Once-secret emails from Mitt Romney's time as governor that were revealed today spurred a flurry of comments about the candidate's support for the so-called individual mandate. Yet there's another issue that's been revived: Romney's secrecy.
When Romney left the governor's office in Massachusetts, his staff erased all the emails from a computer server and bought the hard drives used to store data, so that their correspondence would stay hidden.
Or so they thought.
Tom Trimarco, Romney's administration and finance secretary, never deleted his emails. Some of them surfaced today in The Wall Street Journal, which submitted a public information request for emails involving Trimarco and officials in the administration.
The emails show that Romney was neck-deep in negotiations to get his health care bill passed, that he personally wrote op-eds about it, and that he defended the so-called individual mandate to buy health insurance, a provision in President Obama's law that has drawn criticism from Republicans.
In an interview with ABC News, Trimarco said he didn't know he was supposed to delete the emails.
"No memo ever came around advising that was an option," he said, stifling a big laugh. "So when I left, I just left, and one of my colleagues said, 'What's the matter — did yours not have a delete button?' "
One of the emails revealed is a warm note from Romney to Trimarco the night the governor signed the health bill into law. "You have made a huge difference, for me and for hundreds of thousands of people who will have healthier and happier lives," Romney wrote at 10:56 p.m. on April 12, 2006.
Trimarco, who voted for Obama in 2008 but supports Romney now, said the emails prove that Romney cared deeply about giving health care to Massachusetts residents, because "his fingerprints are all over this thing." Trimarco lamented that Obama's health care law was imposed on a national scale despite some admirable traits, but he shellacked the national GOP harder for demonizing the health mandate, a provision that he said is a Republican principle because it draws on "individual responsibility."
"I don't go to a restaurant and order the steak, say 'I need the protein; I know it's good for me,' and then say, 'Jesus, I can't really afford to pay for it,' and walk out," he said. "I understand the Republican Party on a national level has now made this a cause célèbre ... that this individual mandate makes you un-American and not a worthy Republican — and old-timers like me don't get it."
The Romney campaign declined to comment for this story. Romney's email address in the newly disclosed letters is firstname.lastname@example.org; two emails sent by ABC News to that address were unreturned.
Romney has defended the deletion of his staff's emails by arguing that they would be fodder for his political opponents. "There has never been an administration that has provided to the opposition research team, or to the public, electronic communications," he said in November. "So ours would have been the first administration to have done so."
John Wonderlich, the policy director at the Sunlight Foundation, a group that advocates for open government, criticized Romney for resorting to political reasons to hide information.
"That's the most explicit statement of Governor Romney treating public records as fundamentally campaign materials," Wonderlich said. "The way we should view public records is not through the lens of a campaign, as he did, but through the lens of a government that serves the people's interest."