HELENA — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock did not hand over any of the emails he wrote or received as attorney general to his successor in 2013, so the state Department of Justice is unable to determine whether any messages should have been retained but were deleted, according to a department official.
Republicans backing Bullock opponent Greg Gianforte in this year’s election have tried in political advertisements to tie Bullock, a Democrat, to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton by associating both with deleted official emails.
Bullock was required to turn over records requiring retention but he had the discretion to decide which records to turn over. His administration says he acted properly.
Republican Sen. Scott Sales, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked Attorney General Tim Fox to investigate after Yellowstone Club founder Tim Blixseth was denied a wide-ranging request for emails Bullock wrote from 2009 to 2013 during his time as attorney general before becoming governor.
Chief Deputy Attorney General Alan Joscelyn, in a letter to Sales written Monday, said Bullock did not turn over any emails to Fox when he took office.
Joscelyn noted that server limits require employees to save the emails they wanted, and it is an employee’s responsibility to determine whether to save any records, including emails.
Fox officials do not know when Bullock’s email records were deleted, “and do not have the statutory authority to investigate this matter outside of making inquiries with existing employees at the Department of Justice,” Joscelyn wrote.
Sales said he was hoping for additional details, but does not plan on pursuing the issue further.
“I didn’t get an impression from the AG’s office they had an interest in going further,” Sales told the Great Falls Tribune.
Department of Administration officials have previously said emails accounts are deleted when an official moves to a different agency, and Bullock’s emails from his tenure as attorney general were disposed of properly.
Public records related to civil legal cases should be kept for two years at the department and for three more years in storage, and general correspondence must be retained for at least three years, Joscelyn wrote.
Bullock preserved the public records, documents and case files from his time as attorney general and handed them over to Fox, Bullock spokesman Tim Crowe told the Great Falls Tribune. His email accounts were then closed, Crowe said.
“If the Legislature wants to spend taxpayer dollars to preserve old government emails, that’s a discussion he’ll gladly be a part of,” Crowe said of Bullock.
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