Gov. Kate Brown: Don’t prosecute Kitzhaber whistleblower

In an interview with Willamette Week, Gov. Kate Brown said Michael Rodgers’ “intentions were good.”

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In an interview with Willamette Week, Gov. Kate Brown said the whistleblower who released the emails that cost former Gov. John Kitzhaber his job had good intentions.

She stuck to her platform of transparency and strong governmental ethics in her interview with WW.

“Instead of wasting public resources and time in pursuing criminal charges in this case, we need to focus our resources on building trust and accountability in state government,” Brown tells WW.

Brown says she has not spoken to the Oregon State Police or either of the two county district attorneys offices overseeing the investigation: “The matter is in the hands of the district attorneys at this time,” Brown says.  “If the investigative findings align with what WW has reported, I don’t believe criminal charges should be brought against Mr. Rodgers for his actions.” 

The Governor’s office also released the following statement:

“State government has an obligation to safeguard data and information in its custody. It doesn’t matter if it’s 6,000 of the former Governor’s emails, or Oregonians’ health records, or taxpayer bank account numbers – a data breach is a data breach, and we have an obligation to take action to find out what happened.

“Since Michael Rodgers has now come forward to explain his actions and has taken responsibility for leaking former Governor Kitzhaber’s emails to the media, it doesn’t seem to me to be in the public’s interest to pursue a case against him. The matter is currently in the hands of the Marion County District Attorney who has the results of the Oregon State Police investigation, which I do not have. At this point it is legally the District Attorney’s decision, not mine. But I do hope, if the investigation findings align with what Rodgers reported to the media, that no criminal charges are brought against him for his actions.

“Leaking internal emails to the public was an extraordinary act made in an extraordinary situation; an act based on a lack of trust in the system around him. Instead of wasting public time and resources pursuing charges in this case, I would rather focus on rebuilding trust and accountability. In March 2015, I sent an email to executive branch employees articulating my expectations about their obligations, resources, and options so that, in the future, no one will be put in the situation Mr. Rodgers found himself in.”

The Statesman Journal wrote an editorial that urged a quick release of the investigation into Rodgers’ actions.

The distinction between criminal conduct and whistleblowing is gray, and often overlapping. That certainly seems true in Rodgers’ case. Some officials suggest he should have used the confidential, 24-hour Government Waste Hotline established by the Secretary of State’s Office. The Audits Division, which ranks among the most trustworthy organizations in state government, looks into each hotline report. The staff is legally required to contact law enforcement about any potential criminal activity and to notify the state ethics commission of potential violations of state ethics law. Some people also say Rodgers should have been more trusting of the State Police and gone to them or to the Oregon Department of Justice.

Theoretically, any of those is true. But confronted with an ethical crisis, one does not always see those avenues. That suggests a longtime failure by the state government leadership to create a climate of “Always do what’s right and let the chips fall where they may.” It becomes easier to cover one’s posterior than to stick one’s neck out.

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