By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Mayoral aide’s statement does not compute

I’ve been following the Boston City Hall e-mail story with interest since it broke several weeks ago. But today was the first time I really thought it might develop into something much bigger. The reason: Michael Kineavy, the mayoral aide whose deleted e-mails are being sought, reportedly said he doesn’t remember getting a new computer this past April, right after the Boston Globe submitted a public-records request. Globe reporters Donovan Slack and Hiawatha Bray write:

City corporation counsel William F. Sinnott said in an interview yesterday that he had been relying on what Kineavy had told him and that Kineavy, the mayor’s chief policy aide and key political strategist, still does not remember getting a new computer.

Is this possible? Even if you’re not a geek like me (I got my university-issued MacBook in the spring of 2008, thank you very much), you can’t not remember whatever inconvenience you went through setting up the new machine. This was less than six months ago. Is it possible that Kineavy doesn’t remember transferring his files? Doesn’t remember why the printer suddenly stopped working? Doesn’t remember that the button used to be over here, but now it’s there? I mean, come on.

What’s so intriguing is that Kineavy was in touch with City Councilor Chuck Turner and former state senator Dianne Wilkerson, both of whom face federal corruption charges. Kineavy may yet turn out to be a straight shooter. But it’s hard to imagine anyone would forget his office computer had been replaced.

More: I swear I did not read the Outraged Liberal before writing this.

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19 Comments

  1. Curious

    What I don’t understand (and I don’t think was addressed in the media yet) is whether Kineavy was double-deleting on the old computer as well.

    If he was not then those emails should be archived as the Boston system does so every evening, right?

  2. It’s impossible he wouldn’t know.

    Donovan Slack wrote a great article but she writes the first paragraph so confusing that it’s not clear – did he have his hard drive replaced or his computer replaced? She mentions both, interchangeably. Changing the hard drive would be almost unnoticeable while a new computer, of course, would be a different case, altogether.

    Either way, his keyboard and monitor would be the same.

    I’m certainly not making excuses, just pointing it out.

  3. Dan Kennedy

    John: That’s a really good catch, and I don’t know what to make of it. My suspicion is that he really did get a new computer, but not a new screen or keyboard, and that the Globe (and the Herald) wrongly referred to the CPU as the hard drive.

  4. Donovan emailed me back – it was a new PC.

  5. TomW

    It’s amazing that the Globe (though maybe not the Herald) would have any confusion over whether it was a new CPU, hard drive, or computer, since the story shared a by-line with Hiawatha Bray, their tech “expert.” He certainly knows the difference and could check with his sources.

  6. InsiderNegot

    The timing of the FOI request and the claim of the computer running slow is interesting though.

    I guess it is possible that the IT person discovered the problem was the hard drive and replaced it without Kineavy’s knowledge.

    Slack does say that she spoke to the computer company hired by the city so it should have been an easy answer to an easy question that should have been asked. Was it?

  7. Rob

    I get a new computer every three years and I don’t have to do a thing. Out with the old ThinkPad and in with the new. There is not much difference between the older model and the new. I couldn’t even guess when I got the last upgrade. Then again I’m not a computer geek like you are.

  8. Aaron Read

    Kinneavy’s a liar, stop trying to make excuses. My God, people…if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck…

    The hard drive replacement is a red herring. I’ll explain:

    If it’s truly a “hard drive”, and not the entire CPU, then the only reason to replace it would be a drive failure. That eliminates the concept of “cloning” the drive. If the drive was cloned, then all his software & settings would be maintained, and it does become believable that Kinneavy wouldn’t notice it. However, he’d still have the same “slowness” problems, so that explanation doesn’t hold up.

    So assuming that’s not the case, then either the hard drive was flat out replaced…either by itself or as part of the entire CPU…and that means the operating system (Windows or Mac) was re-installed, as was all his software. Meaning, of course, all his settings were lost and he had to re-learn them.

    One does not fail to notice such things.

    This entire thing stinks. Can’t we just assume Kinneavy’s lying and attack him on it until he coughs up the truth?

  9. TomW

    The truth will come out, but not until after Nov. 3, when Menino will have been re-elected and Kinneavy will be praised for “serving the Mayor faithfully for many years,” and will resign “to spend more time with his family.”

  10. Neil

    The computer, the officials said, was on Kineavy’s desk until it was replaced in April, after Kineavy complained it had been operating too slowly.

