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Adrian Walker

Governor’s star turn

By Adrian Walker
Globe Columnist / May 28, 2011

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There were no real fireworks. It was more like a careful filleting.

Governor Deval Patrick was a picture of calm yesterday as he took the witness stand against his sometime political ally and friend, Salvatore DiMasi.

The governor was the star government witness yesterday, detailing how DiMasi pushed for a software contract for Cognos. At a breakfast meeting with Patrick and Representative Michael Capuano, DiMasi uttered words he may go on to regret: “Remember, this contract is important to me.’’

Patrick needed DiMasi’s help in passing a billion-dollar biotechnology bill, and DiMasi wanted Cognos. Patrick wasn’t even back at the State House before he e-mailed his administration and finance secretary, Leslie Kirwan, to say they needed to discuss the deal.

The Four Seasons breakfast wasn’t the first time DiMasi had expressed his newfound interest in software. When the issue first surfaced, Patrick said he told his staff to do what DiMasi wanted if it could be done within the rules. Otherwise they were to go in another direction.

When he was asked whether he would have taken the same actions had he known DiMasi was getting money out of the deal, Patrick said, “We wouldn’t have proceeded, or at least got advice from the Ethics Commission.’’ He said that DiMasi, while expressing support for Patrick’s life sciences initiative, never directly suggested that his support was tied to getting the Cognos contract approved.

In a booming but deferential cross-examination, DiMasi’s lawyer, William Cintolo, didn’t seem to have much success in pushing back against Patrick. The governor deflected questions about the fact that Cognos had also been among the contributors to Patrick’s lavish inauguration ceremony in 2007. The governor did say, in response to a question, that DiMasi never specifically mentioned Cognos to him.

Most of the governor’s testimony came as no surprise, frankly. But he revealed that DiMasi exploded when his interest in Cognos came to light. That was in a March 2008 Globe story that, citing a report by the state’s inspector general, called the contract improper and noted that DiMasi had an active interest in the deal. In a meeting in his office, the speaker accused the administration of leaking the story and demanded that either Patrick or Kirwan issue a statement saying that DiMasi had no interest in the deal.

“I told him we couldn’t do that, because it wasn’t accurate,’’ Patrick said.

Kirwan preceded Patrick to the stand — she started Wednesday — explaining why she signed the Cognos contract, despite apparent reservations. “I attempted to assure myself that the procurement had merit for the Commonwealth,’’ she said.

The prosecution is expected to rest by Wednesday, and for DiMasi that probably can’t come soon enough. His former codefendant, Joseph Lally, and this week’s parade of State House witnesses have been effective in casting doubt on his assertions that he didn’t do anything wrong. And as for the governor, he held up very well, and made such a graceful exit that the corps of reporters who attempted to follow him out the door barely got a glimpse of him.

His presence brought out the most aggressive in the hyperactive US marshals. About a half-hour before trial began yesterday, they cleared the courtroom and searched it, complete with a bomb-sniffing dog. They should know for future reference that the governor spends nearly all his time in rooms in which no one has been searched for weapons.

After sparring early in Patrick’s tenure, the governor and DiMasi developed a warm relationship, and Patrick performed his task on the stand without relish. But he did what the government needed him to do. The defense will soon get its chance to try to rebuild DiMasi’s credibility, but its task had become far more difficult by the time the governor’s sport utility vehicle made its way back to Beacon Hill.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com.