Thursday, November 12, 2009

ONIONS & TANGOS: STEFANI’S REVEALING TESTIMONY

Posted By on Thu, Nov 12, 2009 at 7:54 PM

Think of the events that led to Kwame Kilpatrick’s undoing as an onion whose layers are still being peeled away.

Last month, during proceedings before the Attorney Disciplinary Board, attorney Mike Stefani, who represented former cops Gary Brown, Harold Nelthrope and Walt Harris in their whistleblower lawsuit, disclosed that he provided the Detroit Free Press’ Jim Schaefer with copies of the now-infamous test messages between Kilpatrick and his paramour and chief of staff, Christine Beatty, that proved the two lied under oath about having an affair and firing Brown.

Thursday, as Stefani resumed testimony before the board on charges of professional misconduct, light was shed on the elaborate tango that can exist between reporters and their sources.

Stefani, a former FBI agent, explained that he gave Schaefer a computer disc containing copies of the incriminating text messages with the understanding that, in regard to Brown and the other cops, the paper could only publish them if good faith efforts to obtain the messages from another source ultimately failed.

And so, when asked if he knew the source of text messages the Freep eventually published in an explosive story printed in January 2008, Stefani maintained he couldn’t say with certainty who the source was. It’s possible the Freep followed suggested leads Stefani provided to the reporter so that the text messages might be obtained from another source; Stefani testified that he never asked if that happened, and Schaefer never volunteered the information, the lawyer testified.

I think the applicable term here is plausible deniability. Or maybe covering your ass.

The same can be said regarding terms of a confidentiality agreement mandating that the city drop plans to appeal the jury’s verdict in the 2007 whistleblower trial where Kilpatrick and Beatty were found to have indeed done the cops wrong; in return Stefani would agree to hand over the original and all copies of the text messages — which were obtained after the trial had ended.

To comply with that stipulation, which lawyers representing Kilpatrick thought would keep the messages secret, Stefani asked Schafer to return the disc he’d been given, and the reporter complied. Asked if he knew whether the paper had made a copy of its own, Stefani said again that he didn’t ask, and Schaefer didn’t tell.

So, Stefani could, he testified, truthfully claim that all known copies of the text messages had been turned over, as required by the agreement.

The lesson there, if you haven’t learned it by now, is that a truthful answer can also be a mask for deceit.

What makes this case all the more complicated is another truth linked to that deceit: What Stefani did ultimately helped bring down a corrupt administration.

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