Well, well, well. The Nagin administration's court-ordered "forensic review" of the city's computer servers has determined the mayor's missing emails were deleted on purpose by someone who knew what he or she was doing — and not as the result of some automated program designed to free up space on the city's "overloaded" servers.
Surprise, surprise, surprise.
What's most interesting to me about last week's announcement by the Louisiana Technology Council, which was hired by the administration and brought in Carrollton Technology Partners to conduct the review, was the statement that the mailbox containing Mayor Ray Nagin's emails was the only one missing — of 59 mailboxes on the server. So much for the administration's declaration, made in court earlier this year, that the mayor's emails were deleted to make room on the city's server, which was running out of space. If the server were genuinely overloaded (a preposterous claim), lots of mailboxes would be missing, not just Nagin's.
This brings me back to my column of March 9 in which I compared Nagin to Richard Nixon. The parallels between Hizzoner and Nixon were striking even then; now they glow in the dark.
For example, last week's announcement should trigger the public search for Nagin's Rose Mary Woods. Woods was the longtime Nixon secretary who erased some of the Watergate tapes and created the infamous 18-minute gap. One can only assume (hope?) the feds are already on the trail of the person who erased Nagin's emails — or already know who did it. It would be interesting to hear what that person might say under oath. It would be even more interesting if the feds could locate the missing emails. What a treasure trove they must be. Why else would they be deliberately erased?
Another parallel between Nagin and Nixon is the protracted, public nature of their respective downfalls. Nixon's took roughly two years and led to his resignation. Nagin has only 10 months left in office; this scandal surfaced in February. He may well serve out his term, but the federal statute of limitations runs for at least five years.
Another interesting parallel is the courts' role in ferreting out the truth. In Watergate, U.S. District Judge John Sirica earned the nickname "Maximum John" for giving Watergate co-conspirators oodles of jail time. In Nagin's case, Civil District Court Judge Rose Ledet ordered the administration to search for the missing emails. That led to the hiring of the Louisiana Technology Council and last week's announcement. I can't wait to see Ledet's reaction to the revelation that Nagin's emails were deliberately deleted as a result of what the auditors termed "technologically competent human action."
Anyone who has followed Ledet's handling of this matter knows that she won't look kindly on this development. I wouldn't be surprised to see her order Nagin himself into court and put him under oath to answer questions about the deletions. If not Nagin, perhaps a city attorney or two. At a minimum, the administration appears to be in contempt of court for its insultingly ridiculous prior claims about the missing emails.
And let's not forget the role the press played in both scandals. Nixon was brought down by a pair of dogged Washington Post reporters. Nagin's lawbreaking was exposed by Lee Zurik of WWL-TV, who first asked for the mayor's emails under the Louisiana Public Records Act — and then hauled Hizzoner into court after the administration ignored his request.