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In world of politics, perception is reality

October 17, 2010

I guess it was only a matter of time before somebody called the cops on this governor’s race.
Turns out it was Gov. Donald Carcieri who turned in the 911, initiating a State Police investigation into who leaked J.R. Pagliarini’s confidential unemployment information to the media.
Pagliarini, faced with a very tenuous, and now largely debunked, accusation that he collected unemployment checks after starting to work as Independent Lincoln Chafee’s cam¬paign manager, turned what might have been a non-story into a full-blown scandal by resigning from that position before anyone really knew all the facts of the situation.
It also tarnished Pagliarini and any explanation he might have subsequently provided. It was inevitable that people, and especially Chafee’s opponents and detractors would say, “Hey, why would he resign if there wasn’t some sort of wrong-doing involved?”
In politics, perception is reality, and Pagliarini fed the perception that he had been caught doing something nefarious, rather than the other possibility, that he was being framed by per¬sons well-connected in Rhode Island government and politics.
Was he double-dipping, collecting unemployment checks while he was on the Chafee campaign payroll? Pagliarini has a plausible explanation that he was not, that it is a quirk in the system used by the payroll firm used by the Chafee campaign that resulted in the confusion over the exact date he started receiving a salary from the campaign.
Was Pagliarini acting as campaign manager of the Chafee campaign without drawing a salary during the time he was collecting unemployment? That is another question. If you collect unemployment, you are sup¬posed to be actively looking for a paying job.
I’m sure the State Police will be looking closely at all of that at the same time they are investigating the leak. If Pagliarini is telling the truth then he broke no law. But whoever leaked his confidential information — he points out that the leaked documents had his Social Security number and his bank routing and account numbers, information that would allow an identity thief to go to town on him — did commit a crime.
The State Police are a straight-arrow, no-nonsense group with serious work to do and they HATE being tossed into the center ring of a high-profile political circus. But that is exactly where they are right now and it is now incumbent upon them to investigate the case not just thoroughly, but quickly.
Justice delayed in this situation is very much justice denied. It is not just the fact of the illegal leak that is the issue here; it is the motive of the leak¬er and the objective of the crime.
If the State Police solidly get the goods on whoever did the illegal leaking on November 3, their investigation will have been a complete waste of time. The perpetrator will have achieved his real purpose — affecting the outcome of the gubernatorial election — and would probably admit to the misdemeanor once the damage was done. He — he/she if you must — will have gotten away with it. The victims will be the voters of Rhode Island, not just Pagliarini. Pagliarini says he quit the campaign because he didn’t want to be a distraction to the campaign and to have Chafee knocked off message in the final weeks of the campaign. That is an understandable and perhaps even noble knee-jerk reaction on the part of a loyal subordinate.
But guess what? This is already a distraction to the Chafee campaign and the resignation perhaps makes it even a bigger distraction.
Chafee at this point should reject Pagliarini’s offer to resign, call a press conference and say, “I don’t believe J.R. did anything wrong. I think this is an effort to smear me by smearing him and I’m not willing to let whoever is behind this get away with it. He has been loyal to me for a lot of years and now it is my turn to be loyal to him. The State Police are now investigating this and I am confident that we are going to find out exactly what happened. But in the meantime, we have a campaign to run and we are going to keep fighting and...” he can go on dis¬cussing jobs and taxes and that damned train station in Warwick he’s always talking about.
Because Pagliarini worked for the Office of Higher Education — in a job he now says was arranged for him by Judge Frank Caprio Sr., the father of Chafee’s closest rival in the governor’s race, General Treasurer Frank Caprio Jr. — that is where the Department of Labor and Training mailed his unemployment documents.
So it is inevitable that the shadow of suspicion is going to fall on the elder Caprio, who is chairman of the Board of Governors for Higher Education, and who has a powerful motive in helping his son become governor. Who else would have a vested interest in providing information about Chafee’s campaign chief?
Here is an interesting question: If the person who obtained Pagliarini’s unemployment information thought there was something wrong going on, why didn’t he or she contact the authorities? The fact that this person contacted the media rather than the police pretty much demonstrates that he or she wasn’t as interested in reporting unemployment payment irregularities as he or she was in publicly embarrassing the Chafee campaign by getting the campaign manager splashed across TV news broadcasts and newspaper front pages.
That is surely a clue in determining where the leak came from.
I’m pretty sure Judge Caprio is smart enough to avoid any personal involvement in this and would have worked through a subordinate or some other third party to get those documents into the hands of the media. It appears there are a lot of people in state government who owe the judge a favor, if not their very jobs; new ones seem to emerge once a week or so — Donna Mesolella, Peter Manfredo, and, if you believe his story, even J.R. Pagliarini himself.
So much for Caprio Campaign Manager Xay Khamsyvoravong’s “News flash” that “Frank’s family members aren’t running for Governor.” Frank Sr.’s name might not be on the ballot but, for good or ill, he is now elbow-deep in this campaign.
The purloined letters from DLT that were turned over to reporters are undoubtedly evidence. No reporter worth his or her salt would say where he or she got them. But they are evidence and will surely be confiscated by the State Police. Will the detectives find fingerprints on them? Is there some other way of determining where they came from? That’s what the State Police are going to have to investigate.
If they can find the person or per¬sons who leaked those documents, it is going to make the homestretch of this election race very interesting.

Jim Baron covers politics and the State House in Rhode Island for The Times of Pawtucket and The Call. He can be reached at:

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