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Feb 26 2015

Is Cuomo Covering His Corrupt Tracks?

(2 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

The International Business Times is reporting the New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered the destruction of state government e-mails older than 90 days. Cuomo ordered this in the midst of a Federal investigation into public corruption.

In a memo obtained by Capital New York, Cuomo officials announced that mass purging of email records is beginning across several state government agencies. The timing of the announcement, which followed through on a 2013 proposal, is worth noting: The large-scale destruction of state documents will be happening in the middle of a sprawling federal investigation of public corruption in Albany. That investigation has been looking at state legislators and the Cuomo administration.

Cuomo’s move to purge state emails follows a similar move he made as state Attorney General. International Business Times confirmed that in 2007, he put in place a mass deletion policy for emails in the New York Attorney General’s office that were more than 90 days old, making it difficult for the public to know how — or whether — his office investigated bank fraud in the lead-up to the financial crisis of 2008. In the Cuomo administration’s announcement this week, the governor’s chief information officer, Maggie Miller, justified the new email purge as a cost-saving measure aimed at “making government work better.”

But former prosecutors and open-government advocates interviewed by IBTimes say the move seems designed to hide information.

According to the Capital News article, the memo (pdf) from Ms. Miller, a former Girls Scouts of America executive who was hired in December, was sent to agency heads of Friday. The article goes on tho site that over a dozen advocacy agencies sent a letter to the governor’s office (pdf) last month  arguing that the policy was out of step with federal guidelines and technologically unnecessary:

In this era, government runs on email, and access to email and electronic records has become a cornerstone of public transparency. Our groups are very concerned that the administration’s June 2013 policy of using centralized software to automatically delete state employee emails after 90 days is resulting in the destruction of emails that are considered public records under New York’s Freedom of Information Law,” wrote the groups, which were organized by Reinvent Albany. “This policy was adopted without public notice or comment. Furthermore, we are extremely concerned that the inevitable destruction of email records under your 90-day automatic deletion policy directly undermines other public accountability laws like the False Claims Act.

New York’s contract with Microsoft, which developed Office 365, allows for 50 gigabytes of e-mail storage per employee. Reinvent Albany estimated this would be enough to handle up to 30 years worth of messages. [..]

In addition to the federal seven-year standard, other states like Washington, Florida and Connecticut have retention periods of between two and five years. The Central Intelligence Agency recently proposed a three-year retention period for departing employees, and was criticized for not archiving messages for longer. Shorter retention periods are more common in corporations seeking to reduce their exposure in litigation, according to a memorandum compiled by Reinvent Albany (pdf).

After Cuomo abruptly ended his Moreland Commission that was investigating campaign finance and public corruption when it apparently got too close to his own office, US Attorney Prete Brarara began a federal probe into Albany. The timing of this order raises significant legal questions, according to Melanie Sloan, a former Clinton Justice Department official:

“This is potentially obstruction of justice,” she told IBTimes. “The only reason that the government destroys records is so no one can question what it is doing, and no one can unearth information about improper conduct. There’s no reason for New York not to preserve this information.”

Sloan said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who is spearheading the Albany probe, could issue a letter to Cuomo ordering him to preserve all documents that could be relevant to the public corruption investigation. In May 2014, Bharara issued such a letter to state legislators. Bharara’s office declined to comment when asked by IBTimes if it had now issued a similar directive to Cuomo.

John Kaehny, the head of a coalition of transparency group called Reinvent Albany, said the purge order may be designed to circumvent obstruction of justice statutes that are designed to prevent deliberate document destruction.

“[The policy] may mean that you could never be accused of obstructing justice or destroying evidence because you could claim that the machine automatically deleted it,” he told IBTimes. “It creates a loophole and opportunity to destroy embarrassing emails.” [..]

Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, says beyond questions about legality, the public should be concerned about how the policy may preclude journalists from reporting on state government.

“This policy will allow the Cuomo administration, in many cases, to delete newsworthy emails faster than reporters can even request them,” Timm said. “It looks like an attempt to avoid accountability.”

This lookng more and more like a cover up of Cuomo’s corruption ever since he was the state’s attorney general. Hopefully, he won’t get away with it.

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