THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Keeping his cool through a strange, historic day on stand

By Michael Levenson
Globe Staff / May 28, 2011

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The corruption trial of former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi has pulled back the curtain on some of the closely guarded inner workings of Beacon Hill — involving lobbyists, salesmen, and alleged kickbacks.

Yesterday, one more startling, if less serious, revelation dropped: Testifying under oath, Governor Deval Patrick was forced to acknowledge that his code name within the administration is Sally Reynolds.

“Are there no secrets?’’ he pleaded from the witness stand, as the courtroom burst into laughter.

The unexpectedly light-hearted moment broke the tension of the governor’s highly charged and hotly anticipated appearance, the first time in 16 years that a Massachusetts governor has testified in a corruption case. There was no mistaking the extraordinary drama of the moment as US marshals with machine guns stood guard outside the courthouse, and officers with a bomb-sniffing dog swept inside the courtroom.

But the governor, a polished campaigner and veteran of the Justice Department, appeared calm, almost pensive, as he spoke for nearly two hours about his involvement in approving a software contract at the center of the corruption case. For the first time, he asserted, at length and in his own words, that DiMasi repeatedly pressured him to approve the deal.

He was testifying for the prosecution and has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

Yet the moments Patrick described were politically awkward, at odds with his self-styled image as a leader who rises above backroom deal-making. He described, for example, hashing out his legislative priorities with DiMasi over breakfast at the Four Seasons Hotel in July 2007, seven months after he took office. Patrick highlighted a life sciences bill he wanted; the software contract was on DiMasi’s wish list, the governor said.

“I told them if we could do it within the rules, go ahead,’’ Patrick said he told his staff about the contract.

It was not the only time he and the speaker discussed the deal.

Patrick recalled that, in a meeting at the State House in early 2007, DiMasi pressed him to include money for the contract in an emergency bond bill. At the time, Patrick said, he did not think the request was odd. He said he viewed DiMasi as “important and influential’’ and a “key partner’’ with his administration.

But the governor testified that in March 2008, after the Globe reported that the inspector general was investigating DiMasi’s involvement in the deal, an “angry and upset’’ DiMasi confronted him in the speaker’s office. The speaker accused the governor of leaking the story to the paper and demanded Patrick release a statement saying DiMasi had not been pushing the deal. Patrick refused.

“I said we couldn’t do that because it wasn’t accurate,’’ he testified.

The governor barely looked at DiMasi during his testimony, at times placing his hands under his chin, as if praying or thinking deeply. But DiMasi followed the governor’s testimony intently, nodding when he agreed with a point. Only once, during a break in the trial, did DiMasi catch the governor’s eye from his seat at the defense table. The former speaker smiled at Patrick, who smiled back.

Throughout his appearance, the governor seemed at pains to distance himself from the wheeling and dealing described in the case.

Asked, for example, to acknowledge that lobbyists come to his office to ask for favors, Patrick said yes, but added, “and sometimes just regular people in the reception area.’’ And, asked about politicians needing to raise money for campaigns and inaugurations, Patrick sighed and said, “Regrettably, yes.’’

Under gentle cross-examination by William Cintolo, one of DiMasi’s lawyers, Patrick conceded that Cognos, the software company DiMasi allegedly rigged the contract for, contributed to his inaugural committee. But he said he did not approve the contract because of that donation.

“Of course not,’’ Patrick said.

Patrick also said he did not recall DiMasi ever mentioning the name Cognos. And when Cintolo asked whether DiMasi ever told Patrick, “Do this for me and I will do life sciences for you,’’ the governor replied, “No.’’

Patrick’s code name emerged because it appeared on one of the governor’s e-mails that prosecutors showed to the jury. Patrick said he chose the pseudonym based on his grandmother’s name, Sally, and his grandfather’s name, Reynolds. Aides said he had used it for an e-mail address so the public could not send messages directly to his BlackBerry. Patrick chose a new code name this week, they said.

Back at the State House several hours later, Patrick looked drained, and a bit relieved. He said he had testified truthfully and was glad his involvement in the trial was over. “I think the whole affair is extraordinarily sad,’’ he said.

Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.