Nixon extends investigation into Gov. Blunt's office

Tuesday, June 3, 2008 | 9:11 p.m. CDT; updated 8:14 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon’s office has granted special investigators more time for a probe into whether Republican Gov. Matt Blunt’s office violated Missouri’s public records laws.

The investigation, originally due to be completed by January, now has been extended until Aug. 29 because the appointed investigators recently sued to compel Blunt to provide documents at no cost.

This marks the third extension. Investigators most recently had been nearing a Friday deadline to wrap up. A letter Tuesday from Nixon to his appointed investigative attorney, Chet Pleban, notes an additional extension beyond August is possible if the litigation is still lingering.

Nixon appointed the three-person investigative team after former governor’s office attorney Scott Eckersley went public in October with allegations that he had been fired for raising concerns that Blunt’s office was not following Missouri’s Sunshine Law or record-retention policies.

Blunt has asserted Eckersley was fired for doing personal work from his state office, among other reasons.

Blunt’s attorney, former Supreme Court Judge John Holstein, has asked a Cole County judge to dismiss the lawsuit brought by Nixon’s investigators. He contends the attorney general’s office has no legal power to demand the governor turn over vast quantities of documents, and certainly not without paying research and copying fees allowed under the Sunshine Law.

On Tuesday, the governor’s office repeated its assertion five times in a single news release that Nixon had launched a political attack on Blunt by initiating the investigation. Nixon is running for governor, though Blunt announced in January he will not seek re-election.

Blunt’s office asserted Tuesday that the attorney general’s office had not adopted its own “specific e-mail retention policy” until Jan. 1. It referenced a 2008 document management policy by the attorney general’s office that includes instructions on how to retain e-mail records, among other topics.

Nixon spokesman Scott Holste countered that it is Blunt’s office that is engaging in political attacks. He said the state’s record retention policies have long covered e-mails, and the new document management policy is a separate guideline that the attorney general’s office had been working on before e-mail deletions became an issue in the governor’s office.

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