By Scott North and Noah Haglund Herald writers
EVERETT — Snohomish County’s prosecutor said Friday that he wants an investigation to determine if any laws were broken in a shadowy effort to support County Executive Aaron Reardon by using a maze of attack websites, spoof email addresses and anonymous public records requests.
Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe declined to discuss specifics, but said that he’s been approaching people in police agencies about undertaking an investigation.
“It’s something I’ve been looking into and I’ll be looking into more next week,” Roe said.
Roe said he doesn’t know what potential criminal misconduct could be found, but that’s the point of asking detectives to take a look.
“You can’t refer it to some agency to make a charging decision based on a newspaper article and a one paragraph reply,” Roe said.
The prosecutor was referring to articles The Herald published this week detailing how clues, including documents on file with the secretary of state’s office, link some of the activity to members of Reardon’s staff: legislative analyst Kevin Hulten and aide Jon Rudicil.
Reardon on Thursday evening sent out a statement saying that he did not tell staff to engage in the conduct The Herald reported.
The situation got more cloudy a few hours later when Hulten, at 12:53 a.m. Friday, emailed The Herald demanding that the story about Reardon’s statement be retracted (See below). His claim put into question the reliability of the statement from Reardon’s office.
The story Hulten objected to largely focused on records requests from somebody called “Edmond Thomas,” targeting nearly 20 county employees, as well as attack web pages aimed at people perceived to be Reardon enemies. One of the targets is Anne Block, a private citizen and Gold Bar political blogger and lawyer who has been seeking Reardon’s recall.
“I did not issue the requests for ANY of the public records requests detailed in your error-filled articles nor your reactionary misinformed ‘editorial,’” Hulten wrote.
Hulten added that it took him only a few minutes of research to discover “that the requestor of the majority of the requests you describe is actually an out-of-state entity. Fact checking: Try it.”
On Friday evening, KING 5 TV published a statement it said came from Hulten, in which he appeared to acknowledge involvement in the records requests.
“I chose to seek documents through the use of a third party out of concern that the content of the requests would spark retaliation in the form of harassment both in the workplace and in the media,” the statement on the KING 5 website read. “This concern has been validated by statements made to me both privately and about me and my family publicly in the last 24 hours.
“I am not prepared at this time to provide further detail as to why I am seeking access to documents other than to state that they relate to potential future litigation and the possible exposure of improper dealings by some of those whose records I seek,” he added.
In his earlier denial of involvement, Hulten didn’t say who actually sought the records or where that person is located.
Hulten also did not respond in any way to specific details in The Herald’s investigation, published Thursday, which outlined a trail of clues, including spoof email accounts, web pages, and records on file with the secretary of state, that suggest the online persona “Edmond Thomas” and others are associated with himself and Rudicil.
Over a period of months, Hulten has rejected multiple attempts by The Herald to ask him about his activities in support of Reardon. He’s repeatedly insisted that Herald reporters assigned to the story only approach him through his bosses at the county.
Members of the County Council are exploring options for getting answers, including taking the unprecedented step of convening investigative hearings, as allowed under the county charter.
They were talking Friday about getting help from state lawmakers to amend Washington’s Public Records Act to put an end to anonymous requests for public documents. There is nothing in the law now that prohibits using a false identity to seek public records.
State lawmakers already are exploring options for putting an end to records requests designed to harass public servants at government agencies.
A bill under discussion in Olympia would allow government agencies to seek an injunction if it believes a request is malicious or overly burdensome. If House Bill 1128 passes, the agency would have to provide a judge with clear, convincing evidence that the request was made to harass or intimidate employees, or would seriously interfere with their ability to do their jobs.
The county may ask legislators to sponsor an amendment to ban records requests made using anonymous or false identities.
“I anticipate that the council will discuss and support such an amendment,” perhaps Tuesday, Council Chairwoman Stephanie Wright said.
The “Edmond Thomas” records requests have sought phone bills, emails and other documents for elected county officials, many of them from Reardon’s own Democratic party, and county employees who were witnesses or otherwise cooperated with a Washington State Patrol investigation of Reardon’s use of county resources on trips with a former girlfriend.
While the investigation documented Reardon’s extramarital affair, it did not result in charges for Reardon.
On his Twitter page Thursday night, Hulten suggested that The Herald wanted to stop “Edmond Thomas” from obtaining some records because the phone bills show who was talking with people at the prosecutor’s office.
“When you see the records, you’ll know why the Herald and the PA didn’t want them released,” he tweeted.
Spreadsheets purporting to detail phone calls between prosecutors, reporters and detectives during the Reardon investigation were posted Thursday evening by AnonRegX, a Twitter account that Hulten follows.
Noah Haglund, 425-339-3465, email@example.com
Hulten’s demand for retraction
From: Kevin Hulten
Sent: Fri 2/15/2013 12:53 AM
To: Noah Haglund
Cc: Neal Pattison; Peter Jackson; David Dadisman
Attn: Weekly (sic) Herald Staff
I did not issue the requests for ANY of the public records requests detailed in your error-filled articles nor your reactionary misinformed “editorial”.
Please make sure that all 500 of your readers receive a corrected version of the story, or a full retraction.
Please note that neither your reporting staff nor your most esteemed editorial writer bothered to contact me for comment or verification, perhaps because the reporters feared that the truth once again wouldn’t fit the pre-written headline.
Finally, it only took me a few minutes to discover that the requestor of the majority of the requests you describe is actually an out of state entity. Fact checking: Try it.
This at least the third time your hack staff has published completely erroneous attacks on my character. Remember when you jumped in bed with Mike Hope and tried to cover up his DUI?
Quit while you are way, way behind. You can’t afford the lawsuit headed your way. And if you can’t figure out why your reporters are working so hard to try and prevent the PA’s records from seeing light if day, well, you’re probably gonna take another bath on that one too.
Correct the false accusations. Retract your editorial based on the false accusations. Do it now.