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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  • Ratbite

    Sounds like they’d better start reserving King Dean I’s room at the County lockup or the state penetentary. But then who’s going to charge him? Not the Board of Higher Ed, Not the Cass County States Attorney, not the governor, not the legislature, & King Dean I of NDSU certain will not charge himself. That rug is sure getting lumpy. Could probably ski on it with a little snow.

  • Forget something?

    “At this time, evidence suggests that this was the result of an auto-purge function that was turned on during the month of April across many campuses,” the statement said.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      That’s their claim.

      I don’t buy it. But we’ll see from the AG.

    • Roy_Bean

      That sounds like “plausible deniability”.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plausible_deniability

    • RCND

      If that is the case than it appears to have been selectively applied to one or perhaps a few accounts. Usually those features if used are also applied to older items rather than very recent ones.

    • RobertD

      If auto-purge was turned on the emails in question were still in Brescani’s control at the time of the Forum Request. How many of those emails were responsive to the Forum request but not turned over?

      As I understand auto-purge, it effects email in the trash folder that has been there more than 30 days. Email placed there within the last 30 days would not be affected. How many emails were deleted that did not meet the auto-purge rules? Also seems like a lot of emails to have been affected in a 30 day period.

      The information also states other presidents emails were turned over to legislative council without review as what occurred at NDSU. Did any of them have a significant amount of deleted email? They would also have been subject to the auto-purge rules I suspect.

      • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

        If the auto-purge is to blame, why didn’t the other presidents have missing emails?

  • Camburn

    The higher ed system in ND is a mess. Anyone who thinks otherwise has not been paying attention. It needs to be cleaned up, tuition needs to be lowered, and accountability once again not only expected, but demanded.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      I don’t think we’re going to get any accountability until an elected leader – the governor is the logical choice – is tasked with being responsible.

      • Lynn Bergman

        Rob, I do not support the ballot measure advocating a 3 person Higher Ed “committee”. I DO favor an elected Higher Ed Commissioner and his/her appointed (without a single dime of severance pay in the contract) Chancellor. My reasoning is that the Commissioner is the accountable party but the chancellor must be both a respected education administrator AND retained at the discretion of the Commissioner accountable to the voters. I belive that it will take two such positions (one “in charge and part time” and one “optimally educated and experienced and full time”) to negin to take controll of the eleven presidents with their “individual kingdoms”.
        I believe it to be unfortunate that legislators put the committee option on the ballot; it’s way too similar to the current ineffective board.

  • jl

    Can’t find the “new posts feature at the top of the page” as you allude to in your description of the new look. But it’s probably right in front of me. Thanks

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      It shows up for desktops. On phones, tablets it doesn’t.

  • Question Authority

    Is anyone else confused why it takes this long to determine who deleted the emails? I assume the digital footprint could’ve been determined and revealed to the public within a day? Whether Bresciani did it, Microsoft or someone in NDUS, I don’t understand why something this simple is being dragged out?

    • Bruce Wold

      I imagine the time being used is a strategic plan on how to spin and or getting someone to take the bullet.

      • Question Authority

        This only further erodes public confidence in our public officials. What will it take to get our public officials to act in the public interest with integrity, honesty, and real transparency?

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