Mitt Romney Olympic Archive Still Off-Limits

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

ByABC News
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."

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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