Monday, March 10, 2014
The evolving case of disappearing documents and an unorthodox health grant award process at the Maine Center for Disease Control took another intriguing turn on Monday.
The Maine Democratic Party announced that it had filed a Freedom of Access Act request seeking communications between the LePage administration and officials at the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services. Ben Grant, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, said in a press statement that LePage has failed to take action despite mounting evidence that documents used to justify $4 million in public health grants were shredded or destroyed.
“This is now the second federal probe into serious allegations against Governor LePage’s administration, and it’s time for answers to some very basic questions: what did they know and when did they know it?” Grant said. “It’s been nine months since these allegations were first made and we know that documents have been destroyed, the FBI is now involved and favoritism may have been played, yet Governor LePage has held no one accountable."
Grant's reference to the FBI stems from new revelations last week that the federal agency had interviewed Sharon Leahy-Lind, a former director of local public health for the CDC, who has sued the agency and its director under the federal Whistleblower Protection Act after claiming that her supervisors ordered her to destroy public documents associated with the health grants after the Lewiston Sun Journal requested them.
The FBI would not say if it had interviewed Leahy-Lind when contacted last week. It's unclear if the agency has interviewed CDC officials. Unlike other state agencies, the CDC does not track visitors to its office on a public log. The Press Herald attempted to check the log on Monday, but a sign-in sheet at the reception area only showed employees, not visitors.
Meanwhile, the governor has not commented publicly about the CDC controversy. Adrienne Bennett, the governor's spokeswoman, declined to comment on Monday.
On Monday afternoon, the governor's communications staff called selected reporters to meet with LePage. The Portland Press Herald, the Lewiston Sun Journal and the bureau chief for the Bangor Daily News were not invited to that meeting (although another BDN reporter was). According to reporters who attended, the meeting was supposed to be an off-the-record talk with LePage (reporters were told not to bring recording equipment). However, the selected reporters said the governor was surprised when Mal Leary, director of MPBN's Capitol Connection, asked him why the discussion was off the record.
It's unclear if any of the reporters who attended asked the governor about the CDC probe, or if they had the opportunity. Those who attended said the governor wanted to talk about Medicaid expansion.
Steve Mistler covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.