Harris faces report of underage drinking by intern

LaurelRick LarsenRobert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Rep. Andy Harris came under fire Tuesday for an incident last summer in which an underage intern was allowed to drink alcohol at a farewell party on a veranda of the U.S. Capitol.

A spokesman for Harris, Ryan Nawrocki, confirmed that the party took place but said aides in the office did not realize the intern, a senior in college, was under 21. When the incident was brought to light, Harris, a Republican, disciplined his chief of staff, Kevin Reigrut, though Nawrocki would not say what action was taken.

“When [Harris] found out about the incident … he made it very clear that no alcohol was to be consumed in any of his offices, period,” Nawrocki said. “There was immediate and appropriate disciplinary action taken.”

Reigrut could not be reached for comment.  

The story first appeared Tuesday on a blog written by Joe Steffen, a longtime political operative for former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Steffen, who became known as the “Prince of Darkness” for his role in the firing of state employees perceived as disloyal to Ehrlich, was pushed out of the administration after being linked to an attempt to spread rumors about then-Mayor Martin O’Malley.

He now writes a political blog, "Darkness Rising," and frequently skewers his former employer. Reigrut and several other members of Harris’ office previously worked for Ehrlich.

Steffen’s blog says Reigrut tried to shift blame for the underage drinking incident to a former legislative aide, Laurel Schmuck, and that her father, Peter Schmuck, confronted Harris during a telephone call. Peter Schmuck is a longtime sports columnist for The Baltimore Sun. 

Reached by e-mail, Laurel Schmuck discounted Steffen's suggestion that she was fired over the drinking incident. She said she left Harris’ office “in good standing several months after giving notice I would be accepting a graduate fellowship…That was my only reason for leaving. I remain on good terms with the congressman and appreciated the opportunity to work for him." 

Peter Schmuck echoed his daughter's statement and would not comment further. 

Nawrocki confirmed that Schmuck left the office in good standing. He would not disclose the name of the intern.  

Parties on U.S. Capitol verandas overlooking the National Mall – including those in which wine and beer are served – are common. They can be seen from inside and outside the Capitol building. Nawrocki said Harris did not attend the party.

At the same time, there have been several scandals recently involving alcohol abuse by Capitol Hill staffers. Three aides to a Washington Democrat, Rep. Rick Larsen, were fired last month for publishing messages on Twitter about drinking in the office. 

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