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FBI Raids Office of GOP Consultant Over 2013 Virginia Governor's Race

The FBI raided a Republican campaign consultant's Annapolis office Thursday, causing Maryland Republican lawmakers to say they will stop doing business with the firm.

By Michael Dresser and Amanda Yeager

The FBI raided a Republican campaign consultant's Annapolis office Thursday, causing Maryland Republican lawmakers to say they will stop doing business with the firm.

Kelley Rogers, president of Strategic Campaign Group, said half a dozen FBI agents arrived at his Main Street office about 8:30 a.m. with a warrant to search and seize records. The FBI confirmed it conducted a raid in Annapolis but would not say where. An individual carrying a backpack marked FBI was seen leaving the firm's office.

Rogers, whose firm has previously worked with campaign committees for Maryland House of Delegates and Senate candidates, said the FBI investigation concerns work the firm performed during the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial campaign of former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican. Rogers insisted the investigation did not involve Maryland politics and that the firm had done nothing wrong.

He said that if any clients want to be released from their contracts, he will free them.

Maryland Republicans quickly took him up on that offer. Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings, of Baltimore County, and House Minority Leader Nic Kipke, of Anne Arundel County, confirmed that campaign committees for GOP senators and delegates had hired the firm to raise money and do other work before the 2017 session. Both said their committees would not use the firm again until its legal issues were resolved.

"I'm shocked by what has come to light today and we will not be working with them on any new projects until the legal process is completed and they are cleared," Kipke said just hours after the raid.

Jennings said the company did satisfactory work last year but added that GOP senators haven't been in touch with the firm since the session ended last month.

"I think should we hire a company, we would look elsewhere," he said.

According to Rogers, his firm settled a civil suit brought by the Cuccinelli campaign after he lost the 2013 Virginia governor's race to Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Rogers said the investigation appears to stem from allegations brought in that suit.

The Cuccinelli suit alleged that Strategic Campaign Group and the associated Conservative Strike Force Political Action Committee _ an independent group not affiliated with the candidate _ raised about $2.2 million by assuring donors it would spend the money to help elect the GOP candidate. The suit alleged that the PAC and Strategic Campaign Group failed to follow through on promises of an extensive media campaign on Cuccinelli's behalf.

Rogers said his firm settled the dispute for what he recalls as $75,000. Press accounts put the amount at $85,000. Rogers insisted Thursday that the Cuccinelli campaign claims have no merit.

The GOP strategist and firm vice president Chip O'Neil spoke to reporters while FBI agents were still working in the office Thursday. Both spoke without lawyers present.

Rogers praised the professionalism of the agents and predicted the investigation would clear his name and that of the firm.

"The truth shall set you free," he said.

Rogers said agents arrived without notice and presented a search warrant. He said they took records and downloaded other information from the firm's computers.

FBI spokeswoman Lindsay Ram said the investigation is being conducted through the bureau's Washington field office, which has jurisdiction in the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia. She said agents from the office sometimes cross over into other jurisdictions when the entity they are investigating has offices in multiple locations. She declined to provide more details.

(Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter John McNamara contributed to this report.)

(c)2017 The Baltimore Sun

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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