The smoking gun in the case against Ted Strickland are the police reports he was provided in 1998 documenting that his then-campaign manager was guilty of sexual misconduct in the presence of minors.

The record strongly suggests that Strickland has attempted throughout the Ohio 2006 gubernatorial race to cover up what he knew in 1998 about the sex scandal then at the heart of his campaign and when he knew it.

Democratic Party challenger Brian Flannery first confronted Strickland about the issue in the Ohio primary. Strickland then said he was unaware of the man’s record when he hired him.

This carefully phrased denial, reported on March 17, 2006, by the “Dayton Daily News,” does not deny that Strickland later learned reliably about the man’s record. Note that Strickland did not tell the “Dayton Daily News” on March 17, 2006, that the charges against his former campaign manager were untrue.

Had the charges been untrue, that simple and direct answer would have freed Strickland from the difficulty. The problem was and is that the criminal charges are true, not a rumor as the Strickland camp has liked to counterattack.

“Ohio Concerned Citizen,” the anonymous e-mailer who has been circulating copies of the original un-redacted arrest records, has charged that in 1998 Mr. Strickland was given the arrest records from Belpre, Ohio, involving related charges made by the Washington County sheriff’s office. The Belpre case was ultimately dismissed and the records were sealed in 2002, but the arrest record was made by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in 1994 and were yet available in Washington County in 1998.

That Strickland had these arrest papers in 1998, not just an anonymous letter making the charges, has been widely printed in Ohio newspapers as well as in the previously printed commentaries by this author, without being contradicted by Strickland or by the Strickland campaign.

Strickland told the “Dayton Daily News” that when he received the anonymous letter, he confronted the then-campaign manager. Strickland alleges that he chose to accept what we now know was the campaign manager’s lying denial.

Here is how Strickland defended to the newspaper his failure to look into the police records himself:

“In retrospect, Strickland said that he ‘perhaps’ should have pursued the matter more aggressively, but that he tends to give little credibility to anonymous tips.”

__Lynn Hulsey, “Dems engage in war of words – Accusations fly in Strickland, Flannery Battle,” Dayton Daily News, March 17, 2006.

But why did Strickland not believe the Washington County Sheriff’s Office police records he also had in his possession at the time?

When confronted with the anonymous letter, that alone should have been enough to require Strickland to run a police check of his own. Certainly Ted Strickland as a minister and a psychologist should have had ample professional training and experience to alert him to the reality that people often lie and deny past embarrassing truths when first confronted with the facts. Strickland’s story is simply not credible.

Still today, Strickland’s cover-up continues, even through the last debate with Ken Blackwell on Oct. 16, 2006. Confronted with the issue once again, Strickland chose his words very carefully:

“I have never knowingly hired or employed someone on my staff, either campaign or my congressional staff that did not share my values of protecting children and honoring young children and their need to be protected by adults.”

Again, the key word is “knowingly.” This statement does not deny that Strickland kept on his staff a campaign manager and subsequent special congressional assistant who had committed sexual misconduct criminal misdemeanors in the presence of minors. That was obviously true.

Or, was Strickland wording his denial to imply that he knew about the sexual misconduct of his former campaign manager, but he retained the employee because the employee had cured himself, reformed and repented?

We believe Strickland at the time found it convenient to believe the lying denial from his confronted campaign manager, rejecting any or all police reports he had or could have had in his possession at that time. The easy way out was to believe the lie, hoping that should the sordid incident ever come to light, Strickland would be absolved of responsibility simply because he had asked.

Obviously, Strickland preferred to avoid the embarrassment of a sexual scandal at the end of what looked like was going to be an otherwise successful 1998 campaign. Chances were that the incident would never come to light and, even if it did, Strickland had his alibi in place. The campaign manager might someday have to take the fall, but Strickland would be held blameless, wouldn’t he? After all, he asked, didn’t he?

But is the truth that Strickland actually excused the offenses, seeing nothing terribly wrong in what had been alleged? This might be another reason Strickland chose to turn a blind eye to police reports and his professional training which should have cautioned him not to believe what an employee under severe duress was telling him.

Either way, Strickland covering up today that he knew in 1998 – that his campaign manager was most assuredly guilty as charged and that Strickland chose to do nothing about it. Even worse, having dodged the bullet of the sex scandal, Strickland took his campaign manager on a celebratory trip to Italy, leaving behind Strickland’s wife.

To compound the offense of the Italy get-away, Federal Election Commission filings indicate that Strickland actually billed his campaign for his expenses in the Italy jaunt, using campaign funds for clearly purposes of personal pleasure.

But then, if Strickland could get away with looking past “wink-wink” sexual misconduct on the part of a senior employee, why worry that he would get caught charging his campaign for $9,000 for the European get-away?

Strickland has learned that a carefully worded denial in hand is worth a lot more than a condemning police report he thought had long been expunged.

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