SALEM — A state employee who leaked former Gov. John Kitzhaber’s emails to the Willamette Week newspaper lied to State Police who investigated the incident this spring.
When Oregon State Police asked Michael Rodgers how the newspaper obtained the emails, Rodgers said he suspected the leaker was someone in the Kitzhaber administration, according to a state police report released on Friday.
Rodgers, the interim director of the state data center where Kitzhaber’s emails are stored, admitted in a May 26 Willamette Week article that he leaked Kitzhaber’s emails, and also said he was the source who alerted the newspaper when a staffer in the Kitzhaber administration asked state information technology employees who worked with Rodgers to delete the emails. Rodgers released roughly 6,000 emails to the newspaper.
Among the 1,500 pages of investigatory records the state police released Friday was an email from Rodgers’ attorney to police, in which the lawyer explained that Rodgers “at all times acted in good faith” and was concerned he would have obstructed justice if he complied with the request to delete Kitzhaber’s emails.
District attorneys in Marion and Yamhill counties announced in early June they would not file criminal charges against Rodgers.
Kitzhaber used a Gmail account for state business and the state set up a system to archive those emails on government computer servers. However, state employees realized earlier this year they had also been archiving emails from a separate account which Kitzhaber considered personal. Employees discovered the situation after The Oregonian and Willamette Week newspapers filed public records requests on Feb. 2 for emails from Kitzhaber’s various email accounts.
At the time, Kitzhaber and his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, faced an influence peddling scandal and state ethics investigation into Hayes’ consulting contracts. Hayes was hired by organizations with interests in state policy, to work on the same environmental and economic topics on which she advised the governor.
On Feb. 5, a staffer in Kitzhaber’s office called the state data center help desk and asked employees to delete emails from the governor’s private email account that had been saved in the data center archive. Managers at the center emailed about the situation throughout the evening, and ultimately decided not to delete the emails. Rodgers told detectives he learned of the situation the next morning.
The Willamette Week newspaper reported Feb. 12 on the Kitzhaber administration’s request that state data center employees delete archived emails from the governor’s private account, and the newspaper followed on Feb. 18 with the first in a series of stories based on those emails. It was the same day Kitzhaber resigned as governor.
The U.S. Justice Department served the Department of Administrative Services on Feb. 13 with a broad subpoena for records related to Hayes and Kitzhaber.
Michael Jordan, the state’s chief operating officer and director of the Department of Administrative Services where the state data center is housed, asked the Oregon State Police to investigate the leak on Feb. 18. Jordan has since resigned.
Rodgers and another manager at the data center, Technical Engineering Manager Marshall Wells, were soon placed on administrative leave pending a human resources investigation and were still on leave as of Friday afternoon according to Matt Shelby, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Administrative Services.
State police first met with Rodgers on Feb. 19. They walked through the events leading up to, and immediately after, the emails were leaked to Willamette Week.
“Towards the end of the interview, Captain Worthy asked Mike Rodgers how the Willamette Week got the Governors’ private emails,” the police wrote in a report. “Mike Rodgers responded he did not think it was his staff, he thought someone at the Governor’s office provided it. Mike Rodgers went on to say that he did not think the state email archive server had been hacked.”
By the time state police started to investigate, Kitzhaber’s emails had been distributed to multiple employees at the Oregon Department of Administrative Services and the Governor’s Office, where staff had initially planned to determine which emails were personal in nature and should be deleted from state computer servers.
Detectives scoured Willamette Week articles for references to Kitzhaber’s leaked emails, and made a list of those emails. They cross-referenced the list with batches of Kitzhaber’s emails provided to various state employees, and soon narrowed the list of suspects to four state employees.
One of those employees was Rodgers, and state police obtained a log of activity on Rodgers’ work laptop. It revealed that someone had inserted two new thumb drives into the computer soon after Rodgers received two thumb drives onto which another state technology employee had uploaded Kitzhaber’s emails.
“Based on this ... and the totality of the other information that we learned from our other investigative efforts to this point, I suspected that Mike Rodgers was the individual who provided copies of John Kitzhaber’s personal emails to the Willamette Week,” Lt. Jonathan Harrington wrote in a report.
Next, the police would try to get Rodgers to confess that he leaked the emails. State police contacted Julie Bozzie, who was a top IT administrator at the Department of Administrative Services until December 2014 and currently works for the Oregon Health Authority. Bozzie filed a tort claim notice with the state in April, alleging that the state planned to fire her because she blew the whistle on contracting and IT problems related to Cover Oregon.
Bozzie had previously leaked documents to The Oregonian, but she told state police she was not involved in the leak of Kitzhaber’s emails. According to a police report, Bozzie speculated that Rodgers might have leaked Kitzhaber’s emails. State police asked Bozzie to call Rodgers and attempt to get him to admit that he released the emails. Bozzie agreed, and police recorded the March 19 call.
“Julie asked if he copied the files and he said ‘I, I, I have no comment on any of that because I know they’re trying to pin that on me but it’s not true,’” state police wrote in the report.
Later in the conversation, Bozzie and Rodgers discussed what type of criminal charges Rodgers might face if “‘the State Police were able to pin this on him.’ Julie said that it seemed like it would be light.”
According to the police report, Rodgers responded, “‘well right now I feel like .... I’m unemployable.’”
On March 20, state human resources employees asked Rodgers to come in to the office for a meeting. State police investigators were waiting there, and they told Rodgers they knew he leaked the emails, according to a police report. Rodgers arrived at the meeting without his attorney.
“Lieutenant Harrington explained to Mike Rodgers that we needed to understand why he shared the personal emails of John Kitzhaber with the media, we already understood how it was accomplished, but we need him to explain why,” state police wrote in a report.
On April 7, Rodgers’ lawyer, Michael Levine, emailed an offer to state police working on the investigation: Rodgers would sit down and “fully debrief” the situation, in exchange for a promise of immunity from prosecution. Levine wrote that Rodgers’ superiors instructed him to delete Kitzhaber’s’ emails and “he believed to do so would make him guilty of crimes including obstruction of justice ...”
Levine declined to comment on the state police investigation Friday afternoon.
The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group.