Federal prosecutors preparing to try state Sen. Nathaniel Oaks on charges he took money from an FBI source and obstructed justice have asked the General Assembly to pause its own investigation into potential Oaks misconduct until after his trial in April.
The legislature’s Ethics Committee had been probing allegations against Oaks since last month, after Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller referred the matter to the body. The committee, concerned that its work could get in the way of federal prosecutors, had asked the U.S. Attorney’s Office for advice.
In a letter dated Feb. 7, acting U.S. Attorney Stephen M. Schenning wrote that he assumed the committee’s investigation “would entail questioning of individuals,” including Oaks, and thus he believed it “prudent” that it halt its work “until the federal charges are resolved.”
Oaks is set to stand trial April 16, a week after the assembly’s 90-day legislative session ends.
The Ethics Committee’s proceedings are, by law, confidential.
The only reason the development in its investigation was made public was because Miller decided to read the letter from Schenning on the floor of the Senate.
“Quite frankly, it was kind of unprecedented to read it,” Miller said. “What do I want to do with it? Tell the world what it says and be done with it.”
Miller said he does not know how the committee will respond or what the status of its investigation is.
“The matter is still pending before the committee,” he said. “They’ve got to decide where to go and what’s to happen from here.”
If the committee grants Schenning’s request, it would mean Oaks can complete his current term in office. This year’s General Assembly session is the last of the term, with all seats up for election in November.
Only one candidate has filed to run for the seat currently held by Oaks so far, according to the Maryland Board of Elections — J.D. Merrill, a former Baltimore schoolteacher and administrator and the son-in-law of former Gov. Martin O’Malley.