WASHINGTON — Massachusetts will make available to the public hundreds of boxes of documents from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's term as governor that have long been locked away, the state said Tuesday. The same agency that is opening the files said it would not pursue an inquiry into the purge of electronic records at the end of Romney's term.
The moves come after disclosures that Romney had authorized the purging of emails and other closely-held electronic records at the end of administration.
The decision by the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth will ultimately make available more than 460 boxes of documents stored since 2006 in the state archives in south Boston. They were closed to public inspection because of legal uncertainty over the impact of a court ruling that said Massachusetts governor's records were not subject to disclosure.
Romney's presidential campaign aides recently cited that decision to justify the deletion of files from Massachusetts email servers at the end of his governor's term in 2007. Romney also allowed aides to buy and remove their government hard drives and authorized the replacement of leased computers in his executive offices.
A commonwealth spokesman, Brian McNiff, said agency officials decided last week to open up the archived records after a legal review that began last spring, as media and political groups have been pressing for access to the records.
"The decision was made that all of Gov. Romney's records would be made available," McNiff said.
McNiff also said Tuesday that the commonwealth would not pursue an inquiry into the purge of electronic records even though Massachusetts officials have concluded that state law required Romney's aides to have maintained the records.
Both Secretary of the Commonwealth William F. Galvin and his top legal counsel, Laurie Flynn, said recently that governor's records must be preserved under state schedules even if they do not have to be disclosed. But McNiff said there would be no examination of the circumstances surrounding the electronics records purge, which was first reported last month by the Boston Globe. McNiff would not elaborate on that decision.
Romney recently acknowledged that he approved the electronics records purge at end of his term because of concerns that the records might include confidential materials. Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior campaign adviser, said that the GOP presidential contender submitted more than 630 boxes of paper files to the state archives in late 2006 in what he said was the interest of transparency.
McNiff said that the newly released boxes of documents could be viewed only five boxes at a time, and any request to review the new material would require what he described as a short delay while archives officials reviewed the files and censored confidential material.
The documents will be reviewed in light of the 1997 Massachusetts high court ruling that exempted governor's records from state public disclosure laws. McNiff said that Romney's representatives would not be consulted during the redaction process. "They're not involved," he said.
A Romney campaign spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, noted that Romney had sent the materials to the state archives with the intent of making them available to the public.
An Associated Press examination of much of the available Romney archives holdings earlier this year suggested the material available then was far from comprehensive. More than 75 cartons reviewed by the AP included staff and legislative documents but no internal records written to or from Romney himself – except for ceremonial bill-signing and official letters.
News organizations have pressed to view the archived Romney files. Also, the Democratic National Committee recently submitted three open-records requests to current Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, seeking to learn more background about the Romney administration's purge of emails and other electronic records.
Romney's campaign, meanwhile, has asked Patrick's office for any evidence of collusions between his staff and Obama re-election officials.