The Campaign Spot

The Weak Tea of the Post‘s Story on Michael Steele

The front page of Saturday’s Washington Post greeted new RNC Chairman Michael Steele by giving above-the-fold attention to allegations of financial impropriety from the finance chairman of his 2006 Senate campaign.

But upon close reading, the story consisted of fairly weak tea. Indeed, according to Steele, the FBI did contact his sister to check out the allegations, offered by Alan B. Fabian as he sought a plea deal on a fraud charge unrelated to Steele’s campaign. But Fabian told U.S. attorneys about them in March 2008, and apparently the feds didn’t find them terribly compelling, as they did not seek any leniency in Fabian’s sentencing. (Fabian was sentenced to nine years in prison.)

Ten months later, the allegations have yielded no indictments, nor has the FBI spoken to Steele; none of the other vendors who are mentioned in Fabian’s allegations had been contacted by the FBI. (The fact that no indictments have been filed yet doesn’t guarantee that none will come out of the inquiry, obviously.)

The most serious allegation, at least in terms of position within the Post’s story, is that Steele paid fees to his sister’s company after it had been legally dissolved. Steele said in an interview on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos that “as she understood it, the company was still in existence. Her lawyers were–were telling her they were in the process of dissolving the company.”

Steele spokesman Curt Anderson offered a terse statement:

Dr. Monica Turner is a very accomplished individual.  She is a pediatrician.  She hosted two fundraisers for the campaign and designed and placed web advertisements as well.  Any suggestion that she was profiting from the campaign is insulting and a complete smear.
Dr. Turner would have been more than happy to pay for all of these things out of her own pocket.  However, if she did not charge the campaign for the cost of the fundraisers and all services rendered she would be in violation of election law.
I’m not going to dignify the desperate and absurd allegations of a convicted felon with anything more than that.  The entire things is a complete fabrication . . . .and you will notice that the convicted felon did not receive any leniency from his false claims.

Even under the least sympathetic interpretation, it is not clear that Steele would face legal risk; if Turner’s business performed services with an expired license, she committed a misdemeanor.

In another of the allegations against Steele, it is not quite clear what law was violated; it concerns an aide’s transfer of $600,000 in his lieutenant governor reelection account from one bank to another. Fabian claims the aide wasn’t authorized to make the transfer; again, even under the least sympathetic interpretation, it is not clear how Steele violated the law. (The move did apparently irk Gov. Robert Ehrlich and other state GOP officials; but that’s just a political risk, not a criminal act.)

Another of Fabian’s allegations is that Steele used funds from a state reelection account to pay bills relating to the Senate campaign. The campaign reported after the election that two vendors were billed in error and paid with the proper accounts.

The final allegation was that a law firm was paid for services that were not provided. But the firm said that the payment was to cover a preexisting balance for earlier work on redistricting. At this point, the only individual alleging no services were provided is the man convicted of fraud.

At this point, it is unclear how seriously the FBI is taking Fabian’s allegations. But one point missing in all the coverage was what, precisely, Steele’s motive would be in these alleged improprieties. Why pay a legal firm to not do work? What was the criminal motive behind moving the funds from one bank to another? What was the sinister master plan that included paying two vendors from the wrong account and correcting it months later? Finally, under Fabian’s scenario, Steele was risking his shot to be a U.S. Senator, a six-year term making at least $165,200 per year, in order to give his sister $37,000.

As noted, “The U.S. attorney’s office inadvertently sent the confidential document, a defense sentencing memorandum filed under seal, to The Washington Post after the newspaper requested the prosecution’s sentencing memorandum.” Apparently the Post expects readers to believe that Fabian’s allegations against Steele just happened to fall in their laps at the same time Steele was catapulted to a prominent position leading the Republican Party.

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