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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS

Angelides Calls on Governor to Release 4 Hours of Recordings

September 30, 2006|Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Democratic candidate for governor Phil Angelides on Friday demanded that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger immediately release recordings of private conversations in the governor's office, hinting that he will otherwise release them on his own.

Saying the recordings are public records because they were found on a public website, the Angelides campaign sent the governor a six-page letter calling for him to make public about four hours of conversation taped this year by the governor's staff. Angelides campaign aides later downloaded them while trolling the governor's website.

About six minutes of recordings were obtained by The Times and made available this month on the newspaper's website. They carried banter among Schwarzenegger, his chief of staff, a speechwriter and a speech coach. In the conversation, the governor described an Assemblywoman as "hot" -- fiery -- and attributed that temperament to a mix of "black blood" and "Latino blood."

In his letter to the governor, Angelides campaign attorney Lance Olson provided the first suggestion of what else Schwarzenegger might have said in his office.

The letter refers to "ad hominem remarks regarding key legislative leaders." One Angelides campaign official said that was a reference to Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland).

In another private moment, Schwarzenegger voiced his "views on the assimilation of immigrants," Olson wrote.

Schwarzenegger officials have already denied a public records request for the recordings that was submitted by The Times. And Olson said Friday that he wasn't expecting a cooperative reply.

In the letter, he requested a written answer by Wednesday.

When asked whether the campaign would release the recordings in its possession if the Schwarzenegger administration turned down the request, Angelides campaign manager Cathy Calfo said: "We have a number of options. We're not ruling anything out."

After The Times published a story about the tapes, the Schwarzenegger administration contacted the California Highway Patrol, which oversees state property and opened an investigation. Schwarzenegger's legal secretary, Andrea Hoch, said in a written statement after the recordings were made public that the audio was stored on a portion of the website that was private and protected by passwords.

Angelides campaign aides denied that was the case, saying the files were easily downloaded without the need for any passwords or security clearance.

The CHP has interviewed two Angelides aides about the incident, campaign officials said. Calfo said the CHP has told the campaign that the focus of the inquiry is making the governor's computer system tougher to penetrate.

"As I understand it, they are doing a review to make recommendations to the governor's office about securing the computer systems there," she said.

A spokesman for the CHP, Tom Marshall, said he did not know when the CHP would issue its findings in the matter, nor would he comment on the investigation's scope.

"We're not being driven by the election deadline," Marshall said. "This is an independent investigation like all the others we have done."

The election is 38 days away.

Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Margita Thompson said the Angelides letter had not reached the governor's office. She declined to comment on the request.

The governor's campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, said the letter, coming at a time when Angelides is trailing by 17 points in one poll released this week, amounts to a futile bid to close the gap.

"This is an act of complete and total desperation by a Phil Angelides campaign that is double digits behind in the polls," Schmidt said. "They're making a tortured legal argument trying to mask unethical and potentially illegal acts."

In calling upon Schwarzenegger to make the recordings public, Angelides' lawyer said in the letter that the documents are legally a matter of public record. Olson sought to refute a possible claim that the information is exempted from disclosure because of its "official" status.

"The public has a compelling interest in knowing how its business is conducted," Olson wrote. "That interest clearly outweighs your apparent preference to keep the documents secret."

peter.nicholas@latimes.com

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