It was an unexpectedly hostile encounter on talk radio. In late 2011, Andrew Roraback, then a state senator running for Congress, found himself under attack during a live phone interview with the WTIC-AM host, former Gov. John G. Rowland. When Roraback tried to respond, the phone line went dead.
What Roraback didn’t know at that time was that the previously friendly Rowland had recently agreed to accept $5,000 monthly payments from Brian Foley, the husband of Lisa Wilson-Foley, a competing candidate for the Republican nomination for Congress in 5th District.
Federal prosecutors assert that a jury in the pending criminal case against Rowland could infer that what Roraback experienced on the airwaves of Connecticut’s biggest AM radio station “was not legitimate opinion broadcasting, but a political ambush paid for by Brian Foley.”
Rowland, 57, a former governor and congressman, was indicted in April, accused of conspiring with Wilson-Foley and Foley to conceal a campaign expenditure: $35,000 paid to Rowland to advise and assist Wilson-Foley’s congressional campaign.
He also is accused trying to arrange a similar secret political consulting deal with Mark Greenberg in 2010. Greenberg, who is the GOP nominee in the 5th District this year, rebuffed him.
Wilson-Foley and Foley have pleaded guilty, saying that $35,000 paid to Rowland by Foley’s healthcare company actually was an unreported campaign expense. Rowland faces trial in September.
The claims made this week in a motion filed by the U.S. attorney’s office broaden the case against the Rowland by asserting that not only did Rowland advise the campaign and make calls on Wilson-Foley’s behalf, but he also used the airwaves of WTIC.
A spokesman for WTIC did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the station comment to The Hartford Courant, which first reported the government’s claims. Rowland remained on the air until April 3, three days after Wilson-Foley and her husband pleaded guilty and a week before his indictment.
Prosecutors made their claims in response to an effort by Rowland to bar the testimony of Roraback, now a Superior Court judge, and Michael Clark, who also was a candidate for the GOP nomination.
Clark makes for a potentially intriguing witness.
He is a retired FBI agent who helped oversee the corruption investigation that led to Rowland’s resignation in 2004 and a subsequent guilty plea. In 2012, he filed a complaint about Rowland’s involvement with Wilson-Foley to the Federal Election Commission.
Rowland’s resignation and guilty plea are certain to be placed before the jury, even if Clark is barred from testifying. Foley will testify that one motive for keeping the consulting payments secret was Rowland’s criminal record.
The defense claims that the testimony of Clark, especially concerning the 2004 investigation, and Roraback would be irrelevant and prejudicial. In Roraback’s case, his testimony about on-air mistreatment adds nothing, said Reid H. Weingarten, Rowland’s lawyer.
“It is irrelevant because vigorous and adversarial debate and commentary on political issues is the central premise of Mr. Rowland’s radio show and particularly so during campaign season,” Weingarten said in his motion.
The government disagrees.
“Ultimately, Judge Roraback’s testimony about the defendant’s on-air conduct and its effect on his campaign bears directly on the nature of the defendant’s
campaign work and its value,” the government says. “Given that this case is largely about the work that the defendant performed for the Wilson-Foley Campaign, nothing is more relevant. The defendant is free to argue that he was not acting in a paid capacity when he attacked Candidate Roraback, and the jury should be free to make its own conclusion.”
Prosecutors say they also will present evidence of coordination between Rowland’s on-air activities and the Wilson-Foley campaign: Rowland gave Wilson-Foley talking points on Roraback’s position on the death penalty, then made the same attacks on the air.
If the government is successful, four of the five Republican candidates for Congress are likely to testify against Rowland: Wilson-Foley, Roraback, Clark and Greenberg.
Roraback won the Republican primary in 2012, only to lose to Democrat Elizabeth Esty in the general election.