Mitt Romney Olympic Archive Still Off-Limits

Documents purged, others in archive still not open to public 10 years later.

July 23, 2012, 6:00 AM

July 23, 2012 — -- More than a decade has passed since Mitt Romney presided over the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, but the archival records from those games that were donated to the University of Utah to provide an unprecedented level of transparency about the historic event, remain off limits to the public. And some of the documents that may have shed the most light on Romney's stewardship of the Games were likely destroyed by Salt Lake Olympic officials, ABC News has learned.

The archivists involved in preparing the documents for public review told ABC News that financial documents, contracts, appointment calendars, emails and correspondence are likely not included in the 1,100 boxes of Olympic records, and will not be part of the collection that will ultimately be made public.

"We don't have that stuff," said Elizabeth Rogers, the manuscript curator at the University's Marriott Library. The decisions about what records to donate to the library were made by Olympics officials before they were shipped in 1,100 boxes to the university, she said. "That was done before we got it. I just know it wasn't a decision we made. Everything we have will be available."

The Romney campaign said it has made no effort to prevent the archive from being made public.

"Mitt Romney resigned from SLOC [the Salt Lake Organizing Committee] in early 2002 to run for governor of Massachusetts and was not involved in the decision-making regarding the final disposition of records," said Andrea Saul, a Romney spokesperson, in response to questions. 

The Salt Lake City Winter Olympics represent a crucial chapter in the Romney biography -- his selection to oversee the Games came in the wake of a bribery scandal, and he was credited with overcoming that taint to stage an event that both earned respect and was financially sound. Romney eventually wrote a book about the experience -- "Turnaround" -- and frequently cites the experience as part of what qualifies him to assume the presidency.

But the absence of publicly available records that detail the decisions he made while running the games has increasingly become an uneasy subject for the library, which has for months been receiving inquiries from journalists and other researchers trying to subject Romney's version of the events to an analysis based on documents from the events.

The fact that the documents remained behind closed doors also could be politically awkward for Romney, who has already faced criticism for his decisions to keep secret some of his past tax records and some details about his investment holdings. And it carries echoes of the decision in Massachusetts by Romney aides to purchase and erase their hard drives shortly before Romney left office as governor.

University of Utah officials, however, said they have never made decisions about the Olympic papers with politics in mind. And in fact, Rogers said, they have dedicated additional staff to try and organize the documents more quickly, so they can be released to the public well before the 2012 election.

Fraser Bullock, a close friend of Romney's who oversaw the process of winding down the Games, said the fact that it has taken a decade to sort the papers is the fault of the university. "It has nothing to do with Mitt."

He said Romney's reputation was never a consideration when deciding which documents to keep. "That was not a factor in our decision-making. Everybody knew what happened with our Games. There were no hidden secrets. The media had access to our records. We had an open records policy."

That certainly was Romney's position at the time he oversaw the games. He pledged an open-book approach at the outset of his tenure as chief executive of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. He asked reporters to expect "the most open documents policy of any enterprise." In a February 3, 2000 speech at the National Press Club he said: "All of the documents inside our organization are available to the public. Simply submit a form saying which documents you want, for instance -- I want to see all the letters written by Mr. Romney to Mr. Samaranch. You'll get 'em all."

Romney later started dialing back this pledge. In an interview with Salt Lake City Weekly later that year, he explained, "My intent was to describe our open documents policy … but I believe there is the recognition of exceptions to that."

Olympic Documents 'Were Just Destroyed'

The Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) spent months negotiating its plans for gathering and archiving materials from the games, eventually signing an 11-page "Repository Agreement" with the University of Utah. The agreement, a copy of which was obtained by ABC News, includes a detailed list of documents that would be included in the university's archive. The list includes "written records of SLOC management and departments," "meeting minutes and agendas of the SLOC Board of Trustees," and "other administrative records that document the planning and staging" of the Games.

The Organizing Committee hired a university archivist, Mark Jensen, to gather documents as the Games unfolded, and to compile them into an organized collection that would be turned over to the University of Utah. Within the committee, each department was instructed to send documents and records to Jensen to be preserved. Jensen said in an interview that his work was then reviewed by lawyers to insure that proprietary information – such as how much companies bid for competitive contracts – was removed.

"I was acting under the direction of the legal department," Jensen said.

Not all the records made the cut. Decisions about which documents to submit and which to hold back ultimately were given to an SLOC attorney, and those records were sent to a separate storage site, Jensen said. "My guess is at this point all of those records were destroyed."

Kelly Flint, who was general counsel to the committee, and Bullock both confirmed this, saying the SLOC eventually destroyed any documents that included legally privileged or confidential information, including contracts with vendors and personnel records. "Anything we could disclose, of course, we couldn't destroy that. Anything that had a legal or contractual requirement to be confidential … they were just destroyed,"  Bullock said.

Asked about Romney's personal papers, such as correspondence, emails, and appointment calendars, Bullock said he did not think it was likely they were saved.

"His personal correspondence and his appointment calendar? I didn't keep mine. I don't think that's relevant to the Olympic movement," he said.

The records that survived legal scrutiny were shipped to the university in 2002 and, according to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune, were "quite systematically organized" when Jensen turned them over.

Jensen said he provided the university "a box-by-box listing of the materials. Sometimes folder-by-folder listings."

Rogers said the library has worked intermittently over the past decade to try and catalogue the 1,100 boxes of documents, but over the years it never rose to become a top priority. "We have an enormous amount to go through. It just wasn't number one on our plate," she said.

In February, when the university held an exhibition to show off the Olympic archives on the 10th anniversary of the Games, the only items that could be displayed were photographs -- a separate archive that had been organized and prepared for display. The event did not involve opening the documents for public perusal.

Walter Jones, the library's assistant head of Special Collections, said he first realized the library had a problem when a Washington Post reporter called asking for specific documents from the Olympic archive. He said he and Rogers went to see what condition the archive was in and were startled to see it largely un-sorted.

"Basically we could not field his questions," Jones said. "It was embarrassing."

Jones said the library had no intention of trying to block reporters from seeing the Olympic records.

"I think we were just caught unprepared," he said.

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The library now estimates it will have the records open for public review sometime in August. As for how many of the papers will shed light on Romney's stewardship of the Games, that remains unclear. Rogers said she did not expect there would be much. "It's a lot about torch relays, Paralympics, the residences," she said. "I have not seen a whole lot of financial documentation."

Bullock, who has deep ties to Romney through not only the Olympics, but through Bain, and now as a fundraiser for the campaign, said the candidate has every reason to want the record of the Salt Lake Games preserved.

"In another few weeks it will all be totally available," Bullock said. "We've got 1,100 boxes that people can sort through. That's a lot to keep."

Lynn Packer is a freelance journalist based in North Salt Lake, Utah.

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