Rosa Scarcelli, the one-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate, says she still remembers the day late last summer when a friend told her about an anonymous website called the Cutler Files and suggested, with a hint of worry, that she check it out.

She did, Scarcelli recalled in an interview Thursday. And immediately, she got a bad feeling in her gut that her husband, Thom Rhoads, probably had something to do with it.

And?

“I knew no good could come out of it,” Scarcelli said.

Good instincts.

Depending on your appetite for this kind of thing, Thursday’s not-so-surprising admission by Rhoads that he, along with political consultant Dennis Bailey, was behind the Cutler Files is:

A) The merciful final act to a painfully long melodrama.

B) Vindication for those in independent Eliot Cutler’s just-missed bid for the Blaine House who labored long after November’s election to publicly unmask the authors of what they considered the biggest political hatchet job in recent Maine history.

C) Just desserts for Bailey, who in October coyly denied creating the site, only to admit the opposite later, when it became clear that he was about to be fined $200 by Maine’s ethics commission for violating state campaign finance laws.

D) A blow to Scarcelli’s once-bright political future — despite her continued insistence that she knew nothing about the Cutler Files before its launch.

(This even as her husband and Bailey, who worked for her through June’s primary and went on to advise independent gubernatorial candidate Shawn Moody, were hatching the site right under her nose.)

E) Proof positive that, as Bailey himself has long advised his many and varied clients, the longer you hide from a burning controversy, the worse you’re going to get burned.

Much has been said about exactly what the Cutler Files was before the site was abruptly taken down in late October.

To this day, Bailey and Rhoads insist it was an honest expose of questions surrounding Cutler’s pre-politics career as a high-priced international attorney.

Also to this day, what’s left of Camp Cutler argues that the Cutler Files was an anonymous smear campaign that has no place in Maine politics past, present or future.

But in the end, this messy story won’t be remembered as a tit-for-tat battle over Cutler’s campaign biography. Rather, it’s become a cautionary tale about credibility — or, alas, the loss thereof.

Bailey, in an interview with myself and another reporter last fall, was asked flat-out if he was involved in the Cutler Files.

“What do you mean ‘involved?’” he replied.

“Did you create the site or did you have any hand in the site?”

“No, no,” Bailey said. “I’m not responsible for the site.”

Uh-huh.

Then there’s Rhoads, who told this newspaper in an e-mail in late October: “I can unequivocally state that I am not the author, owner or creator of the Cutler Files, nor did I post any information on it or any other website. … I don’t know why my name is being brought into this. It’s pure rumor.”

Uh-huh.

Now anyone who’s watched Bailey build his Savvy Inc. into a premier public relations operation knows his first rule of crisis management: Disclose what you did, acknowledge any misstatements or mistakes, take your lumps and then — and only then — move on.

It’s good advice — and now that they’re both officially out there for all the world to see, Bailey and Rhoads would do well to follow it.

Yet even as Rhoads dropped the other shoe Thursday and finally admitted that he mined the Internet for “much of the information” that made its way onto the Cutler Files, both he and Bailey refused to say flat-out that they had lied.

Insisted Bailey, “I didn’t feel I was responsible for the site. (Beyond that) I don’t really want to get into it.”

And Rhoads, asked in an interview if he’d like to take another whack at his 3-month-old e-mail denial, replied, “I do believe (that statement) was accurate … Dennis controlled the site — I didn’t create it. I didn’t own it. I didn’t have access to it.”

Parse away, gentlemen, parse away.

As for Scarcelli, the road to political success after finishing third in June’s four-way primary now includes a new obstacle: Convince Maine voters that while she knew her husband was noodling around Google in search of anything labeled “Cutler,” she hadn’t a clue that Rhoads and Bailey were in full cyber-attack mode.

(Upon hearing about the site around Labor Day, Scarcelli said in a prepared statement Thursday, “I indicated that I was disappointed in their actions and thought they should take down the site.” It stayed up — at least for another six weeks or so.)

So now what?

Bailey said he has no doubt that he’ll survive this professionally — most of the people he sees on the street, he said, ask him why everyone’s making such a big deal out of the whole mess in the first place.

“I’ll put my reputation up against anyone’s,” Bailey said. “This is not going to be engraved on my tombstone.”

Rhoads, who received no sanction from the ethics commission and was hardly a public figure before now, can at least focus his fence-mending on … an extra-big bouquet of flowers come Valentine’s Day?

And Scarcelli?

“I hope people will judge me by my campaign,” she said. “Judge me based on what I did — not what others have done.”

The final bow on this protracted piece of political theater? That goes to Ted O’Meara, who managed Cutler’s campaign and knew long before most who was behind the Cutler Files.

Contacted after Rhoads came out from behind the transparent curtain Thursday, O’Meara said all his side ever wanted was to show that the Cutler Files never was, as it claimed, the work of “a group of researchers, writers and journalists” intent on educating a clueless electorate.

“There’s no victory here,” O’Meara said. “It never should have happened.”

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

[email protected]