The Romney campaign opened up a new line of attack today, and unlike much of what we've heard of late, this one does not appear to be ridiculous on its face. There is, however, a message-vs-messenger problem to consider.
Mitt Romney's top political adviser said Thursday that emails between White House officials -- including Obama campaign manager Jim Messina -- and lobbyists sent from personal email accounts appeared to violate federal laws.
"This appears to be a violation of the law which requires that all official communications be preserved," Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstom said on a conference call with reporters Thursday.
A report published Tuesday by House Republicans found that Obama administration officials would set up meetings with lobbyists at coffee shops near the White House -- a move seemingly intended to keep the visits from appearing on official White House visitor logs. Some of the emails, including discussion of the president's healthcare bill with a pharmaceutical lobbyist, were also sent from Messina's personal email address.
At this point, the available information is limited, and it's hard to say whether the allegations have merit. That said, if officials tried to get around rules requiring preservation of executive-branch communications, that's problematic. Bush/Cheney officials tended to ignore the Presidential Records Act, and never paid a price for ignoring the law, but that's hardly an excuse for repeating the same mistake.
But in this case, there's a twist: Fehrnstom and Team Romney probably should avoid talking about the importance of official email preservation given their own scandalous background.
Remember what happened in Boston in 2006?
Long-time readers may recall that I covered this story quite a bit last year. To recap, shortly before Romney departed the governor’s office, 11 of his top aides purchased 17 state-issued hard drives, and purged the Romney administration’s email records in advance of his presidential campaign. The move had no precedent among modern Massachusetts governors, including Romney’s recent Republican predecessors.
The story got a little worse when Romney admitted the move was intended to hide official correspondence from the public and keep potentially-embarrassing information from “opposition research” teams.
The matter got even worse when we learned Romney used public funds as part of this scheme.
Mitt Romney spent nearly $100,000 in state funds to replace computers in his office at the end of his term as governor of Massachusetts in 2007 as part of an unprecedented effort to keep his records secret, Reuters has learned. […]
The cleanup of records by Romney’s staff before his term ended included spending $205,000 for a three-year lease on new computers for the governor’s office, according to official documents and state officials.
In signing the lease, Romney aides broke an earlier three-year lease that provided the same number of computers for about half the cost — $108,000. Lease documents obtained by Reuters under the state’s freedom of information law indicate that the broken lease still had 18 months to run.
As a result of the change in leases, the cost to the state for computers in the governor’s office was an additional $97,000.
In other words, Romney and his team not only went to great lengths to hide official correspondence from the public, they also handed taxpayers a bill for nearly six figures.
It’s worth noting that the consensus seems to be that the former governor and his team did not violate any laws with this stunt, though Reuters noted in December that “state law on maintaining and disclosing official records is vague and has not been updated to deal with issues related to digital records and other modern technology.”
But in a case like this, the legality is secondary to the appearance of impropriety and the degree to which Romney wiped public records in order to advance his ambitions.
Now the Romney campaign wants to talk about Jim Messina's missing emails? It's not an illegitimate question, but I'm amazed Fehrnstom would choose to broach this subject at all.