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LePage Blasts Obama Cabinet Secretaries Over Leaks

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (above) heads one agency that has leaked sensitive information to the Portland Press Herald.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (above), a Democrat from Iowa, heads one agency that has leaked sensitive information to the Portland Press Herald.

Agents of the federal government are conspiring to politically damage Republican Gov. Paul R. LePage by coordinating with his Democratic opponents and leaking sensitive information to Maine’s newspapers.

Sound like far-flung conspiracy theory?

It’s not.

According to documents obtained by The Maine Wire, employees of the federal government have on two occasions supplied communications intended for the Governor to his Democratic opponents or to the press, instead. The leaked information has not only benefited the media outlets, but has also disrupted the Governor’s ability to govern in the face of an increasingly over-reaching federal government.

The first leak occurred in November and came from the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) in response to Maine Department of Labor Commissioner Jeanne Paquette’s Oct. 18 request for a waiver that would allow the Governor to restructure Maine’s State and Local Workforce Investment Boards. USDOL Assistant Secretary Jane Oates responded to the Governor’s request in a letter dated Nov. 14.

That letter, however, was never mailed to the Governor and instead arrived at the office of a local workforce investment board member. The letter, which contained numerous factual inaccuracies and was not supposed to be sent at all, eventually wound up in the pages of Maine’s newspapers.

In a second letter dated Dec. 6, Oates followed up with the Governor’s office. “Before following up on recent correspondence and conversations with you and your staff, I want to apologize for the inadvertent distribution of a letter in response to [Commissioner Paquette’s] October 18, 2012, request.”

Oates said that the Nov. 14 letter was “out of date” and that USDOL had determined it “would not be sent.” “However, it was not removed from our electronic correspondence system and was mistakenly distributed in response to a Congressional inquiry on the status of Maine’s State Plan.”

It is unclear at this time where the Congressional inquiry originated.

The second leak occurred in February and came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in response to the Governor’s request for permission to require photo identification for transactions involving Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards and funds supplied via the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

According to a copy of an email obtained by The Maine Wire, a USDA employee confirmed that the Department’s determination on LePage’s request was transmitted to Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud before it was delivered to the Governor’s office.

The email from a director at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to a high-ranking official in the LePage administration contained the following:

“Bonnie Brathwaite, the FNS SNAP Director for the Northeast Region, confirmed to me that the letter of denial on the photo ID waiver was sent on Friday to Representatives Pingree and Michaud. It was sent that same day to the Regional Office, where the SOP is to call us with a heads-up. However, because neither Bonnie nor her boss, James Arena-DeRosa was in the office, the call didn’t get made…. Thorough apologies have been made by all.”

In a happy confluence of events, the Portland Press Herald, a newspaper owned by Pingree and her billionaire husband S. Donald Sussman, somehow obtained a copy of the USDA’s letter of denial. As a result of the leaked information, LePage first read about USDA’s decision in the pages of the Press Herald.

Billionaire S. Donald Sussman and wife Congresswoman Chellie Pingree own the Portland Press Herald.

Billionaire S. Donald Sussman and wife Congresswoman Chellie Pingree own the Portland Press Herald.

After twice seeing his efforts to govern undermined by bureaucrats in the federal government, LePage decided to push back.

Responding to the USDA’s letter of denial in a Feb. 21 letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, the Governor wrote, “I am very concerned that both my office and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services received a copy of this letter from the Portland Press Herald before we received it through official channels. This is becoming a pattern for the Federal Government.”

“The USDOL sent a letter to a congressional office before it was released to the State and that congressional office sent it out to media outlets and other groups, still all before the State was notified,” wrote LePage.

“While the United States Postal Service may be in financial trouble, they will still deliver the mail if Washington would be kind enough to send us these letters before sharing with everyone else,” wrote LePage.

Pingree’s lawyer on Friday denied a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by The Maine Wire  for communications between the congresswoman’s office and the newspaper she owns, writing that such congressional records are shielded from FOIA inquiries. “Accordingly, Representative Pingree is not subject to FOIA and will not be producing the documents requested,” her lawyer wrote.

The Maine Wire has submitted a similar request to the USDA and will be following up on the result.

S.E. Robinson
Maine Wire Reporter

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