Sunday, June 9, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: Odds 'n' Ends From the Email Scandal

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
June 9, 2013

David Letterman got some cynical laughs out of New Mexico back in early 2009, when he made a brutal quip about then-Gov. Bill Richardson.

Richardson had just withdrawn his name for consideration to be President Barack Obama’s secretary of commerce. This was due to a grand jury investigation of an alleged pay-to-play deal. Letterman, talking about the situation on his Late Show, characterized Richardson’s withdrawal:

“You know what, I’ve been doing some stuff that may be too illegal to be in the Cabinet but just about right to keep me as governor of New Mexico.”

That grand jury never produced any charges. But the joke still stung.

I thought about Letterman’s joke last week while working on a story about the recent email scandal in state government.

Jamie Estrada — recently indicted on charges of illegally hijacking Gov. Susana Martinez’s emails and lying to the FBI — had been Martinez’s campaign manager until sometime in late 2009. The governor said he was fired for, among other things, reading her personal emails, which led her to believe he was “of suspect character.”

Estrada, however, has said he didn’t break any laws and flatly denies he was fired from the campaign. Last week, his lawyer released several documents several documents that indicate Estrada remained in contact with the campaign for many months after he left, even receiving kind words from Martinez and others.

Shortly after leaving the Martinez campaign, Estrada announced he would be running in the Republican primary for the southern District 5 Public Regulation Commission seat.

So who ran the Estrada campaign? Campaign finance records from 2010 show that his political consultant in the race was Lincoln Strategies, which at the time was the company of none other than Jay McCleskey, Martinez’s political consultant.

In fact, out of the $15,959 Estrada received in public funding, $15,224 of that went to Lincoln Strategies.

Estrada went on to lose the primary to Ben Hall, who went on to win the general election as well.

So why would McCleskey agree to help Estrada’s campaign if Estrada was such a bad egg? And why would Estrada want to hire McCleskey if there were hard feelings with the Susana camp over being fired?

Surely nobody said, “You know what, Jamie’s been doing some stuff that shows he may be too much of a suspect character to manage this campaign, but just about right to put him on the Public Regulation Commission”?

McCleskey said in an email: “On the Martinez campaign, it was clear for some time that Estrada would never be the permanent campaign manager. He was being replaced by Adam Deguire and was resistant to it. There were several efforts made to help him with a graceful exit, including my firm agreeing to work for him in his PRC campaign, after he was unable to get a job with the [Albuquerque Mayor Richard] Berry administration. Ultimately, Estrada was abruptly fired before he could leave on his own terms.”

Martinez didn’t endorse Estrada’s PRC candidacy, McCleskey said.

The bigger picture: Another name familiar in Republican circles popped up in the email
Photo by Enrique C. Knell
investigation last week. That’s Anissa Galassini Ford, who served as Martinez’s personal assistant during the 2010 campaign.

According to FBI documents unsealed last week, investigators looking at various Internet communications determined that Ford was in frequent contact with Estrada as well as Jason Loera, a Democratic consultant who recently was charged with possessing child porn — which the FBI found while searching Loera’s computers for the governor’s hijacked emails.

I looked at Ford’s Facebook page and came across a nice looking photo of Ford with Mitt Romney posted last August. The photo has a watermark for the professional photographer who took it: Enrique C. Knell — yes, Gov. Martinez’s spokesman, who has worked as a professional photographer.

Knell said last week that he shot the picture during the 2010 campaign. One person was cropped out of the photo on Facebook, however, he said: Susana Martinez.