The opening round started on Wednesday but the case will likely drag on for weeks if not months. Whatever the length, the trial will have hundreds of Connecticut political junkies on the edges of their seats watching a former governor squirm as the criminal justice system ponders his fate a second time. And so far, it’s been a surprise a minute.
Rowland’s story is sad one. A gifted politician, he was the first Connecticut governor in more than 100 years to be elected three times. But he eventually got caught with his hand in the cookie jar and plea bargained to a single federal corruption charge — even amid evidence that the scope of his corruption was far greater. Rowland spent about a year in a Pennsylvania prison, after which he professed his reformation.
But even as a private citizen and WTIC radio host, he simply couldn’t stay out of trouble. After being indicted in April on seven counts of scheming to hide his involvement in the congressional campaign of Lisa Wilson-Foley, Rowland faced the music again as another trial got under way this week in New Haven.
For those looking to keep score, Rowland’s hometown newspaper, The Waterbury Republican American, last Sunday published a very handy two-page World Series style preview (“A Readers Guide To the Trial”) that includes a list of all seven counts, important court officials, key witnesses and some nostalgic photos of the disgraced ex-governor. And in case you want to see it in person, the paper tells you how to get to the Richard C. Lee Federal Courthouse, though we are helpfully reminded that “no weapons are permitted.”
Curiously, I could find no mention of what at the time of publication was the latest development in the case, which is that federal prosecutors, in violation of attorney-client privilege, had mistakenly shared emails with Rowland’s defense team. Those emails included messages between Wilson-Foley’s husband Brian Foley and his attorney. The Foleys have already pleaded guilty to related charges and the feds objected to Rowland’s legal team using the emails as part of their client’s defense.
Shockingly, presiding U.S. District Judge Janet B. Arterton ruled on Wednesday that all seven emails were admissible, so not only were federal prosecutors unmasked as incompetent, but they were dealt a setback.
Still, when the feds bring charges against a prominent person, it’s a safe bet that they’ve got a very solid case. Just look at their conviction rates. As of 2010 (the last year for which I could find statistics), it was 93 percent, with 81 percent going to prison. And even when they merely threaten public officials, as U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is doing to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, you know they’re on to something.
So while Rowland’s high-powered lead attorney, Reid Weingarten, isn’t exactly high-fiving it in his Washington office, he’s got to be breathing a sigh of relief that the feds screwed up so royally even before the trial began.
To the surprise of no one, Weingarten’s opening statement painted Rowland as a victim of the machinations of the Foleys, but that’s a laughable assertion, given wiley Rowland’s experience at cutting deals for his own personal and political benefit.
The star witness the first week was 5th-district congressional candidate Mark Greenberg. It’s common knowledge that Rowland approached Greenberg with the same unsavory scheme he eventually offered the Foleys — that is, I will use my influence to get you elected if you hide my involvement by paying me through some other conduit than your campaign.
But according to Greenberg, Rowland had the testicular fortitude to demand $720,000 for his services — a king’s ransom by congressional campaign standards and an amount that witness Greenberg characterized yesterday as “delusional.” After Greenberg told Rowland to get lost, the ex-governor went down-market, asking the Foleys for what amounted to a mere $35,000.
It’s been a thrill a minute so far. My only regret is that Rowland hasn’t been charged directly with misusing his WTIC show to toot Wilson-Foley’s horn. For it’s plain to anyone with half a brain that he did just that when he ambushed Wilson-Foley’s primary rival, then-state Sen. Andrew Roraback.
But Roraback, who is now a state Superior Court judge in Danbury, is expected to be called as a witness to corroborate the federal election law violation charges anyway. I’d pay a thousand bucks to sit in that courtroom to watch a sitting judge — and my former state senator — testify against an ex-governor and maybe help send him to jail. But alas, I have a day job and must stay at the salt mines.
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is news editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. He has appeared on Rowland’s show several times. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.
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