Gov. Christie Staff Learns Deleted Email Rarely Goes Away
Christie BridgeGate scandal provides cautionary tale of email
To paraphrase the Princess Bride: "You fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well known is this: Never write down your plans when mischief is on the line."
There is no need to laugh maniacally as did Wallace Shawn when he played the movie's criminal mastermind Vizzini. Actually, the continuing unwinding of the alleged scheme to paralyze traffic in Fort Lee, N.J. as a form of political retribution is too sad and predictable.
In emails leaked last week to reporters, a top aide to Christie asked to have three busy traffic lanes shut down on the George Washington Bridge, as the Associated Press reported. A local paper, the Bergen, N.J. Record, had requested such emails under the state's open records law but was told they didn't exist. State Assembly members who gained access through a subpoena made them available.
Christie's aide, former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly, had used a Yahoo email account, rather than the state government's system, to exchange messages with the Port Authority to request the shut-down, which many presume was a way to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, who did not back Christie for reelection. (As the Huffington Post notes, Rachel Maddow had another theory as to who the Fort Lee closure target might be.)
Christie ultimately fired multiple people on his staff, claiming that he was unaware of the plan. No documented link has yet to be found showing Christie's direct knowledge.
Whatever the reason, whatever the theory, it is amazing that in this day and age, so many people still underestimate the pervasiveness of email and online documents. Something you "deleted" may still exist on a server somewhere. Use a third-party email or messaging provider -- Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, or Facebook, for example -- and copies of what you write could sit on someone's cloud until demanded by some legal action or other.
And now a new set of emails suggest another mayor was punished for refusing to endorse Christie's campaign, as The Hill reports.
It's not as though having emails resurface only to offer embarrassment and legal fodder is anything new. Last summer, some Obama appointees conducted official business using secret government email accounts, according to AP. Sarah Palin fought to keep 1,100 emails secret, according to Mother Jones, but the move was unsuccessful and they were eventually released and then made public by the likes of the New York Times.
Some politicians seem to learn. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo uses messaging on his BlackBerry, which is virtually untraceable, according to the New York Times, and not the government's email system. But they are few and far between.
Emails have been no friendlier to businesspeople, where prosecutors have used them in insider trading cases and in cases against large financial institutions, according to the New York Times.
No matter how damning, it seems that people are addicted to documenting their doing in ways that other people will be able to see ... eventually.
Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman