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The curious case of Corbett's deleted emails

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HARRISBURG

Whatever you wanted to believe was reflected in the set of facts surrounding the dramatic revision of the Pennsylvania attorney general's email retention policy from five years to six months in February 2011.

It depended on your point of view and your like or dislike of Tom Corbett. He's the Republican governor who, as former AG, put corrupt lawmakers behind bars and began the investigation that led to the conviction of serial child molester Jerry Sandusky nine months after he became governor.

If you support Corbett, you saw the development, perhaps, as another annoying stage in a political move by Democrat Attorney General Kathleen Kane. She's conducting an unprecedented investigation of a highly successful criminal probe that resulted in Sandusky's conviction on 45 of 48 charges of molesting boys.

If you're against Corbett, who is seeking re-election as governor, the deletion of up to 1 million emails by Corbett's longtime top assistant Bill Ryan, as acting attorney general, was proof that a guy who convicted public officials with emails that were, in many cases, five to seven years old, caught a break with the dumping of his own emails. You would feel Kane is warranted in looking into the almost three years it took to convict Sandusky. Many of those critics see the email policy change as a cover-up to protect Corbett and other old-hand prosecutors.

In the least, it is a head-scratching and surprising development in Kane's investigation to unravel the events surrounding the Sandusky case. About the only thing you can safely conclude is that it helps explain why her investigation — a campaign promise — has taken over a year. She is reconstructing up to 1 million emails — a figure believed to be extremely conservative.

The set of facts was bad for Ryan and Corbett, though their longtime Information Technology director James Ignalzo told the Trib it was a “cost” and “management issue,” not a cover-up. And there's no proof of any wrongdoing, misconduct or bad intent.

To some, suspicion arises from facts like Ryan being awarded a plum job by Corbett, a $150,000-per-year post as chairman of the Gaming Control Board in August 2011.

And the fact is that Ryan had no way of knowing in February 2011 that a Democrat would become attorney general or that Kane would come out of nowhere to become the state's first woman AG. When Ryan made the decision, the Sandusky case was a month away from going public.

If the email deletions were aimed at protecting anyone, the timeline suggests it had more to do with Corbett's public corruption cases pending at the time. But even that's a big if.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter (717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com).

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