Thursday, January 10, 2008
We've discussed the problem that a set of steamy e-mails to an administrative assistant caused Harris County (Texas) DA Chuck Rosenthal, who dropped out of the race for reelection at the last minute (see earlier post here). Another week, another batch of e-mails from his files, and these have led to calls for Rosenthal's resignation and, even worse, could put him in the cross-hairs of a criminal investigation. The latest e-mails disclosed in connection with a civil rights case in Houston include some with attachments containing nude pictures and videos, and one with a racist joke about former President Clinton. Certainly inappropriate, but then DA Rosenthal has already shown that he doesn't quite understand just how dumb it is to have such things on your government computer.
What may cause him a criminal problem are messages about political activities related to his abortive re-election campaign, including e-mails to staff discussing an upcoming barbecue fundraiser. As a Houston Chronicle story notes (here), "It is widely considered illegal in Texas for public officials to campaign during work hours using government-owned equipment. Such instances in the past have led to charges of official misconduct, or theft by a public official." The same is true at the federal level, which is why there have been questions raised about e-mail accounts at the Republican National Committee maintained by White House officials and whether they were used for official business when that should only be done on a government computer. This latest round of embarrassing, and potentially incriminating, e-mails triggered calls for Rosenthal's resignation, but whether that happens remains to be seen. According to a report on KPRC Channel 2 in Houston (here), he had said he will serve out the rest of his term. I suspect DA Rosenthal is hoping that no more e-mails emerge. (ph -- with thanks to an Austin reader)