JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Matt Blunt fought back against Attorney General Jay Nixon’s investigation of deleted e-mails Wednesday by demanding that Nixon turn over his own office’s e-mails.
Blunt’s retaliatory Sunshine Law request was an effort to demonstrate that his office was not alone in deleting some e-mails instead of saving them as public records.
Nixon appointed a three-person team last fall to look into whether Blunt’s office was violating the state’s open-records law or document retention policies by deleting some e-mails.
That came after former Blunt legal counsel Scott Eckersley claimed he was fired for advising the governor’s office it could be breaking the open-records law by not retaining some e-mails. Eckersley has sued Blunt for wrongful firing and defamation, which Blunt has denied.
Blunt’s office has told Nixon’s investigators it will cost nearly $541,000 to retrieve and review their requested e-mails from a backup system. Nixon has called that a “hugely exorbitant” amount of money, and his investigative attorney has threatened to sue Blunt’s office to get the e-mail records.
On Wednesday, Blunt’s office likewise threatened to sue the attorney general if he did not comply with Blunt’s Sunshine Law requests for e-mails of certain employees and copies of e-mail backup tapes.
Included in the 15 specific requests from Blunt’s office are e-mails sent to or from the investigators Nixon appointed to look into Blunt’s e-mail practices.
Nixon spokesman John Fougere had little to say about Blunt’s records request.
“We have received the request from the governor’s office, we’re reviewing it, and we’re getting to work on it,” Fougere said.
The main reason for the request “is we are concerned they are not retaining all their e-mails, as the governor’s office is” now doing, Blunt spokesman Nanci Gonder said. “We’re concerned there is a Sunshine Law violation.”
Blunt cited as justification a September article in which Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said he deletes many of the e-mails he receives. Holste said such decisions are based on the content or nature of the e-mail.
Under Missouri’s record retention policy, correspondence related to government policies and plans is supposed to be kept permanently, so they can be included in the State Archives.
Other forms of general correspondence — including staff appointment calendars or project progress reports — are to be kept for three years before they are destroyed.
Still other kinds of correspondence — such as routine information requests that require no administrative action or policy decisions — can be destroyed as soon as they are obsolete, which can be almost immediately.
The governor’s office e-mails are retained on a backup system overseen by the Office of Administration, which also handles e-mails for numerous other executive departments. The attorney general’s office has its own backup e-mail system, Fougere said.
On the same day Nixon announced his investigation last fall, Blunt directed the Office of Administration to come up with a better system of permanently retaining government e-mails. That system is still being set up.