BUSH need not have had access to O'Doherty's address to list it as the e-mail affiliated with the account.

Derek Walker, the party's current spokesman, said yesterday that the party's staff, current and former, "had nothing to do with MD4BUSH."

The links between MD4BUSH and the addresses were first reported Wednesday evening by WBAL-TV in Baltimore.

In the fall of 2004, the anonymous user engaged former aide Joseph Steffen, also posting anonymously, in discussions of the spreading of rumors about Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's personal life.

Ehrlich fired Steffen in February, within hours of learning The Washington Post was preparing a story on exchanges in which Steffen said "a few folks put in a lot of effort to ensure the [O'Malley] story got some real float." Steffen acknowledged his role at the time but said he was acting on his own.

Democrats pointed to the postings as evidence that the Ehrlich administration was using dirty tricks to fend off a possible gubernatorial challenge by O'Malley (D). Ehrlich aides, however, turned their attention to MD4BUSH, who they alleged was a Democrat engaged in another dirty trick. Finney has said that he suspects the Maryland Democratic Party was behind the conversations.

O'Doherty worked for the Democratic Party at the time that MD4BUSH was chatting with Steffen. He left in January for a job in Baltimore. E-mails sent to all three addresses yesterday were returned as undeliverable.

Web site founder Jim Robinson said in a posting yesterday that the addresses were made public after he shared the information with a "trusted professional."

Staff writer John Wagner contributed to this report.

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