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The Boston Globe

Opinion

SCOT LEHIGH

Time for candor from Tim Murray

Tim Murray has an opportunity to level with voters. So will he take it?

Don’t hold your breath waiting.

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The Globe reported on Wednesday that the lieutenant governor would be meeting with federal and state investigators probing possible misdoings involving his former political confidant Michael McLaughlin. Last fall, McLaughlin was forced out of his post as Chelsea Housing Authority executive director following revelations that he had concealed his enormous pay package from the state. He left stuffing his pockets with large reimbursement checks for supposedly unused vacation and sick days, though phone records for last year show a man who was absent from his office almost as often as he was there.

Although long considered an ethically challenged public-sector rogue, McLaughlin had managed to work his way, all too easily, into Murray’s confidence. Phone records show the two were in frequent contact. Murray recommended McLaughlin’s son Matthew for a $60,000 state job from which the younger McLaughlin, an apple who didn’t fall far from the paternal tree, has since been fired for a spotty attendance record. The Globe has also reported that, according to more than two dozen politicians, housing authority employees, and Murray campaign workers, McLaughlin was an important Murray fundraiser and organizer. Attendees at several fundraising events have said Murray publicly thanked McLaughlin for his efforts.

In short, this paper’s reporting makes it very hard to believe Murray’s claim that McLaughlin was not one of his fundraisers. It’s equally hard to credit Murray’s assertion that he did not know of McLaughlin’s unsavory, Machiavellian reputation, given that several sources told the Globe they had warned him.

Now investigators probing whether McLaughlin violated fundraising laws have come calling. Any sitdown Murray has with investigators would have to include probing questions on exactly what McLaughlin did for him. So the query to the Murray camp is simple: Will the lieutenant governor share with the public the investigators’ question and his answers?

I put that matter to Scott Ferson, the communications consultant who is helping Murray bumble his way through — ah, make that navigate — this controversy.

“The lieutenant governor is not going to comment on an ongoing investigation except to say that he has pledged to answer any questions that might be asked by investigators,” said Ferson. “If your question is, what are the investigators potentially asking the lieutenant governor, ask the investigators. It is their job, and they have to be allowed to do their job. That is paramount here.”

Now, listening to Ferson, a naif might suppose Murray is somehow legally prevented from disclosing what he was asked by investigators and how he answered. Surely Ferson wouldn’t want to leave that misimpression, so let’s be crystal-clear: That’s not so.

As far as federal investigations are concerned, “there is no legal obstacle to Murray or his lawyer coming out of the session and telling the world what was asked and what he answered,” says well-known defense attorney Harvey Silverglate. The same is true with state investigations. “I don’t know of any reason why a public official couldn’t divulge the questions asked and the answers he gave,” says David Duncan, a criminal defense lawyer and partner at Zalkind, Rodriguez, Lunt & Duncan. Other legal experts confirm that.

An attorney advising Murray might have some concerns with such public candor, however. If the lieutenant governor’s public comments raised new questions, investigators might call him back for a return visit; if Murray hasn’t been truthful in his public comments but is candid with investigators, disclosing his answers would mean admitting he’d led the public down the primrose path. Any discrepancy between what he tells investigators and what he’s told the public could create political problems, and potentially legal ones.

Whatever his reason, Murray and his camp are executing a cautious, tight-lipped, acknowledge-little-and-say-less damage-control strategy. That may help the lieutenant governor survive in the short term, but it’s unlikely to see him prosper politically in the long run. This is not a storm he can wait out. His political prospects will only be restored if people become convinced he’s telling the truth about his relationship with McLaughlin. And right now, there’s much more reason to doubt his account than to believe it.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com.

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