Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele used an hour-long radio appearance yesterday to lash out at Democratic Party operatives who resigned after improperly obtaining copies of Steele's credit reports.
"It tells you the depths to which some folks will go to try to win," Steele (R) said during a regular appearance on the WBAL radio program "Stateline With Governor Ehrlich." "I've asked for and I think these individuals deserve to be brought to the full extent of justice."
Steele's records were obtained as part of an effort by researchers at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to delve into his background as he explores a bid for the U.S. Senate in 2006.
Last week, a spokesman for the DSCC acknowledged that two employees had resigned as a result of the episode, and the matter was subsequently referred to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.
Under federal law, it is illegal to knowingly and willfully obtain a credit report under false pretenses. A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney confirmed that its fraud and public corruption section is investigating the matter with the assistance of the FBI.
The DSCC, the arm of the Democratic Party that promotes Senate candidates, declined to name the employees involved. But sources with knowledge of the episode identified them as Katie Barge, the committee's former research director, and Lauren Weiner, an employee who had been researching Steele before he formed an exploratory committee for the Senate in June.
In his first extensive public comments on the matter, the lieutenant governor said he believes public figures deserve some privacy.
"What does it matter to any voter whether or not you paid a bill on time?" Steele asked. "There has to be, I think, a veil of privacy, even around public figures. The expectation is, to run for office doesn't mean I turn over everything I've ever done in my life for you to sit in judgment of. It's one of the reasons why it is very difficult to find individuals who are capable, competent and committed to public service, who want to get into this business."
During the broadcast, Steele acknowledged that he had encountered tough financial times before being elected on Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s ticket in 2002.
"Two years ago, I came forth with all that information voluntarily," Steele said. "As an entrepreneur, I left a high-paying job at a law firm to start my own business. It was going well, and then I had clients who didn't pay, and of course you get in a hole and you have trouble."
Steele reported personal and campaign debts of more than $60,000 when he was elected in 2002. He is paid $120,833 a year as lieutenant governor. According to the most recent financial disclosure he submitted to the Maryland State Ethics Commission, which covers 2004, he has paid off most debts.