    Kineavy got a new computer because his old one was running slowly. It was a problem he recognized and he complained about to the tech people. That means he requested the fix. That he did not remember any of this is clearly a problem with his story. Taking him at his word, he computer was farked up. He called tech, they did something, it worked again. How do you forget that?

    If the public records related crimes to which he is subject and with which he may be charged include the element of intent, his lack of memory regarding the computer replacement would insulate him from the intent element.

    Moreover, his story casts the computer replacement as a technical issue and not one as an affirmative action with intent to withhold and conceal documents from an investigation about city hall records and/or federal charges of government corruption.

    That the attorney in City Hall did not know this history when the Federal subpeona was serve to produce documents in the Wilkerson case is also potentially a huge issue.

  11. Neil

    Too bad Coakley’s new $750,000 cyber crime lab isn’t being put to use in this case. Why is she sitting this one out?

  12. I have known Kineavy for nearly 15 years although I haven’t spoken to him in a long time. During the time I did know him, I found him to be pretty meticulous to details and a thorough [and rough] political player. He knows how to get things done. However, never in my time being his acquaintance had I ever suspected anything corrupt or illegal like what Wilkerson allegedly did. Some of these political people don’t know the line and will do whatever they can to get by. Kineavy knew the line and didn’t need to do anything illegal to protect his job or get more money. I don’t know why he has done the things he is alleged to have done but I hope and pray that he is able to resolve the matter because he’s not a bad guy.

  13. Aaron Read

    @Tony: I hear what you’re saying, but lots of people said Nixon wasn’t a bad guy, either.

    Hell, tons of people still say Clinton wasn’t a bad guy, too.

    Perhaps to take this to an extreme, isn’t every serial killer remarked on by the neighbors as being a “nice, quiet man”?

    So what if he’s “not a bad guy”, that has precisely zero relevance on what he’s capable of as a political operator. And by definition, a political operator’s greatest skill is to knife you in the back and get you to thank him for it.

    Maybe he’s innocent, but I’m sure not going to let a personal anecdote determine that.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Aaron: Yes, maybe Kineavy is innocent. But there’s now a considerable amount of circumstantial evidence to suggest that he really didn’t want anyone to get hold of those e-mails. It’s also not credible that a high public official would not know that e-mails are public records. It’s something that gets discussed quite a bit. I know, I know, he says he thought they were stored on the server somewhere. Dogs and homework come to mind.

      As a prosecutor once famously said in another case many years ago, you don’t have to prove someone is the sort of person who’d do such a thing if you can prove that he did it.

  14. Al

    If they were really trying to hide things, why would they just move the offending computer to another office? Just destroy the drive and toss it.

  15. Aaron Read

    @Al: Because someday, somehow they need to account for it. All computers in a gov’t office have asset tags on them. If a computer disappears completely, sooner or later it gets noticed.

    Instead, and I’m making some assumptions here, they hoped to hide this one away until the scandal died down, then “sanitize” it as needed, and return it via the appropriate channels. That way, in theory, the cover-up could’ve occurred and no one would know.

  16. Note to Neil, State House News Service just reported that Coakley has joined SOS Galvin in an investigation into whether aides to Boston Mayor Thomas Menino broke the state’s public records law by deleting emails from city computers.

    “Secretary Galvin’s office has been working on this matter to ensure, first and foremost, that all public records are preserved, and also to determine whether there have been any violations of the public records law by City officials,” Coakley said in a statement. “We are now involved in that review. We believe that Secretary Galvin has been successful in achieving preservation of the electronic files. My office will continue to work with Secretary Galvin going forward, and we remain prepared to conduct a full investigation and take all necessary steps to guarantee the preservation of evidence and full compliance with the law.”

    In a press release from Coakley’s office, Galvin said, “I appreciate the assistance of the Attorney General’s Office in attempting to quickly resolve this matter.”

  17. Neil

    Coakley got in because Menino’s staff was stonewalling Galvin’s staff. Galvin doesn;t have subpeona power, Coakley does. I’m glad she in.

    There is one thing she can’t do and she shouldn’t have said it, take all necessary steps to guarantee the preservation of evidence and full compliance with the law.”

    She can’t guarantee “full compliance with the law” is records have been destroyed, to state that she can may show her bias in support of the Menino administration.

  18. InsiderNegot

    Is it me or are the emails the City posted on the web non-searchable?

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