US

Maryland governor’s office involved in cover-up of negative jobs report

Amanda Carey Contributor

New documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the office of Martin O’Malley, Governor of Maryland, was involved in conspiring to cover up an inconvenient state jobs report. The documents contain e-mails between officials in the governor’s office and the Maryland Department of Labor and Licensing Regulations (DLLR).

On August 20, the DLLR released its July Employment Situation Report entitled “Maryland’s Job Market Stalls in July.” The report did not paint a pretty picture for the state of Maryland, saying that not only was employment down, but that the state’s economy “had faltered”.

The report was published at 10:00 a.m. By 3:00 that afternoon, it had disappeared from DLLR’s website.

Here’s what happened in between.

After the report was published, O’Malley’s office released a statement saying that the state economy had never been better – a claim that was directly contradicted the DLLR report. For a while, the differences went unnoticed.

Then at 3:00 p.m., DLLR Press Secretary Bernie Kohn sent an e-mail to the Secretary of DLLR, Alex Sanchez, with the subject line, “documents being taken down right now.”  At 3:01, Sanchez responded, writing, “Is it done? Call me as soon as we know who posted outrageous info on the site. And send me your Blackberry pin.”

The last request is significant because pin-to-pin communication is not subject to FOIA laws, which means further discussion about covering up the report could have taken place that cannot be made public.

At 3:08, DLLR webmaster, Michelle Williams, e-mailed Kohn, to tell him that the link to the July jobs report had been removed from the site, and information on the June’s job report had been restored instead.

The most damaging e-mail was sent from Kohn to Williams at 4:21 p.m. with the subject line “labor market fiasco.”  In it, Kohn writes, “are you sure that removing that post removed all traces that anyone could pull up on a search engine? Whatever we can do to make it disappear, we need to do. That’s coming straight from the top.”

The above communications between state officials reveal that there was a systematic effort to remove a jobs report that reflected poorly on the O’Malley administration. But further e-mails also show that there were attempts on all sides to cover up the removal, which did not go unnoticed by some.

Shortly after 5:00 p.m., Washington Post reporter Aaron Davis e-mailed O’Malley Press Secretary Shaun Adamec, inquiring about the missing report. Adamec subsequently forwarded the e-mail to Kohn, asking him to “follow up” with Davis.

A few minutes later, Kohn forwarded to DLLR Secretary Sanchez an e-mail he received from Baltimore Sun reporter Jamie Smith Hopkins asking about discrepancies between the press release issued that morning, and the one issued around 5:00 p.m. Kohn’s only words in the e-mail to Sanchez were “Oh My”

Bob Ehrlich’s campaign – the GOP candidate for governor – even issued a press release pointing out the discrepancies.

According to the disclosed e-mails, for approximately the next two hours, officials from O’Malley’s office and DLLR scrambled to get a new version of the July jobs report posted online.
At 7:13 p.m., Kohn e-mailed Williams with the new, edited version that contained different bullet points from the morning’s report. At that point, things began to get desperate as Williams had already left for the evening and was at home even though she was the only person who could post the revised report.

A frantic Adamec then e-mailed Kohn saying, “Drive to her house if we have to. This is way overdue.”

That was at 7:48 p.m. At 8:44 p.m., the new version of the report was posted online. Ten minutes later, Kohn issued another press release, saying that the original report was “posted in error.”

When contacted by The Daily Caller, O’Malley’s Press Secretary Shaun Adamec blamed the fiasco on DLLR and the Labor Department, saying they published an early draft of the jobs report that had not been approved for release, nor was it ever intended to be made public.

“What was originally put up was an old draft of the document that was put up mistakenly,” Adamec told TheDC.

But that does not seem like a true explanation, considering that on August 17 – three days before the report was released – the DLLR analyst working on the report sent Kohn a copy of the version that was originally published. The analyst then sent a follow-up email stating, “I hate to project but I’m afraid what we’ll see next month.” Kohn responded with, “I have cautioned the 2nd floor [the governor’s press office] not to make much hay of this lest we get burned by a revision into negative territory later.”

That shows that DLLR officials, at the very least, were very aware the July jobs report was going to look bad once published. Moreover, if Kohn saw the report three whole days before it was published, why didn’t he pull it then – if it indeed was the wrong report?

Though the extent of involvement from O’Malley’s office is not yet fully known, the fact that they were involved at all shows that the scramble to replace the original report and the subsequent cover-up was partially politically motivated. Especially considering the fact that Adamec explicitly asked how the Ehrlich campaign got a hold of the first report.

When asked, Adamec said the involvement of the governor’s office was necessary to ensure the correct report was published. “When we found out,” said Adamec, “we got involved to make sure the labor department put up the correct version immediately.”

But some are still questioning whether the report was taken down because it reflected poorly on a Democratic incumbent governor in the middle of a campaign reelection? At this point, it can’t be said definitively. Many more questions still must be answered.