Cummings' part in Baltimore mayor's trial: Will he testify? Or not?
At least one prominent Washington politician, President Barack Obama, has carefully kept his distance this year from Sheila Dixon, the indicted mayor of Baltimore. That hasn't been the case with many other public figures, including Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who has appeared with Dixon at a number of public events.
The Democratic congressman from West Baltimore has never been implicated in the mayor's legal problems, and there is absolutely no reason to believe that he will be. However, this week his name popped up at her trial.
More than 70 people, including Cummings and other prominent local figures, were listed on a roster of potential witnesses in the case. The list was circulated among prospective jurors and made public on Thursday. It's a routine effort to make the trial as fair as possible by keeping anyone who might know a participant in the case from getting a seat on the jury.
The assumption, and it was only an assumption, was that Cummings is a potential character witness, someone who might speak favorably of the mayor if called to testify in court.
On the day Cummings appeared on the witness list, The Baltimore Sun checked with his spokesman, to see if the congressman had been advised that he will be called to testify in the trial and, if so, when.
In response, Cummings released a statement through his office Thursday afternoon in which he described himself as a potential witness.
“Obviously, if called to testify, I will answer any questions asked of me. I will not comment any further on the case, as I do not believe it is appropriate to do so while the case is ongoing and I am a potential witness,” Cummings stated.
However, at least one part of that statement turned out to be incorrect: the part about not commenting any further on the case.
This afternoon, Cummings had more to say. His office issued a new "statement regarding the ongoing trial of Baltimore City Mayor Sheila Dixon."
Here's it is, in its entirety:
"I am not scheduled to testify in this case," said Congressman Cummings.
And with that, his office added (not for the first time): "This will be the extent of Cummings' statement during the trial."
So, what is it?
Is he a potential witness or not? Was his name on the list just for show? Did Cummings even know that he was included (others on the list have said they didn't know their names would be on it)? After the news media reported, and Cummings confirmed, that he was a potential witness, did he inform the lawyers that he would not testify? Did the lawyers decide, after all their planning for the trial, that he wouldn't be a witness, only a day or two after telling the court he might be?
Cummings is an attorney, a graduate of the University of Maryland law school, so perhaps his inscrutable statements should be scrutinized with a legalistic eye.
He calls himself "a potential witness." He says he "will answer any questions." But he is "not scheduled to testify."
Schedules can change. He is not scheduled now. But he could be in the future. Potential witnesses can turn into actual witnesses. Or not.
In the midst of such confusion and mystery, perhaps one could take a more cynical view: That for reasons of political prudence, Cummings doesn't care to get any closer than necessary to Dixon right now. No one can predict with absolute certainty what will come out during the trial, or how it will end or, for that matter, how a scheduled second mayor trial will turn out.
Stay tuned. Perhaps Cummings will have more to say before the mayor's trial is over. Or not.