Hoyer May Back Justice Probe Of Surveillance by State Police

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer met with Maryland reporters and editors to discuss a range of topics.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer met with Maryland reporters and editors to discuss a range of topics. (Chip Somodevilla - Getty Images)
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By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 29, 2008

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said yesterday he might support a Justice Department investigation into the Maryland State Police's 14-month undercover surveillance of nonviolent activist groups.

At a wide-ranging discussion of local and national issues with Maryland reporters and editors, Hoyer (D-Md.) said he plans to discuss the state police program, which took place in 2005 and 2006, with Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and is eager to see how vigorously the police will investigate their own activities. The surveillance targeted death penalty opponents and peace activists.

Hoyer said he was pleased to hear police Superintendent Terrence B. Sheridan say last week that the program had been a mistake. Hoyer also said it is possible that the situation might require a "federal presence," including inquiry by the Justice Department.

"In America, that should not happen, any more than it happened under J. Edgar Hoover," Hoyer said. "That should not happen under Maryland State Police."

At the lunchtime discussion, Hoyer also hailed the passage of a housing bill designed to provide support for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which passed the Senate on Saturday and is expected to be signed into law by President Bush.

Earlier in the day, Hoyer discussed the bill with Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D), Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.), housing advocates and a Maryland couple preparing to buy their first house, in Clinton. The legislation provides new help for local governments to buy foreclosed properties, more money for financial counseling for distressed homeowners and a tax credit for first-time home owners.

Hoyer said he is confident of Democrats' chances in the fall election, predicting the party will pick up at least 10 seats in the House of Representatives, including a win in Maryland's 1st Congressional District. There, Queen Anne's State's Attorney Frank M. Kratovil Jr. (D) faces Sen. Andrew P. Harris (R-Baltimore County) for a seat that had been held for nine terms by Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a moderate Republican defeated by Harris in a primary. "It's a Democratic year -- people want a change," Hoyer said.

Hoyer, whose Maryland district includes Southern Maryland and part of Prince George County, has deep ties in Maryland politics and holds an annual media event geared to local reporters. Before his 1981 election to Congress, Hoyer served in the Maryland Senate.

Hoyer said he was "distressed" by the ongoing federal investigation into longtime friend, state Sen. Ulysses Currie (D). Currie's work as a paid consultant for grocery store chain Shoppers Food and Pharmacy, which he did not disclose on state ethics forms, has drawn the attention of the FBI.

Currie, a retired educator, had taught with Hoyer's wife, who died in 1997; Currie bought his District Heights home from Hoyer in 1991.

Hoyer said that with no criminal charges filed against Currie, it is "premature" to discuss whether the senator should resign. It will be up to the state Senate to determine whether Currie should remain chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, he said.

"I would hope that this would be resolved favorably to Senator Currie, because I think he's a good human being, and he's served the state well," Hoyer said. "But we'll have to see what develops from these investigations."

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