Documents Reveal New Twist In Destroying Romney Staff Emails

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PETERBOROUGH, N.H. — Documents obtained by WBUR show that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's staff shortened the lease for computers in the governor's office. The change in leases allowed the governor's staff to wipe the hard drives on all the computers before returning them to the leasing company. It's the latest development in the story of Romney and why his staff destroyed electronic records before he left office.

Reading the state's conservation of public records law is a little bit like exploring an archaic document.

Pam Wilmot, the director of Common Cause Massachusetts, knows this firsthand.

"Literally, they talk about records as if they're paper and the percentage of animal product they have to have and the kind of glue and watermark, and all these other outdated concepts, and don't talk about preserving electronic versions," Wilmot said.

Massachusetts law does require the governor to turn over all emails to the state archives, even if they are not made public. They can be destroyed, but they have to be printed before they are wiped out. Two sources told WBUR that Romney's staff did say they printed their emails before they destroyed them. Still, over the weekend, in the town hall in Peterborough, N.H., Romney found himself trying to explain to reporters why 11 of his senior aides bought back their hard drives.

"Items that are personal or confidential, of course would not be appropriate to put in the public domain," Romney said. "We'd be violating our trust in doing so."

Romney said the documents his administration handed to the state archives provide a good view of how he worked.

"So we followed not only the law in Massachusetts, the precedent of prior governors and legislators, we went beyond that, providing 700 boxes of records," Romney said.

Those were the paper records. Documents obtained by WBUR reveal yet another way Romney's senior staff found reasons to destroy electronic records.

In 2005, Romney's staff signed a three-year lease (PDF) for the computers in the governor's office. But the next year, in December, 2006, a month after Deval Patrick won the election, Romney's staff signed a new lease (PDF), which began when Patrick took office, in January, 2007.

The new lease could be a completely innocuous attempt to give the new governor fresh computers. But it was standard practice to scrub the hard drives once a lease had expired, so changing the lease also allowed Romney's staff to order the hard drives scrubbed before returning the old computers. We asked Romney's campaign staff about this, but they didn't get back to us.

This program aired on November 22, 2011.

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Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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