Henson grabs the spotlight

Our view: If the campaign consultant has dirt on Democrats (or anyone else) we're all ears

May 01, 2012

Political consultant Julius Henson, facing charges stemming from the infamous 2010 "relax" robocall that has already resulted in one criminal conviction, wants to put the entire state Democratic Party on trial. It's an odd defense strategy — he seems not to be focused on either the question of whether he actually did what he is accused of doing or whether the robocall was protected free speech. But it's not altogether surprising, either. Mr. Henson has long cultivated a bad-boy reputation, and he has never been one to pass up a chance for the spotlight. His political career looks to be ruined anyway — though in Maryland, one can never be sure — so why not go out in a blaze of glory?

His allegations about this specific case sound fanciful. Mr. Henson is alleging a broad-ranging conspiracy among top Maryland Democratic officials, including Sen. Ben Cardin and Attorney GeneralDouglas F. Gansler, to punish him for this offense because he had the temerity to work for a Republican, former Gov.Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., in the 2010 election.

The facts, as determined in the trial last year of former Ehrlich aide Paul Schurick, are these: Mr. Henson presented the Ehrlich campaign with plans to suppress turnout among African-American voters. The campaign initially rejected the offer, but on election day, it authorized him to send out an automated phone message to tens of thousands of Democratic voters in Baltimore City andPrince George's Countyurging them to "relax" and stay home because Gov.Martin O'Malleyand President Barack Obama (who was not on the ballot) had already been successful.

As it happens, Maryland enacted a law several years ago (over then-Governor Ehrlich's veto) that made it a crime to willfully and knowingly suppress voter turnout by means of fraud. State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt used that law to successfully prosecute Mr. Schurick and is now seeking to use it against Mr. Henson. No conspiracy to punish Mr. Henson is required; the law is the law, and Mr. Davitt, as he pointed out in court, does not report to any of those Mr. Henson sees as pulling the strings.

But another part of Mr. Henson's argument — that Democrats have pulled plenty of dirty tricks over the years, too — sounds a bit more plausible. And if anyone would know, it would be Julius Henson. A brief history of his career includes disseminating race-baiting campaign literature during the 1998 Parris Glendening-Ellen Sauerbrey rematch; paying a crowd to shout down the late Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings when he endorsed then-mayoral candidate O'Malley in 1999; digging up dirt on attorney Warren Brown to keep him out of the Baltimore state's attorney race in 2002; and calling Mr. Ehrlich a Nazi while working for the Kathleen Kennedy Townsend campaign in 2002. In a variety of lower-profile races, he has been accused of garden variety political misdeeds, such as putting up signs where they aren't allowed or tearing down those of opponents.

His trial on assorted violations of campaign finance law is, perhaps, not the ideal venue for him to spill the beans about his misdeeds on behalf of Democratic candidates — in that context, he's not exactly a reliable witness. But if he has proof that he or others have broken the law on behalf of Democrats, Republicans or anyone else, the public (and prosecutors) would surely love to see it.

Talk is cheap, and Mr. Henson has produced plenty of it over the years, mostly of the self-aggrandizing variety. What he's said so far about the criminal charges he now faces sounds like the bluster of someone desperate to deflect the blame to anyone else. The jury in Mr. Schurick's case was able to make a clear appraisal of the facts and the law and render its judgment. The jury in Mr. Henson's case should be able to do the same. But if Mr. Henson would like to take the opportunity to shed some light into the murky corners of Maryland political campaigns, he's more than welcome to do it.

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