Mitt Romney campaign faults Obama aide for personal email use

WASHINGTON – One of Mitt Romney’s top advisers on Thursday morning said President Obama’s campaign manager appeared to have violated the law because he used a personal email address to conduct official White House business.

“On its face this appears to be a violation of the law that all official communications be preserved,” Eric Fehrnstrom, a Romney senior adviser, said on a conference call with reporters.

Jim Messina, a former White House deputy chief of staff who is now Obama’s campaign manager, sent emails from a private account to schedule meetings with lobbyists away from the White House in order to keep them from being detected, according to a report published Tuesday by House Republicans.

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The charges of law-breaking comes several weeks after Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said Romney was either a liar or a felon for not being clear when he left his job at Bain Capital. Those charges triggered calls from Romney’s campaign for an apology for “the out-of-control behavior of his staff, which demeans the office he holds.”

Fehrnstrom on Thursday charged that the only area where Obama has been transparent is on US national security, citing several prominent leaks that some believe came from the White House to make Obama look strong on foreign policy.

“The only thing this administration is transparent on is our national security secrets,” Fehrnstrom said.

The argument on transparency – including charges of using personal email accounts – comes with a bit of irony from the Romney campaign.

The Globe reported last year that Romney’s staff purchased 11 hard drives and purged state government email servers in the final days of his four-year term as Massachusetts governor. Emails were also lost from several of Romney’s cabinet members because they said they weren’t told they needed to preserve them.

Romney himself – as well as a number of his top aides, including Fehrnstrom – also used their own private accounts to conduct state business when Romney was governor of Massachusetts.

In a trove of emails released earlier this year under a public records request, Romney used a Hotmail account to communicate with several of his top advisers. In one instance, for example, Romney sent out emails about emergency budget cuts using his Hotmail account.

His email went to an account his press secretary, Fehrnstrom, had with RCN; an account his legal counsel, Mark Nielsen, had with AOL; and an account his chief of staff, Beth Myers, had with Microsoft.

The only person on that chain of emails using a state-issued email account was Thomas Trimarco, who was Romney’s budget chief. Trimarco’s emails were preserved on state email servers, which is how the Globe and other media organizations obtained the emails.

Under Massachusetts law, some of those emails would have likely still been considered public records because the records are deemed public by who the author is, not which account is being used.

But since a 1997 Supreme Judicial Court ruling, governors in Massachusetts have said that the executive office is exempt from the state’s public records law.

Republicans have charged that Messina’s use of personal emails violates the Presidential Records Act. That law requires all official executive branch communications be archived.