The hard-drive plot thickens

Shortly before Mitt Romney departed the governor’s office, 11 of his top aides purchased 17 state-issued hard drives, and purged the Romney administration’s email records in advance of his presidential campaign. The move has no precedent among modern Massachusetts governors, including Romney’s recent Republican predecessors.

Two weeks ago, the story got a little worse when Romney admitted the move was intended to hide official correspondence from the public and keep potentially-embarrassing information from “opposition research” teams.

Today, the controversy managed to take an even more serious turn. Reuters reported overnight:

Mitt Romney spent nearly $100,000 in state funds to replace computers in his office at the end of his term as governor of Massachusetts in 2007 as part of an unprecedented effort to keep his records secret, Reuters has learned. […]

The cleanup of records by Romney’s staff before his term ended included spending $205,000 for a three-year lease on new computers for the governor’s office, according to official documents and state officials.

In signing the lease, Romney aides broke an earlier three-year lease that provided the same number of computers for about half the cost — $108,000. Lease documents obtained by Reuters under the state’s freedom of information law indicate that the broken lease still had 18 months to run.

As a result of the change in leases, the cost to the state for computers in the governor’s office was an additional $97,000.

So, Romney and his team not only went to great lengths to hide official correspondence from the public, they also handed taxpayers a bill for nearly six figures.

I can only imagine how absolutely devastating those emails must have been.

This is, by the way, the same Republican campaign that issued a memo last month attacking the Obama White House for failing to maintain the right standards of “openness and transparency.”

It’s worth noting that the consensus seems to be that the former governor and his team did not violate any laws with this stunt, though Reuters noted that “state law on maintaining and disclosing official records is vague and has not been updated to deal with issues related to digital records and other modern technology.”

But in a case like this, the legality is secondary to the appearance of impropriety and the degree to which Romney wiped public records in order to advance his ambitions.

If campaign reporters don’t pounce on this, they’re missing a real story.