In comments to the Patch online newspaper, former Governor Bob Ehrlich offered his most extensive comments to date on the Julius Henson robocall scandal.
"When talking to Patch, Ehrlich had no comment on the state's investigation, but further disavowed knowledge of the calls and said his campaign ordered no robocalls from Henson or anybody else, for that matter."
Previously, Ehrlich had merely stated the calls were "out of his purview." Now, he seems to be absolving his entire campaign staff from having a role in fielding them.
I have a few reactions to Ehrlich's comments.
First, once again, I am confident Ehrlich knew nothing about them in advance. Far from being a micromanager, Ehrlich is inclined to trust the judgment and actions of senior members of his team when it comes to the operational details of their jobs. This penchant for extreme deference is, in my view, the single biggest reason for his political fall, but that's a topic for another blog entry.
Second, I found attorney Ehrlich's use of the word "ordered" significant. Was Henson the driving force behind the robocall? Probably. But the real question is: Did any member of Ehrlich's campaign team know about it before it happened? In other words, did Henson do it on his own, or did he get buy-in (and additional financial resources from the campaign) after originating the idea? If Henson discussed the call with any other member of Team Ehrlich, then they were part of the decision-making chain. Failing to veto the robocalls is just as damning as "ordering" them.
It's also worth mentioning that Team Ehrlich has participated in robocalling in the past. A now-infamous robocall fielded by Team Ehrlich during a 2006 primary battle for a Carroll County delegate's seat triggered a chain of events culminating in the resignation of Ehrlich's entire county campaign staff. During this year's campaign I received a robocall featuring Bob Ehrlich's voice in support of one of the candidates in a highly contested State Senate primary battle. Whatever qualms Ehrlich has about the effectiveness of robocalling, that hasn't stopped members of his team from resorting or acquiescing to their use in the past.
Third, from an ethical standpoint, perhaps it did not even matter if members of Team Ehrlich knew about the call beforehand. Hiring Henson, whose reputation for these kinds of racially-tinged shenanigans was well documented, was an invitation for trouble. If you hire Charles Manson to do some gardening for you, and he decides to kill your neighbor, does not knowing he was going to commit that specific murder really absolve you from blame?
Well, the truth will come out eventually. I don't expect Henson to fall on his sword for members of Team Ehrlich if they were part of the decision-making chain. Henson is clearly facing a boatload of trouble. He can be expected to do anything he needs to do to make things easier on himself. If that means sharing space in his guillotine-bound cart with senior members of Team Ehrlich, so be it.