Former Secretary of State Michele Reagan and top staffers deleted public records before leaving office in January, according to the new Secretary of State, Katie Hobbs.
Hobbs, a Democrat, alerted state attorneys of the issue on Feb. 14. The discovery arose while Hobbs’ staff attempted to fulfill a public records request, she wrote in an email to Assistant Attorney General Todd Lawson and Beau Roysden, chief of the Appeals and Constitutional Litigation Division.
“It has come to our attention that emails were deleted by the previous secretary and several executive staff prior to leaving office,” Hobbs wrote on Feb. 14. “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.”
It’s a Class 4 felony for officials to knowingly destroy public records in Arizona.
Hobbs and staff were attempting to comply with a public records request filed by the Arizona Mirror, which sought electronic and written communication between Reagan, her elections director, Eric Spencer, and assistant secretary of state Lee Miller between October and November 2018.
The Mirror also sought any communication by Reagan, Spencer and Lee with the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, which has faced scrutiny in the days and months following the general election on Nov. 6.
Reagan, a Republican, said she had no clue what Hobbs was referring to, and that she hadn’t deleted or destroyed emails intentionally. While she regularly deleted emails from her inbox, Reagan said they should all be backed up regardless.
“To my knowledge, we couldn’t delete something forever,” she said. “I don’t know if someone in IT did something hinky, but it wasn’t at my direction.”
Miller said it was standard procedure to let IT search for emails that were relevant to public records requests: “Every records request we ever got during the Reagan administration we routed down to the IT department and they gathered up the responsive information directly from the servers. What may or may not have been on any particularl users desktop was never relevant.”
Spencer said he left all his records intact on his last day at the secretary of state’s office on Dec. 28.
“This is news to me. I didn’t delete a single email.” Spencer said. “I can only imagine they must be referring to an inbox other than mine.”
C. Murphy Hebert, a spokeswoman for Hobbs, said staff has searched for backups of any emails. While a consultation with IT turned up some records, there were enough missing emails that the new administration was “surprised, to the point that we felt we needed to do some due diligence,” Hebert said.