CTNJ file photo
Mark Greenberg at the 2012 Republican convention (CTNJ file photo)

NEW HAVEN — Former Republican Gov. John G. Rowland’s defense attorney questioned and tried to undermine Thursday the testimony of current Republican congressional candidate Mark Greenberg.

Greenberg, this year’s Republican 5th Congressional District nominee, was the government’s first witness in their campaign corruption case against the former governor. Greenberg told the court that Rowland had aggressively sought a consulting position with his campaign during his first unsuccessful campaign for the seat in 2010.

Rowland, who resigned in 2004 before serving a 10-month bid in federal prison on corruption charges, is now facing new charges that he conspired to hide his campaign work from election regulators.

Greenberg ultimately rejected Rowland’s offer. But prosecutors are using the proposal and Rowland’s apparent insistence on being paid off the campaign’s books, to illustrate a pattern they say led to an illegal arrangement between Rowland and 2012 congressional candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley and her husband Brian Foley. Both have pleaded guilty to related charges.

During court hearings Thursday, Greenberg dismissed Rowland’s contract offer, which totaled more than $700,000, as “delusional.” But Rowland’s lead attorney, Reid Weingarten, questioned how opposed Greenberg was to the former governor’s help.

The candidate acknowledged he gave the idea some thought.

“When you’re a first-time candidate and you’ve never done this thing and you have a person as powerful as Governor Rowland giving you political advice, you think about it — I thought about it,” Greenberg said, but he insisted he did not think “seriously” about it.

Weingarten pointed out that Greenberg and Rowland remained friendly, even when it became clear that the candidate would not be paying the former governor. In an email presented as evidence, Greenberg told Rowland he believed Connecticut residents “yearned” for the Rowland years.

Greenberg defended the statement in court.

“Frankly, I think that the Rowland years were a lot better than the Malloy years and I’ve always gotten along with John. I stand by that,” Greenberg said, commenting on current governor, Democrat Dannel P. Malloy.

U.S. Attorney Chris Mattei tried to clarify Greenberg’s testimony later in the morning. He stressed that the Greenberg campaign did not believe there was a benefit in overt support from the convicted former governor.

“What was the word you and your staff used for the affect Mr. Rowland may have had on your campaign?” Mattei asked Greenberg.

“The word was ‘toxic’,” Greenberg answered. “Because of his prior conviction.”

But in response to Weingarten’s questioning, Greenberg also acknowledged it would have been difficult to keep hidden the type of political work Rowland was proposing to do for the campaign.

“So unless he was the Wizard of Oz, directing the campaign from behind the curtain, all of the things he talked about doing, would have been obvious,” Weingarten said.

The defense team also tried to poke holes in Greenberg’s testimony regarding Rowland’s proposed payment scheme. On Wednesday, Greenberg said it was “strange” that the former governor demanded to be paid by his business or his nonprofit Simon Foundation, for work on a campaign.

“That was completely unacceptable. I wouldn’t have paid him from anything but the campaign,” Greenberg said Wednesday.

But prior to the start of Thursday’s hearing, Rowland’s lawyers convinced Judge Janet Bond Arterton to allow questions regarding Ron Wilcox, a tea party activist who was paid $86,000 as a marketing worker for Greenberg’s Simon Foundation. Arterton allowed the testimony “on the credibility front” over the objections of prosecutors.

“Who’s Ron Wilcox?” Weingarten asked Greenberg after questioning whether any of his employees also did work on his campaign.

Greenberg said he employed Wilcox at some point during 2012, but terminated his employment because he failed to bring in contributions to the Simon Foundation.

“What happened with Ron Wilcox is that I fired him because he didn’t do a good job with marketing,” Greenberg said. “In the end, I fired my supporter.”

Weingarten pointed to an 2012 event in which Wilcox publicly supported Greenberg’s candidacy.

“Did he call out the tea party faithful to support you in the coming election?” he asked. “He did this at the time you were paying him through the foundation, is that correct?”

Greenberg said that Wilcox did call on voters to support his candidacy, but he was not sure during what periods in 2012 he employed Wilcox.

“There’s no doubt you paid Wilcox 86 [thousand] for marketing in 2012?” Weingarten asked. Greenberg said that was accurate.

Later in Wednesday’s proceedings, Weingarten objected heavily to testimony by Sam Fischer, a consultant to Greenberg’s 2010 campaign.

At the questioning of U.S. Attorney Liam Brennan, Fischer told the court he urged Greenberg to reject Rowland’s proposal.

“I expressed my adamant opposition to the proposal for a couple reasons. One, from a political standpoint, it didn’t make any sense to me, and two, it was illegal,” Fischer said.

Weingarten objected and called for a sidebar discussion with the judge. Arterton eventually agreed to strike the comments from the record. Fischer had offered an opinion on the legality of Rowland’s proposal. The judge said that was a question for the jury to decide.

Fischer went on to describe a meeting between campaign staff and Rowland. He said the meeting was strange.

“I just remember shaking his hand and thinking that was the weirdest meeting I had ever been to,” he said.

Fischer said the meeting went downhill after Greenberg’s campaign manager pointed out that Rowland carried political baggage. Fischer said Rowland’s demeanor became “extremely defensive.” He said Rowland pointed to a map of the 5th Congressional District.

“The media, they’re out to get him but everyone else in this district loves me. The voters don’t feel the way the media in Hartford does,” Fischer said Rowland told them.

He said the former governor also affected a kind of nasal tick.

“He must of had a chronic nasal condition . . . When he went to make a point he sniffed. I don’t know how else to describe it,” Fischer said.