Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has informed the Arizona Attorney General’s Office that her predecessor and some of her top staff deleted months of official emails before she took over in January.
The deletion of the emails was discovered by the Secretary of State’s Office while fulfilling a public records request from the Arizona Mirror, Hobbs informed two assistant attorneys general in her Feb. 14 email.
“In the course of attempting to fulfill a public records request for emails from the previous Secretary of State administration, it has come to our attention that emails were deleted by the previous secretary and several executive staff prior to leaving office. Not sure if this should go to criminal or civil division, but wanted to be sure to bring this to your attention. We are happy to provide further details that would be helpful,” Hobbs wrote.
Hobbs described the issue as a possible violation of state law prohibiting the theft, destruction, alteration or hiding of public records. Violation of that law by an elected official is a class 4 felony, punishable by one to three years in prison. State employees who violate it face a class 6 felony, which carries a prison term of between 4 and 18 months.
Assistant Attorney General Todd Lawson responded several days later, acknowledging receipt of Hobbs’ message and informing her that the Attorney General’s Office will follow-up soon. C. Murphy Hebert, Hobbs’ spokeswoman, said she doesn’t know whether the Attorney General’s Office has initiated an investigation.
Ryan Anderson, a spokesman for Attorney General Mark Brnovich, said he couldn’t comment on whether the office is investigating.
“It’s being evaluated by our office. Beyond that, I can’t comment on anything further at this point,” Anderson said.
According to records viewed by the Mirror, Reagan’s official email inbox is completely empty. Nearly all emails sent or received by her spokesman, Matt Roberts, are also missing from his email account.
Various types of official records, including emails, have different retention schedules, depending on what kind of record they are. There is a general retention schedule for all state and local agencies, as well as a separate schedule for the Secretary of State’s Office.
“We’re not assuming anything, which is why we referred it to the AG’s Office,” Hebert said.
The “several executive staff” Hobbs referenced in her email to the AG includes at least two top Reagan aides whose emails the new administration has since found in their inboxes.
Reagan was adamant that her emails should still be in the secretary of state’s system. She said she routinely deleted her emails nearly as soon as she’d received and responded to them because she likes having an empty inbox. But those emails would remain in her “deleted” folder and would still be available elsewhere in the secretary of state’s system, she said. Reagan said her administration had no trouble filling public records requests for emails she’d deleted from her inbox because they were still accessible elsewhere in the system.
“Most people do their emails and then delete them so they don’t show up in their inbox anymore. But that doesn’t mean that I deleted them off the system. And if I’m being accused of that, then I need somebody to tell me immediately, because that’s crap,” Reagan told the Mirror.
Reagan said she wouldn’t even know how to permanently delete an email from the secretary of state’s system. She questioned whether Hobbs’ staff could have deleted the emails after taking office in January.
“Sounds to me like somebody can’t find something, and it’s convenient to blame somebody who’s not there anymore,” she said.
Roberts told the Mirror that he didn’t delete his emails and they should still be in the system. He said the only thing he did with his emails before leaving at the end of December was to consolidate them into a single file so he could export them and keep copies for himself, and that the data should all still be accessible to the Secretary of State’s Office.
The default setting for the email accounts of other top Reagan staffers scheduled emails to be deleted automatically after six months. That default setting was in place for new staffers who came in with Hobbs, which Hebert said she plans to change for her own email account. At least one top Reagan staffer appears to have preserved years’ worth of emails by switching the default setting for them to “never delete,” with those emails stored in separate subfolders outside of the inbox.