BOSTON — Though no one accused him of any wrongdoing, Gov. Deval Patrick can’t be blamed for celebrating the start of the weekend.
On Friday, he became only the second sitting governor in Massachusetts history to be called to the witness stand in a criminal trial.
“What can I say, I’m glad that my testimony in the trial is over,” Patrick said to reporters at the State House Friday afternoon.
Here’s how it began:
Prosecutor: “Would you please state your name?”
Patrick: “Deval Patrick.”
Prosecutor: “And you are the governor of Massachusetts?”
Patrick: “I am.”
He started as governor in 2007, he told the prosecutor. Back then he badly needed Salvatore DiMasi because he needed to raise money quickly through an emergency bond bill. That required legislative approval and the speaker of the House, DiMasi, had the power to make things go fast or slow.
DiMasi had made it clear that he was interested in the concept of performance management. In fact, he made sure $15 million for software was included in the bond bill.
“We said we’d work with him,” the governor said. As a witness, Patrick was cool, serious, charming and agreeable to both sides.
Of course, the reason Patrick and the defendants were in court was that the state eventually contracted to buy software from Cognos Corp. in a deal that became notorious. DiMasi and his co-defendants are charged with getting secret kickbacks.
Back to 2007. On a couple of occasions after the bond bill went through, the governor said, DiMasi asked him how the procurement was going.
Then in July 2007, the governor continued, he had a goodwill breakfast with DiMasi. Newspaper stories were reporting their relationship was fractured. As a goodwill gesture, the two men shared their big goals.
Patrick said he told DiMasi his was a billion-dollar initiative for life sciences. DiMasi named three goals of his own, the last of which was a mere $15 million procurement of software.
At the end of their meeting, Patrick said DiMasi reminded him, “Don’t forget that contract, it’s important to me.”
As Patrick testified, courtroom 10, cleared by a sniffing dog beforehand, was packed. The jurors were alert. Photographers and reporters hovered outside the courthouse in wait for a second chance to capture the governor, who’d evaded their big photo op by taking the back way into court. The prosecution had promised three weeks ago that Patrick’s testimony would be compelling. But for jurors this seemed like a bad campaign promise.
Then the prosecutor moved to the dramatic, asking the governor, “If you knew that Speaker DiMasi had received money from legal referral fees derived from Cognos in return for pushing Cognos’s interest, would you have acted any differently as the governor of Massachusetts?”
Patrick’s answer: “Yes. I think we wouldn’t have preceded.”
He later told reporters, “I answered the questions truthfully and to the best of my ability and did my duty.”
The governor said that later in the day, after he had evaded photographers a second time, thereby depriving history and possible political opponents of a photograph of him in front of a federal courthouse and a criminal trial.
In response to questions from defense attorneys, Patrick was quick to say that DiMasi never mentioned the name Cognos. And never gave him a nod and a wink, as in, ‘Hey I’m getting paid by Cognos’. And Patrick said DiMasi never said you do this for me and I’ll do that for you. Patrick made no attempt in his answers to accuse DiMasi.
Perhaps the biggest blow for the prosecution came when Patrick described what happened when he was confronted in the speaker’s office by DiMasi. He angrily blamed someone in the governor’s office for leaking information to the Boston Globe that questioned his connection to the contract with Cognos.
“[DiMasi] asked that we … issue a statement saying that he had no interest in the Cognos contract,” the governor testified.
“I said we couldn’t do that because it wasn’t accurate.”
Seventy-three minutes after he took the oath, the lawyers were through and the governor was dismissed. He’d done his duty. Whether he’d done any damage was up to the jurors.
Patrick told reporters, “If the question is did I expect when I became governor that I would end up testifying in a criminal trial, no I did not. And it’s not something I relish. I think the whole affair is extraordinarily sad, to tell you the truth.”