State investigators on Friday publicly absolved former Democratic candidate Phil Angelides' campaign of wrongdoing in lifting private conversations stored on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's website, nearly five months after they had authoritative word that no crime had occurred.
In a 38-page report to Schwarzenegger's chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, the California Highway Patrol said that security on the governor's website was lax.
Because "there were no security measures in place" to prevent it, the report says, aides to gubernatorial candidate Angelides were able to troll the website last year and procure audio files in which Schwarzenegger made racially charged remarks.
The CHP findings made public Friday end an inquiry that opened Sept. 8, the day after the Los Angeles Times published the remarks, made in a six-minute recording of the governor's private conversation with Kennedy and other aides.
In that meeting, Schwarzenegger casually speculated about the ethnicity of Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia (R-Cathedral City).
"She maybe is Puerto Rican or the same thing as Cuban. I mean, they are all very hot," the governor said.
In a largely uneventful governor's race, that bit of banter made news around the world. Schwarzenegger apologized for his comments.
But the governor's office deflected some attention by opening a debate about whether the Angelides campaign had broken the law. The probe by the CHP, an arm of the Schwarzenegger administration responsible for state property, kept that question alive.
A statement issued on Sept. 11 by the governor's legal secretary, Andrea Hoch, said that those who downloaded the files had entered a "password-protected area" of the governor's website and that the actions constituted "a breach of one or more security protocols."
That day, the CHP report shows, several Schwarzenegger aides met privately with investigators and discussed "at length" whether the Angelides campaign had done anything that might be considered hacking. CHP computer experts said what happened did not amount to hacking, according to the report.
Angelides aides got the files by "modifying" the Internet address on a portion of the governor's website devoted to speeches that he gives, something that is "a common practice in the media," according to the report.
The Angelides aides never used a password, nor did they encounter any warning indicating that the site was confidential.
The next day, Sept. 12, CHP investigators met with an official in the state attorney general's office who said the same thing: Angelides aides had committed no crime. But the investigation continued.
"That was an opinion by an outside agency, but that doesn't relieve the CHP of its responsibility to conduct a thorough investigation of all the facts," said Fran Clader, a CHP spokeswoman. "It's our responsibility to conduct a thorough investigation and we will take as long as it takes."
Initially, a CHP spokesman said a report would be issued within weeks, before the Nov. 7 election. That didn't happen.
Angelides aides say they possess more than 100 hours of unguarded Schwarzenegger conversations taken from the governor's website. But they were reluctant to release that material while the CHP's criminal probe was active.
Former Angelides campaign officials said Friday that the governor's office abused the CHP for political purposes.
"The CHP's report confirms what we stated from the outset: The governor's taped remarks were publicly available on a publicly funded state website," said Cathy Calfo, Angelides' former campaign manager. "It was wrong of Gov. Schwarzenegger to misuse a taxpayer-funded agency to launch a phony investigation whose purpose was to intimidate and to keep the governor's remarks secret. The governor should now do the right thing and release the audio files of his remarks."
Adam Mendelsohn, the governor's communications director, said there had been no collusion between the administration and the CHP. The agency works independently and decided on its own how the investigation should proceed and for how long, Mendelsohn said.
When the Schwarzenegger administration first alerted the CHP, Mendelsohn said, it did not even know the Angelides campaign was involved.
"Protocol dictates that the California Highway Patrol manage issues such as this," Mendelsohn said. "When we learned that private information had been accessed, the CHP was brought in to determine what exactly happened."
The recording at issue was made by the governor's speech-writing team, which routinely taped the governor to get a better sense of his speech patterns.