UPDATED at 4:50 p.m. with additional quote from Whitaker
FAIRBANKS - Key figures in the Fairbanks North Star Borough government were concerned that Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller may have violated state laws by improperly using borough computers in 2008 while he worked for the borough, former Mayor Jim Whitaker said Thursday.
Whitaker said it appears Miller engaged in criminal use of a computer, a felony, and second-degree criminal impersonation, a misdemeanor, when Miller, then a part-time borough attorney, used computers of other employees in the borough’s legal office in a failed bid to oust state GOP chairman Randy Ruedrich.
“At issue is whether or not the law allows me to tell the truth without fear of punishment,” Whitaker said. “It is my opinion that it is probable that a crime was committed. It appears at least two laws were broken by Mr. Miller.”
State statute defines criminal use of a computer as occurring when an unauthorized person “knowingly accesses, causes to be accessed or exceeds the person’s authorized accesss to... any part of a computer system or network” to obtain information or introduce false information. Criminal impersonation is defined as assuming a false identity with intent to defraud or obtain a benefit a person is not entitled to.
“I remember a discussion with the borough attorney in which she said, ‘Mayor, I believe there have been serious violations of the laws,’” Whitaker said in a Thursday interview with the Daily News-Miner.
“My response to her was, “You are responsible for the people in your department. Take all things into consideration and make a decision as to what you’re going to do.’ She did that, she came back with the decision that she felt a reprimand and time off were appropriate. I concurred with that.”
The former mayor said the borough did not pursue criminal charges for the same reason Miller didn’t lose his job. At the time, Miller was deemed too valuable to the borough because of his ongoing work on a lawsuit to determine how much to tax the trans-Alaska oil pipeline system.
“The magnitude of the case was huge,” Whitaker said. “I don’t think anyone in the room while we’re having the discussion even considered that Mr. Miller would be running for the U.S. Senate. Therefore, the consideration was what’s in the best interest of the citizens of the North Star Borough.”
Miller campaign spokesman Randy DeSoto said in an e-mail to the Daily News-Miner that Whitaker’s latest statements do not make sense. He accused Whitaker of being motivated by “petty personal politics” to smear Miller ahead of the Nov. 2 election.
“The allegation that voting in an online poll is a felony is false, defying logic and reason, even by Whitaker's standards,” DeSoto said. “By his own admission Joe was such an important attorney for the borough that he could not fired or charged at the time with whatever absurd allegations he now brings forward.”
Whitaker, who served as borough mayor from 2003 until 2009, first came forward last week with his story that Miller engaged in “proxy voting” on borough computers, a story that the state GOP said makes no sense since the party chooses its chairman in person at a convention. Whitaker has said he was only commenting on his understanding of what led to Miller being disciplined for politicking at work, a violation of the borough’s ethics policy.
Miller acknowledged during a CNN interview Monday that he had been disciplined for violating the borough ethics policy. The candidate called it a “petty” issue that occurred during his lunch hour.
Whitaker said he disagrees with Miller’s characterization of the incident.
“This is not a petty issue as Mr. Miller has stated,” Whitaker said. “Nothing less than the public trust is at stake. The public has the right to know the truth. And I have the right to tell the truth without fear of punishment.”
Whitaker’s latest comments came a day after attorneys for Miller filed a complaint naming Whitaker as a third-party defendant in a lawsuit between Alaska media outlets and the borough.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Alaska Dispatch, Anchorage Daily News and Associated Press are seeking additional information the borough has in Miller’s personnel file about his computer activities.
Miller is alleging his constitutional rights were violated when Whitaker went to the media. He also says Whitaker committed a misdemeanor crime in doing so, a point that DeSoto reiterated Thursday.
“Ironically, the only crimes that involve Joe Miller have been committed by Whitaker himself,” DeSoto said. “It is a crime for the former mayor to reveal purportedly confidential personnel conversations. So, if the conversations actually did occur somewhere other than in his own mind, Whitaker is the one who has committed the crime here. Not Joe Miller.”
Borough attorney Rene Broker has countered that the claim against Whitaker is unfounded since it is unclear how Whitaker is liable for Alaska media outlets bringing the lawsuit against Miller.
Whitaker has not retained a lawyer. He said he does not believe he is doing anything illegal because the information, as he describes it, is true and is matter of public concern.
“I have no higher principle than the public trust, and an absolute abhorrence of people who undermine it, because they undermine government, they undermine governance, they undermine what it is we can do with government,” he said. “They undermine public trust. That’s why I’m moving forward on this.”
Contact staff writer Chris Freiberg at 459-7545.