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November 13, 2009

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.

Posted by Paul West at 3:45 PM | | Comments (6)


Cummings is a useless piece of humanity.

I will ask here of anyone living in the lighter portion of his district.

Have any of you been happy with Cummings in his correspondence when asking his office for information or asked him why he voted a certain way or how he may vote on health care and why?

I for one have been told by his office that they will respond but they have NEVER responded. NEVER!

He seems to disregard the western part of his district and many I have talked to agree. I believe we may not be his favorite color.

Oh so what. now you feel neglected. Now you know how the rest of us have felt for all these years under lily-white everything!

why can't we along just get along...i'm slightly biased however, if your cause was constantly ignored, you would be pleased to have someone represent you, it seems that other congressman haven't been fair or willing to consider those who don't look like they do.

maryland still proves to be very segregrated which is why I moved out of state, I am surprised the paper even published this previous comment. for shame.

Congressman Cummings has done a lot for his district. If he focuses more on certain areas, its probably because there are more pressing issues to deal with there. He has been a tremendous leader in foreclosure prevention programs, stepping far outside his own district to help others. I don't think that anyone is a "useless piece of humanity" and I am offended, Voters ignorance, that you would place that label on a man who works extremely hard trying to improve the community.

"Congressman Cummings has done a lot for his district. "

Name them!

Cummings has had his OWN foreclosure and moral and ethical issues to deal with. If he cannot balance his own checkbook I don't trust him with the country's, as he has proven over and over he is unqualified to do,.

Kwase Mfume was a better rep to his ENTIRE district then Cummings is.


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About the bloggers
Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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