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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Legislators Call for Release of Shumlin Administration Emails

Posted By on Thu, Apr 21, 2016 at 6:24 PM

click to enlarge Rep. Chris Pearson - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Rep. Chris Pearson
The massive fraud case that has gripped Vermont for the past week is poised to enter the legislative arena. 

The Vermont House is scheduled to debate a resolution Friday calling on Gov. Peter Shumlin to release a batch of emails his legal counsel sought to delete earlier this month. The governor's critics have suggested the request was prompted by a looming crackdown on two Northeast Kingdom developers with close ties to Shumlin — a charge his administration has adamantly denied

Rep. Chris Pearson (P-Burlington), who heads the House Progressive caucus, says there's an easy way to put to rest any lingering questions.

"I agree with a whole lot of Vermonters that something seems very fishy here," he said. "But I'm not asserting anything. I'm saying: Show us the emails and prove it to us."

To that end, he and four fellow Progressives have introduced a resolution asking Shumlin to deliver the emails to a House committee by May 1. 

The governor's office isn't taking kindly to the request. Shumlin spokesman Scott Coriell called it "an inaccurate resolution solely for the purpose of grandstanding."

The controversy erupted last week after VTDigger.org reported that Shumlin legal counsel Sarah London had asked the state information technology department on April 8 to delete email accounts belonging to five former Shumlin staffers. Among them was Alex MacLean, who left the administration in 2013 to work on a contract basis for Jay Peak Resort. 

VTDigger reported — and Shumlin chief of staff Darren Springer later confirmed — that the administration learned April 7 that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was about to file civil charges against Jay Peak Resort owners Ariel Quiros and Bill Stenger. But Springer said at a Monday press briefing that to connect the two events was "absolutely incorrect and inaccurate." To prove its point, the administration provided an email showing that London had originally made the ask April 1.

According to Springer, London's deletion request excluded any emails involving Quiros, Stenger, Jay Peak or the federal EB-5 program that funded the Northeast Kingdom projects. Those emails have been protected under a litigation hold since last October, when Attorney General Bill Sorrell concluded that the state might go to court over the matter.

Springer said Monday that he would be happy to release any of the protected emails, so long as Sorrell agreed. The AG did not, arguing that doing so could interfere with his case and undermine his ability to withhold other emails in the future. 

Pearson's resolution does not call for the release of those protected emails. Rather, he wants to see the ones London sought to delete, which, presumably, have nothing to do with the Northeast Kingdom fraud case. 

"My initial thought was: Show us all the emails," Pearson said. "But there is an investigation."

He added that he was "perfectly prepared" to find out that "there was nothing going on here."

"But given the extraordinary circumstances around EB-5, it's a little much to ask us to just take that on faith," he said. "And I think it's critical to public trust that, at a minimum, this small question gets answered."

According to Coriell, Pearson doesn't have his facts straight. 

"All Rep. Pearson had to do was read one of the many press reports that accurately reported what happened to understand that his resolution is full of inaccuracies," he said. "But that might have gotten in the way of his efforts to grandstand on this issue."

Coriell also called Pearson's request "ironic," given that legislators often argue that they're exempt from having to release their own emails. 

It's unclear whether House Democrats will go along with Pearson's resolution. House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown) sounded noncommittal Thursday. 

Separately, MacLean herself on Thursday called on Sorrell to release some of her emails to the public. Because she no longer works for the state, she said in a letter to the AG, she no longer has access to them. But, MacLean continued, she believes they "are part of the public record, and Vermonters have a right to read them."

"I am writing to ask that you release any emails related to Bill Stenger, Jay Peak and the EB-5 program that were written and sent from my email account during my time as a member of Governor Peter Shumlin's staff," wrote MacLean, who now heads up the public relations practice at KSE Partners, a Montpelier lobbying firm. "Gov. Shumlin has asked also that all staff emails related to these matters be released. I support his request."

MacLean declined to comment on her letter, and Sorrell did not immediately respond to a request for his take. But the AG reiterated to Seven Days Wednesday that he had no interest in releasing any emails. 

"The integrity of our lawsuit, alleging tens of millions of dollars of misappropriation of EB-5 investors' funds, is, to me, of major, overriding importance," Sorrell said in an email. "Would anyone think it looks good for us to release one group of emails and not others?"


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About The Author

Paul Heintz

Paul Heintz

Bio:
Paul Heintz is a staff writer and political editor for Seven Days. He wrote the "Fair Game" political column from May 2012 through December 2016.

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