Friday, May 31, 2013

What's Next? Indictment In Email Hacking Of Guv Campaign Account Leaves Questions About Emails Disclosed; Does Justice Also Have ABQ Racino Lease In Its Sights? Plus: Possible Conflicts Surface For TV Station In Covering Downs Dealing 

Estrada by Bralley
Well, one thing seems sure--if the Feds do pursue any wrongdoing in the awarding of the Downs at ABQ racino lease, it's going to be darn difficult to accuse the Justice Department of playing politics. Not after they indicted Jamie Estrada, a former campaign staffer for Governor Martinez who hacked a campaign email account and then released damaging emails exchanged between top Martinez administration officials over that lease.

(The full indictment is here. ABQ Journal coverage here.)

Republican Martinez and her team demanded the investigation of the hacked email. They got that and an indictment --from a Democratic US Attorney. The political coast is now clear for soon-to-be new US Attorney Damon Martinez to get to the bottom of the Downs wheeling and dealing--if he so chooses.

Now that the smoke is clearing over the emails, we are back to square one--is there or is there not--or will there be--an FBI investigation into the bid rigging allegations raised by the released emails?

Has the FBI recently been asking around about the deal?

One of the Senior Alligators who thinks it should--if it already isn't--made this of the Estrada indictment:

"This is like indicting Daniel Ellsberg for releasing the Pentagon Papers."

The Pentagon Papers involved the right of the media to release classified government documents handed over to them illegally.


William Anderson-KRQE
The Downs case has also caused media mayhem--but of a different sort. On the eve of the email indictment, the Santa Fe Reporter came with a story that quoted former Martinez campaign staffers (They say Estrada was not among them) that the FBI was asking questions recently about the racino lease and consulting payments made to powerful Gov political adviser Jay McCleskey.

KRQE-TV ran a report Wednesday that said their anonymous sources say the FBI isn't asking any questions at all about the lease. The SFR, again citing its reporting, demanded a correction from KRQE-TV news which called the SFR report "inaccurate." It was not forthcoming from station manager William Anderson:

"We are always accountable for what we report, and you are welcome to challenge us," William Anderson, KRQE's president and general manager, writes in an email to SFR. "In this case we have multiple sources behind our story and we are confident in our report."

Still, Anderson and his station have to wrestle with the perception in corners of the political community that it leans the administration's way because of its close ties with current ABQ Downs manager and former KRQE news reporter Darren White. White remains a member of the Martinez political inner circle and he retains strong relationships with the KRQE news department.


Maestas, Darnell & friend
Also, KRQE-TV executive news producer Tim Maestas is seen posing on Facebook with Governor Martinez Deputy Chief of Staff Scott Darnell where they are described as "best friends." Nothing wrong with friendship--as long as it does not influence the important decisions a producer must make regarding the political coverage of a CBS News affiliate.

Should an executive news producer who is best friends with a Governor's deputy chief of staff exclude himself from involvement in decisions that include news coverage of the Governor?

Also, Paul Burt, managing editor for KRQE-TV news, is a personal friend of former KRQE reporter Darren White, now in the inner circle of Martinez's political team as well as manager of the Downs at ABQ which is so much in the news.

Burt once told us the two men were so close that  "he would take a bullet" for White. Loyalty is admirable, but again is there an ethical wall between the two when it comes to Burt determining news coverage?

The station also came under fire in the blogosphere from former ABQ Journal reporter Phil Parker who has become a Martinez critic.

KRQE interviewed Governor Martinez Thursday and asked her if she was aware of any questioning by federal authorities of the Downs deal. She said no one from "my administration" has been asked about the Downs deal by the Feds. But the SFR report said former Martinez staffers had been questioned--not Martinez administration officials. So the Governor's statement does not seem to advance KRQE's case that there is no federal involvement.

So far, KRQE is half-right. Their sourcing was solid when they reported that there could be an indictment in the email hacking by the end of the week. It happened.

But the other half of the story--the one important to the state that the SFR and KRQE are at odds over--is far from settled. Are the Feds asking questions about the racino deal? Or is that a race that has already been run? Whose sources have it right? It could be months or more before we know with certainty, but the SFR numbers among its sources a lawyer for one of Martinez's ex-campaign staffers. Did he or she intentionally lie to the Reporter? Why? What would be the motive? Then there is KRQE's record of accuracy. It's not shabby. Are their sources-not characterized by occupation or association--truly reliable?

Maybe the investigative reporters from the ABQ Journal and KOB-TV can do their best to settle the matter on their own and start digging, rather than depending on sources who may have dogs in the fight.


And let's throw this meat out there for the Alligators. Is it possible one of SFR's unnamed sources could surface and agree to publicly state they were recently interviewed by the FBI regarding the racino deal? We're just asking.


The final outcome of the Downs deal, of course, is critical to the re-election of the Governor who proclaimed she was vindicated by the indictment of Estrada, the alleged email hacker who had a falling out with her early in her 2010 Guv campaign.

Meantime, political allies of the Governor have been in hyper over drive on the social media site Twitter, attacking select journalists and bloggers. They claim they are biased or "party hacks" for  asking about the Downs lease. They also say the journalists and bloggers--your blogger among them--are engaging in a politically motivated effort to take attention away from the email hacking,

The journalists and bloggers under attack by, among others, Downs VP for corporate affairs Darren White and Rod Adair, a former GOP state senator now an administrator in the Secretary of State's office who supervises the Elections Bureau, are saying the exact opposite--that the administration is using the email hacking as a smoke screen to keep the public eye away from what may be a seedy Downs lease deal.

(Adair. a longtime political ally of Guv adviser McCleskey, is paid $80,000 annually in taxpayer dollars. He did not directly answer our questions on whether he was using a state computer or working on state time while leveling the Twitter attacks. An Adair social media friend said he was using an I-Phone and was on vacation Thursday. Adair is under the supervision of Secretary of State Dianna Duran. He did say directly that his attacks on us and others were being made as a "citizen.")

It's all rather nasty insider baseball but it reminds everyone that the press and media have a job to do and the politicians have one as well. The two are not the same.

The New Mexico press and media must be strong enough to adopt the traditional adversarial relationship with the political powers that be--untainted by old ties, personal favorites or political beliefs. That's essential to keep power in check--no matter who holds it and no matter how intimidating they make themselves out to be.


An interesting Dem primary for state auditor is shaping up. ABQ State Senator Tim Keller has thrown his hat into the ring that is already occupied by former State Auditor Domingo Martinez  Keller also mulled over a run for Guv, but decided to make the lower ballot race. He says:

Being our next Auditor offers the platform to champion government reform ideas I’ve worked on in the legislature. I plan on continue to attack fraud, waste and abuse; and also to evaluate the effectiveness and cost benefits to improve state funded programs including: education, healthcare, water and economic development policies. On personal note, Liz and I are expecting our first child end of July!

There's not much downside for Keller if he can't bring the race home. He gets to continue to serve in the Senate where his term expires at the end of 2016.a

That's it for this week. Thanks for stopping by.

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