Gov. John Kitzhaber's office last week requested state officials destroy thousands of records in the governor's personal email accounts, according to records obtained by WW and 101.9 KINK/FM News 101 KXL.
The request came as investigations into allegations of influence-peddling involving Kitzhaber and first lady Cylvia Hayes were intensifying. Records show the request to destroy Kitzhaber's emails came from Jan Murdock, Kitzhaber's executive assistant. She wanted all emails from Kitzhaber's personal email accounts removed from state servers.The request from Murdock was described in a Feb. 5 email. "Governor's office wants anything that is in the email account [Kitzhaber's account] removed from archive," wrote Tracy Osburn, a field technician in the DAS Technology Support Center, wrote in the email obtained by WW and 101.9 KINK/FM News 101 KXL.Personal emails of public officials can be subject to the state's open records laws if they are used to discuss public business. Earlier documents previously released by the governor's office show Kitzhaber used both his personal and state email accounts to communicate with his aides and discuss state business.
The request from Kitzhaber's office to destroy emails came one day before the Oregon Department of Justice opened a criminal investigation into the allegations against him and Hayes.At the time Kitzhaber's office requested emails be destroyed, the governor and Hayes faced a pending Oregon Government Ethics Commission investigation. WW had earlier reported that the FBI had opened an investigation.The request for destruction of records came while Kitzhaber was promising to be open and honest with Oregonians about the allegations against him and Hayes.The records indicate that state employees refused to carry out the request from Kitzhaber's assistant to destroy emails.Oregon law makes it a crime to improperly destroy or tamper with public records or evidence. Evidence includes "part of official proceeding which is then pending or to the knowledge of such person is about to be instituted."
One observer says the timing of the request raises concern.
"At a very minimum, it shows consciousness of guilt," says Tung Yin, who teaches criminal law at Lewis & Clark Law School. "Why else would you suddenly start destroying documents?"In a Feb. 5 email, Osburn, the DAS field technician, said Kitzhaber's personal emails had been routed to his state account. At 5:41 pm that day, she passed the request to destroy emails up the chain of command.The prospect of deleting thousands of emails clearly made Osburn's supervisor, Arian Turpin, uncomfortable. "Guys, hold on processing this request until we receive approval from a higher authority," Turpin wrote in a Feb. 5, 2015 email at 6:52 pm. "Given the unusual nature of the request, I'm reluctant to have my team move forward without the active awareness and consideration of the possibilities and a direct approval from higher levels of the action."Turpin then kicked the request up another level to his supervisor, Shawn Wagoner. After consulting with colleagues, Wagoner also refused to delete the governor's emails."Take no action at this time," Wagoner wrote. Wagoner then passed the issue up the chain of command to yet another DAS manager, Gary Krieger.Krieger told his supervisor, Michael Rogers, that he would not destroy the emails."I am not willing to make the call to delete information out of the email archive," Krieger wrote on Feb. 5 at 7:24 pm. "As I stated we will need to discuss."
Kitzhaber spokeswoman Amy Wojcicki said the request to delete emails was routine.
"There was no blanket order to delete all records and the emails are in the process of being sorted to determine which records are public records that are required to be kept," Wojcicki said in an email. "The Oregon Public Records Act requires retention of public records. It was recently brought to our attention that there are a number of the governor's personal emails residing on the state server. Some of the emails do not relate to any activity, transaction or function of state business and are not public records required to be retained."
DAS spokesman Matt Shelby confirms that no emails were deleted, and the final decision on the matter was made by DAS Director Michael Jordan.
"We have a responsibility to maintain records per the secretary of state's retention schedule," Shelby said. "Removal of records would require a record-by-record review to determine what, if anything, was removable."