Steele Might Sue Over Report

By John Wagner and Ann E. Marimow
Thursday, March 23, 2006

An attorney for Michael S. Steele said yesterday that the lieutenant governor and Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate might file a lawsuit to learn more about an episode in which a Democratic researcher accessed his credit report.

Lauren B. Weiner , a former staff member at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has been charged by federal prosecutors with obtaining Steele's report without authorization and is scheduled to appear in court tomorrow.

During a conference call with reporters, E. Mark Braden , an attorney for Steele, said the lieutenant governor might sue Weiner and the Democratic committee if several questions about the episode are not answered in the court proceedings, in which Weiner is expected to accept a plea arrangement that could result in charges being dropped in a year.

The episode took place in July as both parties started to dig into the backgrounds of candidates in this year's marquee races. Committee officials have said Steele's credit report was immediately destroyed after Weiner obtained it and was not disseminated. Weiner and the committee's research director resigned.

In a letter to prosecutors released yesterday, Braden, a former counsel to the Republican National Committee, said several questions remain unanswered, including whether the Democratic committee still has information in the report.

"Lt. Gov. Steele and his family are entitled to a full and complete factual explanation of the circumstances surrounding this criminal activity at the DSCC and the role of more senior individuals at the DSCC," the letter says.

Phil Singer , a spokesman for the Democratic committee, said he considers the matter closed. "As has been said repeatedly, the DSCC has never been implicated in any wrongdoing in this incident," Singer said.

House Budget Advances

With little debate, the House gave preliminary approval yesterday to a $29 billion spending plan that freezes tuition for undergraduates at the state's public universities.

Legislative budget writers intend to work out minor differences this weekend between the House-backed budget and the plan approved last week in the Senate before sending the final product to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

House lawmakers trimmed money for stem cell research by $5 million, delayed raises for prison guards until next month and made funding for a new voting system contingent on final passage of legislation to lease such machines for this year's primaries and general election.

Some of the most lively discussion yesterday came during debate over the proposed move to Prince George's County of 110 employees from the Maryland Department of Planning.

Del. Peter Franchot (D-Montgomery) said the idea to shift Planning Department workers from Baltimore to Prince George's "ironically did not have a lot of planning behind it" and suggested more study before spending nearly $3 million.

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