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Why did Mitt Romney erase official emails?

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty  November 19, 2011 03:34 PM

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Reports that former senior aides to presidential candidate Mitt Romney took the unusual step of wiping out all four years’ worth of emails from his time as governor of Massachusetts has me wondering: what is Mitt hiding?

Did the erased emails divulge Romney’s previous support for an individual mandate in health care coverage? Did loyal aides purge evidence that Romney once supported LGBT equality and reproductive health care for women? Did they hope to wipe away embarrassing personal tidbits, such as the time Romney tied the family dog to the top of the car for drive to Canada?

Or could it be that the leading Republican candidate for president just has a Nixonian- penchant for secrecy and cover-ups?

Romney insists he broke no laws because his aides saved hard-paper copies – some 700 boxes worth -- of the expunged emails. Good luck searching those! Still, it’s troubling that a guy who wants to be president thinks it’s okay to have his chief of staff and legal counsel purchase government property with the intent to destroy it and thus deprive the public, historians, and future government officials of legitimate access to the digital record of official state business.

Erasure-gate isn’t the first time Romney as shown a penchant for secrecy in government. In 2003, then-newly-elected Governor Romney’s administration issued an order forbidding executive branch employees from have any contact or even talking to members of the legislative branch or the media unless they had prior approval to do so.

In response, the ACLU of Massachusetts sent the governor’s Legal Counsel a note reminding him that “public employees retain a first amendment right to speak out as citizens on matters of public concern, even in connection with the operation of their own workplace.” The ACLU also urged the governor to issue a “clarifying memorandum” so that “public employees will not be afraid to exercise their first amendment rights as citizens to speak with legislators and the press.”

There is no record of whether the ACLU’s letter was discussed by Governor Romney and his top aides; those emails were deleted along with the rest of the digital record of his time in public office. The only record that remains is from the ACLU of Massachusetts.

Still, there is a bright side to email erasure-gate: it provides a perfect opportunity to evoke Rosemary Woods! For those of you too young to remember, Rosemary Woods was President Richard Nixon’s faithful secretary, who conveniently erased critical portions of a 1974 audio-tape of Nixon and his chief of staff discussing the break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate Building.

Rosemary Woods and the 18-minute “gap” was so infamous that it became the subject of folks songs, including this lovely obscurity by Bill Horwitz, which is well worth listening to with Mitt Romney's email escapades in mind:

If I had a friend like Miss Rosemary Woods,
How simple my life would be
I'd just give all my problems to Rosemary Woods
and she would erase them for me…

If anyone asks how did this come to pass,
How nothing you say is true
I would simply refer them to Rosemary Woods,
and you know by now what she would do…

Each time I was wrong or each time that I lied,
Or somebody made me scared
I would simply report them to Rosemary Woods,
and she would make them disappear….

Devoted to me like a leaf to a tree,
like a prison needs a wall
I would get my protection from Rosemary Woods
And the world couldn't touch me at all.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Carol Rose is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. A lawyer and journalist, Carol has spent her career working for and writing about human rights and civil liberties, both in the United States and abroad. More »

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