There sat Mandel, trapped on the witness stand. Around him flew Skolnik, now sticking his foot on the stand and leaning towards the governor almost defiantly, to within inches of the man he is trying to put in jail; now sweeping around to the evidence bench; now back in his own chair, leaning forward so far that the seat tips up with him.
Prosecuter Barnet D. Skolnik and Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel were sparring in this first early round, working to impress the oddsmakers, the 12-member jury.
Facts were used to mold impressions more than to prove guilt or innocence. Skolnik wanted to portray a man with a selective memory and a selective sense of ethics, not the poor hard-working public servant the defense pictured in its presentation.
Mandel worked his answers smoothly, turning questions around in an effort to show that Sknolnik was overzealous and careless.
"What you're seeking," said one of the courtroom regulars, "its two people who hate each other's guts."
On paper, much of the dialogue today would appear bland. The transcript would not show that their words sometimes dripped with sarcasm and that their mouths sometimes formed angry shapes. But the courtroom regulars who had been waiting with the expectation that the governor would "break" or Skolnik would lose his temper, were disappointed.
Perhaps there would be sharper more dramatic confrontations later, but this morning's tone said more about the peculiar relationship between these two antagonists.
Skolnik has made his reputation fighting official corruption and has come to see Mandel - to some extent - as symbolic of Maryland's corrupt system. Mandel has spent the last few years privately cursing Skolnik, certain even before the first subpoena arrived that he, Mandel, was the real target before Agnew, Anderson and the rest. His life has been shattered by Skolnik's probe.
But both men are too cool, too smart to show their anger, at least on the first day. If either does, those who know them believe, it will be in a carefully premeditated fashion, calculated for its effect on the jury.
It began with Skolnik taking out four large red books and plunking them down near Mandel. The books were the governor's daily appointment diaries from 1972 to 1974. They were the only personal records Skolknik was able to obtain with a subpoena last week. Skolnik asked why it was that Mandel did not have diaries for his earlier years in office, from 1969 to 1971. He was told the old diaries were thrown away after two years. And then came the first sarcastic remark:
"If I understand what you are telling me, and please correct me if this is wrong," said Skolnik smugly, "with respect to the first three full years of your tenure as Governor of this State . . . you're saying that there is no record in existence anywhere on the face of the earth of what you were doing each day . . ."
When Mandel claimed it was common practice for state officials to "destroy the books" after two years, Skolnik jumped in. "You're not telling us, are you, sir, that there was a regulation, a state regulation, that -"
"Oh, no sir," said Mandel, anticipating the end to the rhetorical question.
But Skolnik's aggressive tone diminished somewhat moments later when he challenged Mandel's recollection of a meeting that was not marked in the diaries only to find that Mandel and his attorney. Arnold Weiner, knew of the meeting because it was in state police records.
"As I say," blurted Weiner triumphantly, as Skolnik retreated toward his table, "Mr. Skolnik has had that (state police of document) since September, 1976, your Honor."
Moments later, Skolnik returned with a line of questioning that attempted to bring out Mandel's ability to remember some things and forget others.The governor said he remembered, for instance, that a certain meeting took place several years ago at 7:45 p.m., but he couldn't remember who was at the meeting.
Skolnik's voice grew hard when he began to ask Mandel about his personal finances. Moving toward the witness stand, his hand resting on the back of the chair Skolnik brought up the perquisites that come with being governor of the state of Maryland.
The conversation went in uneven spurts, with the two men looking at each other only when certain that their eyes would not meet.
"How much a year do you pay for housing?"
"I live at the Mansion. I don't pay the State for any housing."
"You don't pay any property taxes or repair costs on the Mansion either, do you, sir?"
"No. I dont' own any property, so I don't have any property taxes. I wish I did."
"Your entire housing is furnished to you free by the State; is that right?"
Skolnik appeared obsessed with this line of questioning. Four times he asked Mandel about the amount of money the state provides him to entertain with what Skolnik would call "food and drink." Finally, when Mandel began talking about the "punch and cake" that the mansion's staff must serve visitors, Skolnik moved on.
"How much do you pay a year out of your $25,000 for trasportation, sir?"
"Transportation is furnished to me by the use of a state car."
The state does, in fact, provide you with cars, does it not."
"Yes, sir, it does."
"And with drivers?"
"Yes, sir, with state police."
"And with helicopters?"
As the mode of transportation became more exotic, Skolnik's voice became more intense. His associates have often said that Mandel's claim to poverty as governor of Maryland has incensed his longtime antagonist as much as many of the serious charges against Mandel. ANd so it continued:
"A state yacht?" asked Skolnik.
"The yacht is for the use of any and everyone in the state . . ."
"In fact," concluded Skolnik," you don't pay for any of that, do you, sir?"
"Only when I pay my taxes, Mr. Skolnik."
"I mean the cars and the drivers and the yacht?"
Except when I pay my taxes along with the rest of the people in the state."
Mandel handled this machine-gun styel questioning with little difficulty, only once pausing to take a witness room to have lunch, he seemed in good spirits, and his limp was not as pronounced as it was last week.