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Kaine emails reveal little more than a careful governor

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File Tim Kaine at a campaign stop in New Orleans in August 2016. Email issues may be…

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File

Tim Kaine at a campaign stop in New Orleans in August 2016.

Email issues may be causing headaches for Hillary Clinton, but a look through the more than 145,000 email records publicly available online from Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine’s term as governor of Virginia show little more than a politician who is media conscious, careful even of language in internal memos lest they be leaked to the press, and who worked closely with press representatives on amendments to the state Freedom of Information Act.

The email messages — part of more than 1.3 million records still being processed by the Library of Virginia — also provide some insight into Sen. Kaine’s reluctance to release his full travel schedule when he served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee during his last year as governor.

Shortly after becoming chairman of the DNC in January 2009, critics questioned whether Kaine’s travels as DNC chairman were affecting his work as governor. While his office made public a daily schedule, including official trips he took as governor, it did not include Kaine’s travel for the DNC.

“In the political press it received quite a bit of attention, but I don’t know that it was an all-dominating scandal or anything,” said Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.

Kaine’s office e-mail reveals denials to at least three FOIA requests for his travel records from The Associated Press, Judicial Watch, and the Republican Party of Virginia.

Two legal memos prepared for one of Kaine’s top counselors argued that Kaine’s travel schedules were exempt from state FOIA because they were “working papers . . . for his personal and deliberative use.”

After continued pressure, Kaine’s office released a summary of his travels at the end of every month, but didn’t make distinctions between DNC and state travels.

In a June 2009 email to Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers and Kaine’s close friend, the then-governor confided that he would only publish his public schedule because it was “the right practice.”

“I have told the press that I am glad to talk to them about what I am doing and my schedule whenever they ask me,” Kaine wrote. “I do 5­-10 press availabilities a week where I take any questions and have never refused to answer an inquiry about my schedule or anything else. For some reason, that has not been sufficient. You know the challenges!”

Neither his Senate office or campaign responded to the Reporters Committee’s questions regarding Kaine’s stance on transparency issues.

The Virginia Tech University shooting in 2007 and its aftermath presented yet another moment when Kaine’s administration faced pressure navigating the state’s FOIA. After a legal settlement between victims’ families and the university, more than 20,000 related documents were released to the Richmond Times-Dispatch after a FOIA request.

But in a July 20, 2008, front-page story, the Times-Dispatch revealed that the university withheld many more documents from reporters. “The university told the reporters that exemptions to the FOIA allowed it to keep secret many of the most important documents surrounding the event,” the article reported.

In an email that morning to his counsel Lawrence Roberts, Kaine wrote “There’s a front-page article in the RTD today about Tech withholding information concerning the April 07 shooting. Are they not following FOIA? Should we intervene?”

Roberts replied, “I am sure that FOIA exemptions cover most of what has not been turned over to the media. That being said, it may not be possible to survive a constant drumbeat of the media complaining about access.”

Additional correspondence between Kaine staffers reveals his office worked closely with the Virginia Press Association (VPA) to update the state FOIA in 2008. The Virginia FOIA undergoes changes almost on a yearly basis, according to Rhyne.

In crafting the legislative language for a new FOIA exemption, Kaine’s staffers communicated with First Amendment lawyers and VPA leadership to ensure the new exemption would be interpreted in the narrowest sense. The amendment included an exemption for records involving Base Realignment And Closure (BRAC) planning.

“I’d like to make sure our remarks do not contain anything that VPA would take issue with,” wrote Kaine’s Senior Advisor Marc Follmer in an email. The new FOIA language was codified into law later in 2008.

Like many politicians, Kaine was mindful of the media, taking measures to avoid controversial leaks. In an early 2008 email, Kaine asked his communications director to revise the draft of a memo written to the state’s Democratic legislative leadership.

Kaine wrote, “Since it could wind up in a reporter’s hands, I would love it if you could read it quickly just to make sure it’s kosher.”