Canididates for attorney general said Blunt should come clean
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Canididates for attorney general said Blunt should come clean

Date: May 9, 2008
By: Bria Scudder
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Democratic attorney general candidates said that Gov. Matt Blunt needs to be open with the public and release the content of deleted e-mails that are public record. The Republican candidate took a non-committal position, despite the concern that the governor is breaking Missouri sunshine laws.

"He was trying to hide information which should be public. The public is sick and tired of secret government, and Gov. Blunt has a lot to answer for for trying to keep his office shrouded in secrecy," said Rep. Margaret Donnelly, D-St. Louis County.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate and attorney general Jay Nixon appointed an independent investigative team that filed a suit against the governor and Chief Information Officer Daniel Ross for deleting e-mails.

According to the suit, the Springfield News-Leader had filed a a public-records law request in September for e-mail transactions between the governor and former Chief of Staff Ed Martin. The Springfield News-Leader was later told that the information could not be produced.

In October of last year, Blunt's staff attorney Scott Eckersley was fired. Eckersley claims that he was fired because he warned the governor's staff they might be breaking the law concerning how the office was handling e-mails that were subject to media requests.

"I think this whole incident illustrates some very serious problems that this administration has, and the cavalier and careless disregard it has for the public's right to know. I think we may regrettably only be seeing the tip of the iceberg here," said Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, who also is seeking the Democratic nomination for attorney general.

He said that the governor's office needs to release the details of the e-mails and who was responsible for deleting the information.

"I think the public deserves answers," Harris said. "I want to know who knew what, and when they knew it. I want to know who gave the instructions; I want to know who it was who was interfering with your right to know, my right to know, every taxpayer's right to know what's going on in government."

Harris also said that if the governor doesn't produce the information in a timely manner, then his position as governor should be called into question.

"If this governor doesn't give us answers, and give us answers now, then we've got to revisit this issue and we'll have to see whether he should serve out the remainder of his term," Harris said.

Harris' criticism prompted a retaliatory strike by the governor's office, which immediately filed its own public records demand for every e-mail on Harris' government account. 

The governor's office refused requests for interviews as to the purpose of the demand. A statement from the governor's office announcing the demand offered no explanation, except to claim "some members of the Missouri House of Representatives may have taken the position that the Sunshine Act does not apply to them."

Harris said he will comply with the request.

Another candidate for the Democratic nomination for attorney general made a connection between Blunt's behavior and that of former President Richard Nixon.

"These lawsuits need to go forward, and the tapes should be turned over. This is starting to have shades of the Richard Nixon administration back in the '70s. We don't want to see the tapes destroyed. They need to turn in the evidence," said Sen. Chris Koster, D-Harrisonville.

The only Republican candidate for attorney general, Sen. Michael Gibbons, R-St. Louis County, said that he is not well versed on the lawsuit, but that he thinks that Atty. Gen. Nixon could have had a political agenda when he filed the suit.

"It's a very political year. He's a candidate for governor. I think at first blush you question the political motivation for it coming at this late hour," he said.

Gibbons said he thinks that the governor has been straightforward about public information.

"I think the governor's been clear that those things that are in the public domain are public records ans should be handled as such," Gibbons said.

Gibbons said he thinks that the governor is doing a good job handling the situation and he urged caution in reacting to the lawsuits.

"Just because somebody alleges something doesn't really mean anything in our system of government," Gibbons said.

In addition to Harris, Blunt's office earlier had filed a blanket e-mail demand in March for Nixon to produce e-mails from his office. Some legislators said that this was an attempt to turn the spotlight away from himself.

Democrats charge the e-mail demands from Blunt's office are an effort to divert attention from his own refusal to respond to the document demands from the attorney general's investigating team.

"The governor, I believe, knows that he's in a situation where all eyes are upon him, and the asking for the e-mails from attorney general Nixon is just an effort to get the heat away from his office because he clearly has some major issues with complying with the sunshine law," Donnelly said.