Soon after Attorney General Gary King released hundreds of private emails to the media that Gov. Susana Martinez said were stolen from her campaign account, the FBI warned King the release might have violated federal law.
The warning came in a newly disclosed FBI letter.
King, in a Journal interview on Saturday, said he was not informed by the FBI until that point in December 2012 that a federal investigation was under way, or that his release of the emails might be in conflict with an investigation.
While King said he was not informed by the FBI until December, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, in a letter to Martinez’s office made public in October, confirmed that a federal investigation was in progress.
Martinez, in a statement to the Journal late Friday, called King’s release of her campaign emails to the Santa Fe Reporter and other media reckless.
The head of the FBI’s Albuquerque Division wrote to King on Dec. 20, 2012, raising concern about the public release of the documents.
Carol K. Lee, special agent in charge, asked the attorney general to hand over to the FBI any original email files it had received that related to an FBI investigation of the allegedly stolen documents.
Federal law “prohibits the disclosure of communications that are known to have been illegally intercepted,” Lee said in a letter to King.
“Therefore, the FBI is requesting that your office turn over to the FBI all intercepted wire communications that have been provided to your office regarding the alleged compromised accounts … so that we can ascertain the source of those emails,” Lee’s letter said.
The letter was released by King’s office after Inspection of Public Records Act requests by KRQE -TV and others.
King said he had no reason to believe he might be interfering with an FBI investigation.
“The FBI is very close-held whenever they’re doing an investigation, so that letter was certainly the first indication we had from them that they were performing any kind of investigation,” King said.
King said he immediately mailed the FBI a response. He said he believed all the original records were given to the FBI and that his office no longer has custody of the governor’s emails.
The emails were originally provided to the Attorney General’s Office by Michael Corwin, director of the Democratic-leaning political group Independent Source PAC.
Corwin provided the documents to King’s office last summer, asking the attorney general to investigate the Martinez administration’s practice of using private email accounts to conduct state business. Corwin has said the emails were legally obtained.
King said in the interview Saturday, “We did not solicit any of this information that came into our hands. It was brought to us.
“We certainly did not have any indication at that point in time that it was obtained in any manner that was illegal,” King said. “And, obviously, if we had that, then we would have started our own investigation.”
But Martinez does not appear to think King acted innocently.
“In my 25 years as a prosecutor, I have never seen a law enforcement agency do what Gary King did by recklessly releasing evidence in the middle of an ongoing criminal investigation,” Martinez said.
“I have been very restrained in my public comments on this matter for the past 8 months to avoid jeopardizing the criminal investigation and continue to have complete confidence that the FBI will bring those responsible to justice, just as they do when these crimes are committed against anyone,” the governor said.
Corwin has said the emails were acquired through legal access to the governor’s “susana2010.com” Internet domain account – an address with email accounts used by her 2010 gubernatorial campaign – but he has declined to identify the source.
Martinez has said the account was hacked. The Governor’s Office requested the FBI to investigate.
The 600 pages of private emails released by King’s office in December appear to include examples of state business being conducted on private email. They include state officials discussing a controversial racino lease awarded to the Downs at Albuquerque, as well as personal online orders with the Governor’s Mansion address.
All the emails made public were sent to a private, susana2010.com email account.
The Republican governor has attacked King, a Democrat who plans to run for governor in 2014, for “playing politics” through the release of her private emails.
King, however, has responded saying the release of the emails provided to him were required under the state Inspection of Public Records Act and were treated no differently by his staff than any other documents the Attorney General’s Office has in its possession.