Lawmakers develop measures to curb Hogan’s use of text destruction app

Governor Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R). Photo by Hannah Gaskill.

The Maryland General Assembly will consider legislation this session to ban Governor Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) – and future governors – from using text messaging apps that automatically destroy their messages.

Two legislators – Del. Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery) and Sen. Clarence Lam (D-Howard) – said they were prompted to take action after the Washington Post reported that Hogan regularly uses Wickr, a messaging app that can be configured. to automatically delete user communications.

According to the newspaper, messages exchanged between Hogan and his superiors disappear 24 hours after they are sent. Lawmakers and good government advocates have said that the governor’s use of Wickr raises questions about whether the use of the app conflicts with the requirements of Maryland’s public records.

According to the Maryland State Archives, “the law defines public records very broadly” and that “all public officials (are) responsible for ensuring that records that are no longer needed are offered to the records. , or destroyed in accordance with the procedures that are spelled. in Maryland regulations.

“Records must be kept properly to facilitate the transparency the public expects from public office holders,” the site adds.

Hogan defended his use of the app on Thursday, telling reporters: “There is nothing inappropriate about what we do.”

“It does not replace official government communication,” he added. “But we certainly have the ability to communicate informally, in person, on the phone and via messaging chats. I think this is a fairly common practice and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.

While the public records guidelines say every “unit” of state government must have a record-keeping plan, Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci has suggested that the governor be exempted from doing so.

“As has always been the case, there is no document retention policy for the governor’s office,” he said in an email.

The administration told the Post that it was not a “state government unit” as it was the head of state government.

Stewart rejected this position.

“Right now they’re making this ridiculous argument that they don’t need a policy because the governor’s office is not a unit of government, which would not pass the smell test. a judge in America, ”he said.

Lam offered a similar view: “The interpretation that the governor’s office is not a ‘unit of state government’ – I think this claim is absurd and unbelievable at first glance.”

Both lawmakers said Maryland law must make it clear that the governor’s office is a unit of government.

“By changing the definition of ‘unit of government’ they should create a records retention plan that has been approved by the state archivist,” said Stewart.

The Post’s story included several messages – obtained from an unidentified source – that Hogan exchanged with senior staff. The governor’s legal office told reporters that messages obtained by the Post did not show him conducting public affairs on the app. Hogan declined to be interviewed.

In public, Hogan tends to use a disciplined communication style that highlights successes and keeps his administration away from failures. The messages obtained by the Post’s source – described by Ricci as “fluid political and media conversations, news of the day” – offered glimpses of her character offstage.

Joanne Antoine, executive director of the Common Cause watchdog group, said she was surprised to learn that Hogan uses Wickr. His organization supports a change in the law.

“I understand the desire (to communicate candidly), but you are a public official,” she said. “Our first reaction was honestly a shock. And then we were like ‘what are you trying to hide?’ … Especially when the governor made it clear that his priority was transparency. It’s just really worrying.

Antoine said the state’s public information law already exempts some confidential communications.

Stewart suggested that Hogan was drawn to Wickr because it gives him the opportunity to speak candidly about “scandals” such as the South Korean test kit controversy, the indictment of his former chief of staff Roy McGrath and the problems with the unemployment assistance program – without his words ending up in the state archives or in the newspapers.

“When you check off the number of scandals that have rocked the administration since the start of the pandemic… there are obviously many different topics that the governor and his entourage must have discussed that are very sensitive,” said Stewart. “It is clear that the governor wanted to provide integrated security so that his discussion of these truly embarrassing matters would never come to light. And unfortunately to the public, it looks like he could have been successful.

Mathew Palmer, a former senior state official, was sentenced to eight years in prison last year after pleading guilty to a federal child pornography charge. Palmer served as Hogan’s deputy legislative officer before becoming chief operating officer at the state’s Department of Commerce.

Investigators obtained their guilty pleas after obtaining thousands of illegal images from the Wickr and Kik accounts that were recorded in Palmer’s name.

Maryland Matters press partner, WTOP, contributed to this report.

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