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  1. Florida Politics

Liberal group calls for investigation into Jeb Bush's emails

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush talks to the media while visiting the Georgia Capitol on Thursday in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush talks to the media while visiting the Georgia Capitol on Thursday in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Published Mar. 21, 2015

A liberal group is asking Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle to fine former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for not turning over all his work-related email when he left office, as required.

The American Democracy Legal Fund also wants her to launch an investigation into whether "Mr. Bush's violation was knowing and willful, and therefore subject to criminal punishment."

The complaint adds to the partisan back-and-forth over emails that arose after news broke that Hillary Clinton used a private email account at the State Department.

There are similarities between Clinton and Bush, who also used a private account, but important differences. Bush openly and enthusiastically used his Jeb@jeb.org address and work-related messages were publicly available when he was governor.

American Democracy Legal Fund, which regularly files complaints against Republicans, relies on state records showing Bush delivered his emails to the Department of State in seven batches after leaving office — the last coming in June 2014.

Florida law requires records to be turned over when a governor leaves office.

"Even if Florida law allowed additional time for a public officer to review and submit public records after leaving office, no credible legal argument can be made that submission of records seven years after leaving office is permissible under the law," reads the complaint.

But a spokeswoman for Bush said he complied fully with the law and handed over all his emails to the Charlie Crist administration, which used the archive to comply with records requests. The state archive subsequently sought copies but Bush's personal email had to be weeded out — and batches of "clean" emails were turned over, according to the Bush camp.

"Gov. Bush has complied with Florida's broad public records laws for more than 15 years and has worked to ensure the state of Florida has an archive of his official emails for historical and archival value, even beyond what is required by the law," Kristy Campbell said.

The complaint was written by Brad Woodhouse, who is affiliated with the opposition research group American Bridge.

Florida law provides for a fine up to $500. But Woodhouse wants Fernandez Rundle to determine whether Bush purposefully concealed records.

"I think he's got a technical violation because you are supposed to turn over everything at the end of your term," Barbara A. Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, a group that is supported by news organizations, including the Tampa Bay Times, said after reviewing the complaint for the newspaper.

But Petersen stressed "technical" and said Bush had a good track record of disclosing records when he was in office. Bush did decide which were work-related, shielding those he deemed personal or related to political matters, which he could under the law.

The issue, then, rests on whether the batches of records he turned over amount to a violation. Documents show he turned over emails in 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011. The most recent came in June 2014 and covered about 25,000 emails from 2002-03.

A May 2014 letter from Bush's lawyer, Raquel Rodriguez, states: "As mentioned, we recently reviewed Governor Bush's records and came across some additional email messages that may be public records, but to our knowledge are not currently housed in the State Archives of Florida."