Uh Oh: Forum Communications Confirms Missing Emails From Bresciani’s Inbox

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The timing of the deletion of emails from NDSU President Dean Bresciani’s inbox has always been interesting. It appears as though the mass-deletion of tens of thousands of emails took place between the time when an open records request from Forum Communicatinos was fulfilled and when an open records request from Legislative Council was received.

The folks at Forum Communications have gone back and compared the results of their open records request with the one from Legislative Council and found inconsistencies involving dozens of emails:

The newspaper compared the results of its own open records request for Bresciani’s emails, made in March, with those that the North Dakota Legislative Council received after a similar request in April and found that 53 emails were missing from the results of the council’s request.

Nearly all of the emails in the Legislative Council’s request were sent by Bresciani, with few incoming emails that would sit in an inbox, suggesting that at least part of the president’s inbox was deleted sometime after The Forum’s open records request was fulfilled in late April.

The missing emails, mostly innocuous replies to Bresciani from fellow school employees, are just a fraction of the 45,375 emails that were allegedly deleted from Bresciani’s account sometime in the two weeks leading up to the Legislative Council’s request for the president’s emails — a possible violation of the state’s open records law. The emails are now at the heart of a probe by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s office.

This in and of itself may not be all that shocking a revelation. A few dozen innocuous emails probably aren’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things. But what it absolutely shows is that emails were disappearing.

And, despite previous claims from university system officials that they couldn’t verify if emails had been deleted or not, they are now acknowledging that fact. “After being asked about the 53 missing emails identified by the Forum, NDSU and North Dakota University System officials confirmed Friday that “a large number of emails” have been deleted,” reports Kyle Potter. “Bresciani and other university staff initially said they couldn’t verify whether any emails had been deleted from Bresciani’s account.”

Also, Bresciani’s claim that his system was “compromised” has been shot down:

[Bresciani] also suggested his account may have been compromised by university system staff in a “personally directed and malicious” effort against him. But Wallman and Feldner said in the statement that the only outsiders who accessed the president’s account were fulfilling open records requests.

Days ago I had filed an open records request with NDUS spokeswoman Linda Donlin asking for the log information showing the deletion of the files. After initially acknowledging my request I’ve gotten no further communications for Donlin (who is part of the staff upheaval going on, it seems) but a university system source has given me a screen shot of the log showing the deletion of emails:

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We can now dismiss a lot of the spin and self-serving explanations coming from President Bresciani’s office and other sources and focus on some facts:

  • The emails were absolutely deleted from Bresciani’s inbox.
  • Bresciani’s inbox was not “compromised” by anyone from the university system office, despite his wild allegations.
  • NDSU did not fully complete the legislature’s request for emails given the discrepancies between the Forum Communications request and the Legislative Council request.

The questions that need to be answered is who deleted the emails, and were they deleted inadvertently or as an conscious effort to avoid an open records request? The latter, remember, is potentially a felony.

Word I’m getting from university system sources is that there were thousands of emails now-discovered that weren’t turned over to the legislature. That, if true, is damning.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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